Music Therapy: It works both ways

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By Jenny Boyd

As a piano student at South Shore Conservatory in the fall of 2012, I was approached by Emily Browder Melville, Chair of the Voice Department, about a new ensemble. SSC Community Voices, Too! was a chorus recently established at the Hingham campus. She asked me if I might be interested in accompanying the chorus, and I eagerly answered “yes!”

When my mother explained to me, a sheltered 12-year-old at the time, that the chorus would consist of teens and adults with developmental delays, I immediately associated the members with the special needs students at my middle school. Most of them were friendly, but some of them acted out when frustrated and that worried me. As the first day of choir practice approached, I worried that I would feel like an outsider.

When the day arrived, Emily introduced herself and me to the group, which consisted of about five singers. All of the chorus members cheerfully introduced themselves. Slowly, my fears dissipated.

After warming up, I played ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and other popular songs as the chorus members sang along. There were tons of smiles, puns, and jokes exchanged among the group as the hour of rehearsal continued. I was amazed at the enthusiasm and energy expressed by each member, and had never seen music have such an immediate impact on people’s spirits. Not only was each of these singers an important part of a musical whole, but the sense of inclusion and mutual appreciation were truly tangible. Although I did not sing with the group, I felt as if I were already a member of the ensemble. The chorus members enthusiastically said, “Bye Jenny!” as rehearsal ended, followed by, “I can’t wait to sing again next week!”

Music brings people together, cultivating compassion and making us forget our ostensible differences.

Our small choir of five has grown exponentially since its inception in 2012, and as I accompany the group each year I learn more and more about the power of music; something I used to take for granted. I’m grateful to each chorus member for revitalizing my interest in exploring music’s transformative power. The chorus reminds me each week that music is best when enjoyed for the art form it is, and even better when you enjoy it with other people.

I no longer live with my previous preconceptions about people with disabilities. This chorus teaches me to embrace those who are different, since we’re only as different as we believe we are. Music brings people together, cultivating compassion and making us forget our ostensible differences. SSC Community Voices, Too! reminds me to welcome the feelings of unity, within myself and within groups, which the arts create.

I know I made the right choice when I said “yes” to Emily’s invitation to accompany the chorus. Music is even more meaningful to me now. I truly believe I’ve become a more compassionate and understanding person since I started with SSC Community Voices, Too!. While I’m not a music therapist, I think arts therapy has the potential to create a more inclusive and accepting world. I now understand that music therapy works not only for those who receive but also for those who practice it. It works both ways.

SSC Community Voices Too! is one of many creative arts therapies programs, for those who learn differently, at South Shore Conservatory. The group also welcomes singers without developmental delay to participate in this joyful chorus as a mentor. Learn more at http://sscmusic.org/class_ssc-community-voices.html or contact Eve Montague, Director of Creative Arts Therapies at e.montague@sscmusic.org.

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