Cathy Knoll, music therapist extraordinaire, tells it like it is. Behind her words you can also see the difference between music education, therapeutic music listening, and music therapy. It’s the customization that makes this such powerful work. There are no set lists, no cookie cutters, no routines. Every patient experience is unique. We assess, assess, assess, and respond to the needs in the moment. Want something REALLY SPECIAL for your loved one? Call a music therapist.
ALERT: RANT AHEAD! The time has arrived for me to share some very strong opinions with my music therapy colleagues and other professionals who provide services for the elderly. Because I was born in 1951, I am now officially a “senior citizen” or “older person” or whatever term is socially appropriate these days. This status allows me to go on record in a public forum of formally protesting the habit of music therapists and others to casually lump all “older people” in one giant category. (As an aside, we tend to do the same thing by lumping together all “adolescents” and all “preschoolers” and all “people with autism” and more.) So, all you professionals write this down in your notes: Every individual is just that, an individual. Our job as music therapists is to provide services to an individual, not to a generation or a diagnosis. If you are MY music therapist- whether in the near future or 30 years from now – remember these points: (1) When you come into my home or room for a music therapy session, DO NOT open a “senior citizens” music book filled with songs popular for my Grandmother’s generation, i.e., teens in 1910-20s. As an aside, my mother, an active occupational therapist and avid supporter of music therapy, always thought is a bit ironic and humorous to find music therapists used out-of-date music even for HER generation (teens in 1930s). My mom liked Johnny Cash, Andrews Sisters, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Mozart, Elvis, Beatles, Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Broadway musicals, Tchaikovsky, John Denver, Michael W. Smith, Santana, and, of course, her favorite percussionist, grandson Dwight Knoll and her favorite singer/songwriter, grandson Thomas Knoll. (2) When you come into my home or room for a music therapy session, DO get to know me as a person and learn about my unique musical tastes and preferences, keeping in mind that I am an individual, not a generation. If I cannot let you know my preferences, ask around – my family, friends, music-making friends, and music therapy buddies would be happy to share their opinions about my opinion 🙂 (3) DO introduce lots of variety, and DO introduce me to new music you like. And DO share some of my Grandmother’s music in the mix – I happen to actually LIKE “You Are My Sunshine!” (4) Unless I indicate clearly I want you to stop, DO assume I like things – e.g., songs, instruments, you, therapy, life in general – even when I cannot express that interest or like. (5) When you come to my home or room for a music therapy session, DO find ways to give me opportunities to make music, no matter the depth of my limitations. Because of significant hearing loss resulting from my Meniere’s (which I’ve had since 1983), I’m not a big fan of music listening. But I love making music with others and watching live performances, so make it happen if you can. (6) DO allow me to play a real guitar, piano, violin, or whatever rather than the latest technical gadget or a cheap “dime-store” instrument. (7) When you come to my home or room for a music therapy session, DO come prepared, filled with enthusiasm and a spirit of adventure, and ready to engage and interact with ME – as an individual. (8) If limitations of my body, brain, sense of reality, or spirit keep me from engaging with you, then interact with me anyway – talk, sing, help me strum a guitar, tell me about your family or world events or what birds you’ve spotted lately. (9) DO NOT talk to other folks in the room as if I were not there. Got that?!? Okey dokey. Rant to my fellow music therapists and other professional colleagues is over. Although I’m not able to observe all of you in music therapy sessions, my experiences with and observations of music therapy since 1969 assure me your work is making a huge difference in the lives of a huge number of individuals every single day. So keep up the good work. Oh, and be on guard if I’m ever added to your music therapy case load 🙂 Cathy Knoll