The Therapy of Music

Technique more common in treating those with physical and other disabilities

By Caryn Meyers Fliegler

The sound of scales being played on pianos, cellos and violinsfilled the hallways of Michigan State University’s music practice building. In a spacious practice room in the basement of the building, Celina Stanaway had her own private concert going. “Fruits and veg-tables, orange and banana,” the 12-year-old sangwith oomph.

“Fruits and veg-tables, orange and banana! Ooh, aah.”

Stanaway sang the melody, which sounded like a mix of a Chiquita Banana commercial and the blues, with a smile on her face. Her body swayed with the upbeat rhythm. The Jackson resident with shiny brown hair and big expressive eyeshad come up with the words and notes for the song on her own. She clearly hadan ear for music. But Stanaway wasn’t just playing — she was participating in music therapy, a kind of therapy that can work on a range of personality and physical issues and has been known to create miracles. Breaking through autism Stanaway was diagnosed with autism at age 2, and music therapy has helped her break out of the isolation that the disorder can create.

“It’s really hard to get through that autistic aloneness,” said Stanaway’s mother, Cindy Seppa. “If she feels success in working musically with things, maybe she’ll have success in conversations.”

Such success was evident during one of Stanaway’s recent musictherapy sessions. Stanaway would come up with a melody, whether it be bluesy orwith a tinge of salsa, then have her therapist Cindy Edgerton play the melodyon the piano. Stanaway would make jokes and encourage her teacher to keep up with her as she played on an electronic keyboard. “In her music, she’s very social,” Edgerton said.

Communication tool Whether used to help children with disabilities communicate, or Alzheimer’s patients remember, music has a unique therapeutic power. It can change behavior, bring out personality traits, teach skillsand even heal, according to those who work with the ill and disabled.

“People can connect and communicate through music, even if they’renot able to communicate in other ways,” said Kim DeHart, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Great Lakes Chapter.

Music can help with socialization, cognitive development, emotional healing, or gross- or fine-motor development, according to therapists. It provides a comforting, motivating vehicle for change.

“I think music gives us the nonverbal means of communication and self-expression,” said Edgerton, who is co-director of music therapy clinical services at Michigan State University’s Community Music School.

Years of therapy Edgerton has been providing music therapy to Stanaway for six years. Starting when she was a little girl, Stanaway would sit in front ofa mirror to sing nursery rhymes to herself. When she was diagnosed withautism at the age of 2 — when she stopped using words and talking to others — music became the key that could open Stanaway’s personality. At the age of 6, Stanaway started receiving music therapy from Edgerton after Seppa attended a seminar about the impact music could haveon autistic children.

The therapy would range from having Stanaway repeat patterns to allowing her to express feelings through rhythm. She is now interactingwith others more than ever, according to Seppa. “She acquired language really quickly, I think, once she started getting music therapy,” Seppa said. “I know it’s that musical foundationof interaction that led her to communicating verbally. She learned that give and take. …

She learned how to describe what she wanted.” Several universities in Michigan — including Michigan State,Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan — offer programs in music therapy, and the field is growing. When Edgerton started working at the Community Music School in East Lansing in 1993, she worked for a half-hour a week.

Now she works full-time, and the school employs one other full-time and two part-time music therapists. Used at Torrant Katie Chappell-Lakin works as a music therapist at the Lyle Torrant Center in Jackson. She uses instruments as well as her own voice to draw students out of their shells.

“Music is a unique stimulation for kids,” said Chappell-Lakin,sitting at a desk during a lunch break at the Torrant Center.

“It works especially well because it’s patterned, predictable, repetitious. Those make it motivating.”

Many students who have cognitive and physical impairments respond to Chappell-Lakin’s music therapy with bright eyes and laughter. “I see a lot of smiles,” she said. On a recent afternoon, Chappell-Lakin stood at the center of aTorrant Center classroom and played a melody on a keyboard. Mike Grohalski, 20,went up to the keyboard and carefully pressed down on the keys asChappell-Lakin played a rhythm beside him.

After Grohalski finished playing, he pumped his fist in the air with excitement. Chappell-Lakin then lifted up a drum and started going around to the students, singing each one’s name, encouraging a few taps on the drum. The music brought out different personalities. Some students played carefully, while others banged the drum with glee. One student, Chase Krygowski, 15, warmed up to the drum as Chappell-Lakin sang to him.

“Last year, he didn’t participate at all; he just sat in his chair with his head covered up in his shirt,” Chappell-Lakin said.

“This year he has blossomed. I don’t know if it’s a change in the environment, it could be a number of things, ! but I do know that in music he’s participating a lot more.”

Training rigorous Such progress has inspired many people to support the concept ofmusic therapy. MSU established the first music-therapy program in the country in 1944; now, more than 70 colleges and universities offer programs in the field, according to Al Bumanis, director of communications for theAmerican Music Therapy Association.

“It’s a tough degree, and it’s rewarding in the sense that it’s a helping profession,” Bumanis said.

Music therapists such as Chappell-Lakin take years of coursework in music and psychology and complete more than 1,000 hours of clinical training. Certified music therapists complete specific requirements to gain approval from the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Informal use While professional music therapists complete training and become board-certified, many people from ministers to parents to activitydirectors in nursing homes can use music to help others.

A minister used music to awaken Mildred “Millie” Gwinn late in her life. Gwinn lived many fruitful years before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The progressive illness robbed her of much of her memory and of the ability to communicate. Yet, even in the depths of dementia, music was one thing that could bring Millie alive, according to her husband, Maclay “Mac” Gwinn.

“Near the end of her life, our minister came and sang old hymns,”said Mac Gwinn, who leads a support group for husbands of Alzheimer’s patientsin the Jackson area.

“Millie would sit there and tears would come down her face. I could communicate with her somewhat, but nothing like that. It was amazing to me — she was singing hymns that she remembered from her childhood.”

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