Influential music therapy program often overlooked

In a university the size of Temple, one comprised of 17 individual colleges offering hundreds of degrees, it becomes alarmingly easy for any one program to be lost under the bright glare of more glamorous

In a university the size of Temple, one comprised of 17 individual colleges offering hundreds of degrees, it becomes alarmingly easy for any one program to be lost under the bright glare of more glamorous and popular departments, such as kinesiology or business.
Despite their obscurity, these unrecognized programs play an important role in Temple’s diversity by adding those unique elements of character that help define an institution’s identity. One such gem, long hidden within the folds of cherry and white, is the music therapy department at Temple’s Esther Boyer College of Music.
For years now, Temple has housed one of the pre-eminent music therapy departments in the nation, offering influential undergraduate and post-graduate programs while boasting an unparalleled doctoral program. Complementing these programs are faculty members who are some of the most recognized in the field as both clinicians and researchers. While it is a small department, with no more than 50 students enrolled, that has not hindered alumni from making significant contributions in music therapy. Indeed, Temple athletics isn’t the only department that produces a Division I-A quality product.
But what is music therapy? It is the inevitable question that arises with the mere mention of music therapy. And it is that very inquiry that elicits in music therapy students and practitioners alike both exhilaration and frustration – exhilaration in being given the opportunity to introduce the inherent power of music therapy and frustration in trying to define such a heavy concept in a clear, concise manner. Yet it is that heaviness, while causing frustration in verbal explanations, which symbolizes the unexplainable meaning in music which makes music therapy so remarkable.
Most everybody has experienced that unexplainable meaning in music at some point, perhaps by a specific memory being evoked by a song or having a moment unalterably shaped by surrounding music. In whatever manner it may have occurred, it is that ability in music to so deeply touch us that is utilized by the music therapist in working with his or her clients.
Hannah Miller, president of Temple’s Music Therapy Club, had a personal experience with that power while playing music for her grandfather when he was diagnosed with dementia.
“Music took him back seven years, and for those 45 minutes, his eyes were sparkling, his face was smiling, he was reading again,” Miller recalled. “Those moments within our music gave me back the connection and relationship that I had with Pop-Pop before he suffered from dementia.”
It is important to note that simply playing music for somebody else is not music therapy. It is a far deeper process that involves, among other things, setting up goals and objectives while establishing a relationship between the client and therapist. Still, that does not diminish the significance of the music’s powerful effect in Miller’s experience with her grandfather.
Music therapists are licensed professionals that can be found in variety of settings, such as medical and psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, schools, substance abuse programs and rehabilitative facilities. Additionally, clients can range from children to senior citizens in addressing Alzheimer’s disease, developmental and learning disabilities, physical injuries and developmental disorders such as autism. Most music therapists do, however, eventually focus on particular ailments and health care settings.
Music therapy’s reach is indeed long, and as music therapists have become more active and visible members of health care communities, its popularity and acceptance has also continued to grow. This has led to greater recognition by health insurance companies and has inspired an educational boom across the nation.
The improved visibility and acceptance in the professional arena will hopefully function as a precursor for more campus wide recognition and knowledge of the field here at Temple.
Noah Potvin can be reached at

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