Spotlight on Music Therapy in Rochester
Music Therapy has been shown to benefit people of all ages and abilities. It can improve cognitive, social, mental, physical and emotional needs.
An organization in our own community is doing much to provide assistance and programs for those who would benefit from these services. The Expressive Arts Program at The Hochstein School, under the direction of Jennifer Phillips, has been providing services in the Rochester area for more than 40 years. Today we highlight the work they are doing.
In the fall of 2019, I worked as an Arts Leadership intern in the Expressive Arts department at Hochstein. I observed and assisted in adaptive lessons and group classes for music therapy. I like describing music therapy as "using music to help people of any background find new skills to support their success, and perhaps even have some fun along the way." These are some stories of how I saw music therapy assisting people firsthand. (Names are changed or omitted to protect the privacy of the clients at Hochstein).
One area where music therapy has demonstrated positive outcomes is the ability to assist those with brain trauma. Often clients who have trouble speaking can overcome that difficulty through singing or music. This occurs because singing and speaking process through different parts of the brain, and when the speaking part of the brain is damaged, the musical part of the brain can learn to compensate. I witnessed this with a client who suffered a traumatic brain injury and had lost much of her ability to speak. Voice lessons are a part of her therapy. The music therapist working with her explained that this woman struggles with the letters "b" and "l." One of the songs this client was singing was Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which includes those troublesome letters back-to-back in the phrase "skies are blue." At the beginning of the lesson, the therapist and client spoke the words and the client was unable to say the word "blue." Just minutes later, when they sang the piece, she sang the word "blue" as clear as day. Music therapy is helping this client communicate in new ways.
Hochstein’s music therapy program all includes an early intervention class for toddlers. This weekly class is facilitated by both a music therapist and an occupational therapist. The class targets specific goal areas related to the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, sensory processing, social skills, decision-making and other important areas of the childhood development through the use of songs and exercises. Over the course of a few months, I saw children who struggled to sit and pay attention, learn to do all of the activities. One child struggled to crawl, and by the last class, she crawled over to me and played the drums with me. Students who were fairly non-verbal learned more about communication. Children learned to interact with one another, including important social skills like sharing. One girl with Down syndrome was practicing the skills to be gentler during her exchanges with people. During the first day that I worked with her, she had to be reminded to be gentle as she patted my hair. Throughout the course she demonstrated extreme kindheartedness. She offered comfort and showed concern for children who cried or became upset while participating. She gave gentle hugs and offered emotional support. While this class likely did not teach this child the compassion that came innately to her, it did help her utilize new ways to communicate it. This course celebrates the small victories. What may seem like a simple task for a neurotypical child can take exceeding effort for a child with a disability. This fantastic program uses the benefit of music to help these children find and experience success and growth.
Perhaps one of the most touching things I observed was how music therapists know the best way to help each student. They listen and observe, and encourage growth, while still making sure each client is comfortable and happy. One student came into a session in tears. She did not want to sing or be a part of the lesson that day. The therapist calmly waited for her to feel ready to join, and when it appeared that she might not, he played the guitar softly and sang a greeting song to her. Slowly, she joined him near the piano. Within a few minutes, the tears had dried from her face. By the conclusion of the lesson, she even sang along and smiled a bit. This client went from having a terrible day and not wanting to face the world to smiling and singing. It gave that day a fresh start. When it comes down to it that is what music therapy is all about.
Hochstein’s Expressive Arts department is doing wonderful work to improve the lives of members with disabilities in our community. For more information, visit their website here.