Thursday, April 23, 2015

SMWC Music Therapy Senior Reflection: A Journey at the Woods

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important 
as what you become by achieving your goals.
Henry David Thoreau

I remember so clearly the first time I came to campus. It wasn’t the typical “Avenue Experience,” because it wasn’t the Avenue that captured my heart.  It was sitting in the President’s Room in Rooney Library that I had the moment. The fixed point in time where a future Woodsie decides that nowhere else could ever be good enough: the SMWC Madrigals came in and sang. They looked sharp. They sang in Norwegian. They radiated energy.  They sounded so, so good. I leaned over to my boyfriend and said “I’m coming here, and I’m getting in that group.”

Photo Credit: Beth Allard
That was my first brush with the musical soul of the Woods.
The SMWC Choirs at Lincoln Center in 2014

Over the next four years, I would find myself  immersed in an experience that is difficult to describe in words. My first semester, I delved into Jazz Band, having never played jazz piano (or in an instrumental ensemble) ever before.  Second semester, my dream came true and I was accepted into Madrigals. That happened to be the semester that Madrigals would prepare and perform a piece commissioned just for us- the beautiful and haunting La Providence by Sydney Guillaume. I had never sung in French before and was the youngest member in the ensemble. Amidst all of these “firsts,” I found encouragement and a challenge to grow at every turn.  I remember flopping down in my bed after practices, dizzy with stretched endurance and thrill. Every moment in Chorale, Madrigals, and Jazz band (which collectively took up four nights a week) showed me something about myself I did not know: I really, really loved being in ensembles. 

SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy Students 2012
Photo Credit: Beth Allard
Which brings me to the reason I’m here: Music Therapy.  If you asked freshman Beth why she chose music therapy, she would have said, “because I like music, and I want to help people.” Pretty solid answer for a kid who had no idea what they were getting involved in! Of two things I was very sure: I wanted my trade to be music and I did not want to perform (I have nearly fourteen years of solo performance experiences to my name, and I still feel about it the way I always have- It’s necessary. It’s healthy.  It’s also incredibly uncomfortable and a little terrifying to me). Music therapy drew me in because it felt like the perfect balance of all I wanted out of a career: solid musical core knowledge and skills, psychology, the ability to use my skills to enrich the lives of others- perfect.  On the other side of four years of music therapy education, I discovered the words that I didn’t have as a freshman:

Music therapy grows the connection of musical being to musical being.  It allows me to reach out to one of the most sacred and unique facets of another person, while also letting myself be touched as well.

It is that unspeakable musical connection that I see woven through all of the practicum experiences I have had the past four years. I have felt it when I’m holding the hand of an elderly woman with dementia, when I’m cheering on the successes of a client playing an instrument without any help, when a child lights up at the sound of their favorite song, when a young man in a hospital says it is the first time he’s felt at peace. I walk away from those sessions with this feeling that I cannot put into words. I was in a moment, with another human being, and we strangers allowed ourselves to take risks, express emotions, and share our most sacred musical selves with each other. Yes, I am studying to become a therapist. The nature of therapy means that I am providing help to someone; yet, I feel there is not enough talk in the therapy world about what the client gives back to the therapist. I have never believed that it is a hierarchy, but rather a connection. I may be bringing the clinical knowledge, the musical skills, hours of research and preparation, and the oh-so-intriguing bag of instruments, but sometimes, the client is bringing so much more. They are bringing themselves, and allowing me to be with them.  We each, whether client or therapist, take risks to be in the therapeutic moment together.  I don’t know how many times I have stood outside the door to a session, scared to death that I’m not prepared for what is waiting inside, or that I will make a mistake, or that I will look foolish. Never have I walked out of a session with those fears validated. It is always at my most afraid do I find myself the most supported and connected in a session.
Photo Credit: Beth Allard

I took this incredible Clinical Improvisation class junior year, and it was without a doubt one of the most influential, defining moments on my journey to becoming a music therapist. That class demanded that I meet and accept my musical self.  We learned all the skills needed to be solid musically, of course; but, it was not all about playing the right notes. It was about learning to just jump in and play. The first time I was asked to come to the piano and play something, I was terrified. What if I did it wrong? What if I looked stupid? What if nothing came out?? It took a semester of support and learning in that classroom with my peers and my professor to realize that I did not have to doubt myself. I do have the skills. I do have the ability. My musicality is there.  I was doubly blessed that semester with a practicum placement that centered nearly entirely on improvisation. The young man I worked with remains, to this day, one of the most vibrantly musical beings with whom I have had the privilege to work. It was in those sessions that I discovered how powerful spontaneous musical connections can be, and how little we really need words to communicate.  After that semester, I was convinced that I wanted to spend the rest of my career pursuing improvisation-based music therapy. I will admit that I was struggling with the transitions taking place in myself and my life as I entered this last semester of my undergraduate work. As time winds down, you begin to see all the things you have not done; and, my personality tends to lend me to fixating on such things. That’s why when my professor (Sharon Boyle) asked me to spend the semester photo-journaling my experiences, I jumped right in. I could sense that I was about to grow, and it knew it was something I would need to document. 

Photo Credit: Beth Alalrd

.... And grow I did, in some very unexpected, much needed ways! The development of my musical self has had a lasting impact on the growth that was happening in the rest of my life. It was as though, all at once, I became aware of myself: my gawky, nerdy, introverted self. Guess what? I liked who I found in there, shoved away under all of the stuff I thought I should be. I found connections between all of my eclectic passions and whims- the girl who is knee deep in library books about liberal arts education is the same girl in the practice room, or out in the woods. Writing, singing, playing, walking – they all stemmed from the same place. I started out by simply taking a walk outside every day. As I walked, I found myself taking to time notice the beautiful creation around me on this campus. I photographed, and I did a lot of praying. I grew closer to God out there underneath the pine trees, on the quiet roads alone at night or in the early morning. I realized how much time I spent looking down at the phone in my hand, or so caught up in my own little melodramas and stress. That awakening – caused by the simple act of walking and recording what I saw- had a lasting change on many aspects of my life. I wrote more. I read more. I asked more questions. I spent more time talking to professors and less time on Facebook. I started 'barefooting'. I took a horseback riding lesson. I improvised more. I talked less. I spent more time outside this semester than the previous seven combined.

Photo Credit: Beth Allard
SMWC MT 30th Anniversary Reception 2014
This leads me back to choosing music therapy as a major. I came to the Woods, and chose music therapy because I wanted to learn a trade, and get a good education. What happened in my four years here was that, and so much more. I spent four years under the supportive, caring guidance of my music faculty. They have seen it all- the little victories, the tears, the excitement, the struggles. I was challenged in and out of the classroom to discover myself. Through every course, every practicum, every choir rehearsal, every theory homework all-nighter, every new piece of repertoire, every scale, every recital, and every club meeting I was nurtured and grown. The hand of Providence led me to SMWC, to music therapy, because this is where I was meant to be. This is what I was meant to do. 

After all – there is no such beauty as where you belong.

Beth Allard
*Beth Allard, SMWC senior music therapy student, completes her coursework spring 2015 and plans to begin her music therapy internship in fall 2015 
For more information about the Undergraduate (Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy) or the Music Therapy Equivalency Campus Programs, contact Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC, Associate Professor of Music Therapy:
 (812) 535-5145