The Healing Power of Music

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oteo.

People often turn to music in times of happiness, despair, loneliness or anger. We find solace in beautiful melodies. For many individuals, music is a form of therapeutic expression.

On Thursday, April 28 the Music Therapy Ensemble class taught by John Mahoney debuted a concert in Max & Nadia Shepard Recital Hall. The graduate course spent the entire spring semester creating these unique arrangements. Each student selected a piece of music that resonated with them. They then deconstructed the songs and gingerly put them back together again.

“The point of the class was not the performance,” Mahoney said. “That’s kind of the byproduct.”

According to Mahoney, the importance of the class is the process. These students are training to become music therapists. Through this course they learned how to arrange pieces with clinical instruments in mind. The therapist’s job is to accompany their clients on guitar, piano or vocals while the client plays various percussion instruments.

Mahoney said that musical instruments like the drums provide less of an opportunity for failure when played in the right place. Throughout the concert, the band of 10 students played their main instruments while some stuck to the electric xylophone, egg shakers or even a cynlindrical rainstick.

“Music therapy is the clinical use of music and the relationships that develop with music to promote health,” Mahoney said.

The evening began with an introduction from Mahoney. Immediately following their leader’s speech, the space swelled with soft vocals that repeated “take me to your river.” After “River” ended, “Twin Flames” permeated every inch of the room, as a sweeping violin conversed with a flautist and a pianist.

The third song, “Gymnopedie,” took audience members on an emotional journey. Kimberly Williams arranged and led the performance. She faced her fellow musicians and slowly pointed her flute one by one at all of them making the artists come to life. It started off peaceful and then claustrophobic chaos ensued as everyone played at once. The shaking and rattling built until it burst and returned to the original tranquility.

Fourth-year music therapy major Rachel Hardy arranged “Affirmation Medley.” She said that the performance consisted of songs by Eric Hutchinson and A Great Big World. According to Hardy, the theme of her mashup was positive affirmation and she chose various lyrics from the three pieces that fit this objective. Hardy cited her classmates as being helpful in mixing and matching the verses.

“For me personally, it started with a song that has really spoken to me lately,” Hardy said.

Ten pieces in total delighted the crowd. The show ended with a tribute to David Bowie. Within the mashup, mournful Bowie fans could hear “Changes” and “Life on Mars?” At the end, the backup singers danced down the aisle that parted the masses.

Third-year music major with a concentration in classical performance David Frankle attended the event to support Hardy, but also to witness his first Music Therapy Ensemble recital. Frankle wanted to watch music therapy graduate students apply their musical skills into performance.

“It gave me some energy, probably due to its overall upbeat and positive vibe,” Frankle said.