A Lifetime of Music and Healing

SUNY New Paltz recently began the Dr. Mary Boyle Scholarship in the professor's honor.

After teaching music therapy for almost 30 years at SUNY New Paltz, Dr. Mary Boyle was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Music Therapy Association this past November in Cleveland, Ohio, something Boyle said she never expected. She was also completely unaware of the nomination.

“I didn’t think I would receive the award but I’m really happy,” she said. “I feel wonderful. It is a wonderful award recognizing what my contribution was to the development of the field of music therapy.”

Boyle has been a part of music therapy in some way since high school, after her piano teacher insisted she become a music therapist. Although Boyle was unaware what a music therapist did at the time, she received a grant to study at The University of Kansas one summer. She studied with B. Thayer Gaston there, who Boyle said is considered to be the founder of music therapy in America. Afterwards, she studied at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University where she received both her Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

She began to teach at SUNY New Paltz in 1981 after working at a few hospitals, becoming a professor and eventually the director of the Music Therapy Program. She became involved in many different areas, including head of the Music Therapy Graduate Program as well as chair of the Music Department.

In December 2010, Boyle decided to retire; however, she is still currently working with some students to help them with their theses. Boyle is assisting them in their research, including working with music to replace medication for anxiety issues.

“We help people choose their favorite music and breathe with it, almost like hypnotizing yourself,” she said. “You have to think about breathing with the rhythm of the piece. It takes a little while to do but then it’s really refreshing. It’s almost like a nap.”

With Boyle’s retirement, the Music Therapy Graduate Program and the Music Department held a celebration honoring her on Dec. 15, 2010. At the reception, Boyle learned that SUNY New Paltz formed the Dr. Mary Boyle Scholarship. Although all of the criteria for the scholarship have yet to be determined, it will be granted to a music therapy student selected by Boyle.

“I’d be looking for a person who really cares about people, is a good musician and who has a vision to create new things,” she said. “A lot of music therapists are very creative and some are organized and some aren’t. Organizational ability counts. I’d think there are so many people who would be great but we haven’t got that much money. Hopefully we can get more money into the fund.”

Third-year music therapy major Emma Hempel worked with Boyle in a number of settings, as Boyle was her professor and advisor, as well as assisting her with Music Therapy Club, which Hempel is now president. Hempel said Boyle was the reason she decided to attend SUNY New Paltz after meeting the professor during her music therapy audition and Boyle answered questions and gave her a tour of the music building.

“I ended up speaking with her for over an hour, and when I left her office, I knew New Paltz was the place for me. Dr. Boyle made me feel at home and at ease with my new career choice,” said Hempel. “Dr. Boyle was the backbone of the music therapy department.  I know that I am not the only one who is grieving the loss of her as a professor and advisor here at SUNY New Paltz.”

With the scholarship and the award, Boyle said she didn’t realize how happy it would make her.

“It was really moving. It was one of the biggest moments of my life, actually,” she said. “With the audience cheering, someone started a wave while I was speaking in the end — it went all over the auditorium and they were high-fiving. It was great.”

Megan Allen, a first-year music therapy graduate student, also studied with Boyle. She said that she is extremely lucky to have studied with her.

“Upon going to a conference last year, I found out that Mary Boyle is a very popular name among a lot of music therapists everywhere. Her contribution to our field is astonishing and I know that as I take on my future career, I will feel lucky to have gotten to study with her,” said Hempel. “I am definitely sad to see her retire and move on from SUNY New Paltz, but she has laid the foundation for an amazing program for both undergraduate and graduate studies in music therapy.”

After three decades, Boyle said she really loved teaching at New Paltz.

“I think that New Paltz is a very open place with different ideas and is a lot of fun. I think the arts element is really great,” she said. “It’s beautiful geographically, and that creates an ambiance where you can really create and feel free. I really love that about New Paltz.”