Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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Wow, did the month of May fly!  It’s been a long silent month here on the blog itself, but as those of you who follow me on Twitter I’m sure have noticed, it hasn’t been so long or silent in the life of this Music Therapist (well maybe lately, I seem to be going through a “no voice” spell of late that hasn’t been very fun)!  My bellydance sisters and I celebrated our first stage show at the Firehall Theatre May 11th, the May Drum Circle at 12 Houses was great fun (with us possibly planning TWO circles for June!) and I’ve been hard at work formatting a possible CMTE course on working with students who are Blind and Deaf for Kat Fulton over at Music Therapy Ed, not to mention our local Summer Performing Arts Company’s English Language Learners (ELL) Group that I just started with this week!  So, Deadlines and Meetings abound, but it’s all very exciting to be part of planning for more and more Music Therapy in our little North Dakota Community!

There are two main places where I provide Music Therapy services in a free capacity for my community: the LISTEN Drop-In Center and 12 Houses.  The latter hosts my monthly drum circles, the former houses my weekly family music group.  The arrangement I have with LISTEN, as they are a non-profit organization, is that I am an outside contractor.  This means that I invoice them and they pay me for my time there, so that my sessions can be offered free of charge to their guests, who complete a sign in process when they come for sessions so that the center can have evidence of the attendance to their events for presenting to grants or other entities who fund their physical buildings and staff.  This is both a wonderful and a challenging sort of arrangement  – It bears saying that it’s more wonderful than it is challenging, but the challenges are worth noting at least, the greatest of which is the importance that attendance factors into the survival of my programs – if we didn’t have regular attendance from a predetermined number of families, that group would not be maintained, because the money the center spends paying me to come there could justifiably be spent elsewhere if there are other events gaining better attendance.  So, if attendance gets low, no matter how religiously those attendees come to sessions, those programs can be cut.  Luckily, attendance at my groups has been fairly consistent and decently sized, albeit with a slight dip from Memorial Day and my voice issues, but their existence at least remains secure – I know many other Music Therapists and sessions out there that can’t say the same.

That’s where groups like the drum circle at 12 Houses come in.  Those sessions are offered free of charge, and through a rent agreement with the owners of the store, I don’t have to pay to use the space so long as they attend the circle, which they do every time! Instruments are purchased for the group through funds donated by those who attend it, so essentially the group funds its own equipment.  The only thing not covered is my time, which, since I love to drum and don’t do it anywhere else (plus the fact that those sessions are monthly and not weekly like my LISTEN ones are) I don’t mind donating that one hour every month.  There it doesn’t matter how many people come, or how consistently they do it – I drum with whoever is there, and essentially the drums are paid for in accordance with the demand for them, so if there’s a shortage of drums to meet a large number of people one month, should those people all donate, there will be plenty of drums for them the next time they come!

Many other music therapists choose to donate one hour per month, as I do, to one organization or another – (I actually donate the one hour a month to 12 Houses, then one hour per quarter to organizations like Infant Development for events like their Early Childhood learning fairs and the like) – it’s an individual call each professional makes uniquely from their peers and colleagues.  I view it as part of the way we spread the word about what we do, by providing opportunities for people to experience it free of charge from time to time. When my husband teaches percussion lessons, his studio has a policy that your first lesson is always free so the family and student can see for themselves if something is going to work or not, before committing to services.  I couldn’t imagine doing things that way, but that’s me – my schedule fills so quickly I need to know right away if someone is going to commit to a time with me before I commit to clearing my schedule for it.  Someone else might do things still differently, but I encourage you wherever you are to find those free opportunities for making music with a qualified Music Therapist (Board Certified) and take advantage of them when you can – many MT-BCs won’t have that sort of time available often, so sometimes you have to really look, but they’re worth it!

So, you might ask, how does someone establish, let alone track, goals for a group like the ones at LISTEN and 12 Houses that meet so sporadically? The answer is very openly – I phrase my goals with simple “they did it” or “they didn’t do it” measurements, as in: “attendees will participate” in such-and-such an activity, or “participants will attempt to play at least two instruments in the course of the session” and just keep mental track if one person only plays one instrument all session without trading, or if someone comes to a session and then leaves without actually participating in a single activity (which has happened! We’ve had folks come to family music group with children who just sit outside the the circle crying for the first session, until they get more used to things, so I measure those occurrences).  Those types of things to me indicate insecurity, and I want my guests at these kinds of sessions to feel secure in leaving their seat during music making to find new instruments and along the way, and to maybe interact with another person to find an instrument they enjoy playing even more than the last.  I also regard tracking basic goals like this as check-in’s for me and the services I provide, for instance, if I’m noticing a lot of people coming into the circle and only choosing one instrument to play the whole time, there may be something I could be doing differently to encourage more interaction.  I’m constantly seeking new and different ways to structure my activities and make session activities more enticing for my attendees to participate in, so free sessions provide the very open environment for me to do that in, as well as providing great opportunities for people who aren’t sure what Music Therapy is or aren’t sure if it’s for them, so that they can see what it is and what it can do for their lives.

So, this look at community centers wraps up our month long series on defining what I do as a Music Therapist in each of the placements I serve. From working with my Visually Impaired students, to my Deaf and Hard of Hearing Classrooms and the Residential Facilities I serve, there’s never a dull moment in Natasha’s world, but nowhere else is this more true than in my donated Community sessions! They’re free opportunities for the community to experience what I do, as well as for me to look at what I do from new angles and through fresh eyes based on whoever attends on that given day – and ultimately that’s valuable for everyone I serve!

Coming up this month, 12 Houses Bellydancers will be at the Altru Health Sponsored Art Fest events in Grand Forks, I’ll be dancing with some of my bellydance sisters in Duluth Minnesota, and 12 Houses will hold 2 drum circles in June – one of them outdoors!  Hopefully LISTEN sessions can resume once I get my voice back on track after this cold.  Summertime can be a busy time, and a hectic time, but ultimately it’s one of my favorite times of the year to make music – I hope you get to enjoy some music in your summer as well!


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