Categorized | Arts & Culture

Keeping the Beat

“For a lot of these people music is their reason to get up in the morning, their reason to be alive. Music gives them a reason to be part of society in a successful way,” said music therapy senior Jennifer Cook. People suffering from a range of issues and disorders turn to music therapy for help, many of them receiving care right here at MSU. However a recent decsion by the MSU College of Music may force these patients to look for therapy elsewhere.

On Feb. 2, the college announced it will be placing a moratorium on its music therapy program. This means that no new students will be admitted to the music therapy program beginning summer 2009, and in four years MSU will decide whether or not to permanently disband the program. In the last decade at MSU, 77 moratoriums have been placed on programs, and only seven were not disbanded. The future of music therapy at MSU looks grim, and it has left the students, faculty, and the community asking how it came to this, and whether or not anything can be done to change the course of events.

Every current student is guaranteed a completed education in their degree program, but many students will wish to know how to save the program for future students. However, the deans of the College of Music said that in order to endow the program for one year, $5 million would need to be raised. Without a huge donor, some say that number is unreachable because the entire amount would have to be fundraised. Without much hope for the program, many students and supporters of music therapy are focusing their attention on what will happen to the patients who receive therapy from the program after it is gone. Currently, more than 275 individuals receive services from students in the MSU music therapy program each year. The MSU Community Music School has music therapists providing services (for a fee), but doesn’t have a training and/or degree program for prospective professionals. To transfer all the current patients receiving services from MSU to CMS would cost about $62,000 each year, but many people think it’s worth it. This way, the MSU program would be gone, but the patients who need care could still receive it, and there are 4 years left at MSU during which to raise funds.

Music therapy is a profession in which trained, board-certified therapists observe and diagnose patients, set goals for their development, then use participatory musical activities to improve the quality of the patients’ lives. These therapists need a bachelor’s degree, plenty of hours in a clinic, and they must pass an exam to receive their Music Therapy Board Certification. The services are applied to a wide range of people suffering from down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, physical disabilities, cognitive impairments, autism spectrum disorders, terminal illnesses, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, mental illnesses, physical pain, dementia, cancer, memory loss, disturbed adolescent problems, high stress, social disorders, attention deficit disorder, and many more. Music therapists work in many schools, special education programs, early childhood programs, early intervention programs, general hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices to name a few. As people live longer than ever before, the focus is turning away from infectious disease cure-based medicine in favor of wellness and quality of life improvement through programs like music therapy for people who suffer with chronic, long-term illnesses like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, or simply old age.

Professor Frederick Tims of the Music Therapy program. (Tom FitzStephens)Music therapy provides patients with a fun, social, goal-oriented and self-esteem building path to wellness they often cannot get any other way. Music therapists diagnose patients and pick musical activities that address the specific challenges they face. Singing, listening to music, chanting (speaking with a rhythm), dancing and playing various instruments are the ways to wellness, presenting an alternative or supplement to reactionary medicine. Goals are set, and the patients’ care-takers family and the patients themselves are given the tools and ideas to continue therapy on their own. “You want them to be able to function in the real world,” said Cook, who “fell in love with the idea of helping people through music.” “You want them to be able to live independently and employ the techniques you’ve given them. It gives them more meaning in life and improves their self-image. It brings them to a close understanding of themselves and a joyful reason to continue. If we give them something they can succeed in, they are more likely to smile and improve the quality of their lives.”

Music therapy sophomore Lindsey Hemming said she is distraught over the fate of the program. She volunteers at Sparrow Hospice Home with a music therapist and believes that one of the program’s strong points is that it gives students hands-on experience. “The very first semester we have to volunteer with a group of cognitively impaired adults and a Music Therapist and their clients,” she said. Music therapy majors are required to do a significant amount of hours volunteering and in their final two years they directly administer care in free sessions. Hemming said that she has seen music therapy work for many people through her experiences. “It’s nice to socialize with people who don’t get to socialize, and bring them to music. There are many instances where children with autism have spoken their first words through music,” she said. People recovering from a stroke often can’t walk until a therapist chooses the perfect music with a beat, then they gradually make it faster.

Why not just give these people iPods? Is there medical research to support music therapy? The answer from Frederick Tims, professor of music therapy at MSU, is a firm “yes, indeed!” Meta-analyses are the gold standard for evidence-based research in the medical profession. “Nearly every meta-analysis lists things music therapy does, and that music therapy delivered by a board-certified music therapist using live music is more effective than using recorded music or a paraprofessional, etc.,” he said. “We have good evidence that it works well for dementia patients, and a lot of good research on pain management.” When used after surgery, music therapy has been proven to reduce the required amount of pain medication, which is important because the more quickly patients are off pain medication, the more quickly and effectively they heal. Tims also said stress hormones drop severely in Alzheimer’s music therapy patients, who with the help of music therapy have even learned and remembered new friends’ names (this was previously thought to be impossible). In randomized control trials it has slowed memory loss and helped dementia patients sleep, and improved the gait of Parkinson’s sufferers. People with depression have improved their overall affect, and people with cognitive impairments have gained benefits as well, improving their ability to identify colors and their ability to communicate with others. Many studies are being done, and the evidence supporting music therapy keeps pouring in. However, because it is still a relatively new field further large research grants are needed to provide more evidence to solidify music therapy as a core part of health care.

Why cut this program now?

Music therapy is a relatively small program with only 34 total students, 21 of them undergraduate students, and 13 of them master’s and doctoral students. There are two professors on faculty, Roger Smeltekop and Frederick Tims, both of whom are nearing retirement. The program is the oldest undergraduate music therapy degree program in the world, active since 1944—the same year that the entire field of music t
herapy is thought to have begun as part of the effort to aid the recovery of World War II veterans. The University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa are the only other Big Ten music therapy programs. Eastern Michigan University and Western Michigan University also offer undergraduate degrees, but MSU has the only doctoral program in Michigan.

The program at MSU has been hugely successful in the profession, producing many of the world’s leading clinicians and academicians. MSU graduates lead academic programs at MSU, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, the University of Iowa, Colorado State University, and programs in Japan, Australia, and elsewhere. Even in the current economy, almost every MSU music therapy graduate gets a job immediately following graduation.

Tims has been a music therapy professor at MSU since 1996. Long before the moratorium was announced, he announced his projected retirement for August, 2011. He has watched the profession grow over time, and especially over the last ten to fifteen years when more and more people have been earning board certifications every year.

“I was talking to a faculty member at Western who said it is the best job market he has seen in 40 years of teaching. Even in Michigan they are getting jobs. It’s hard for us to understand why you’d want to eliminate a program for which the market is more valuable than it ever has been,” Tims said.

Cook agreed. “MSU is doing quite well in comparison to other schools whose music therapy programs are still intact,” she said. Interest in the program has been increasing over recent year. As compared to 2008, 2009’s audition cycle saw the number of students auditioning for music therapy double to 40. “They are putting a moratorium starting this year, and we’ve had twice as much interest this year,” Tims said. Unfortunately, the would-be students were all called and told not make the trip due to the moratorium. “There are also about one or two new degree programs springing up around the country each year. Iowa and Minnesota have each added a third faculty member to account for the growth of the profession,” Tims said. He stated that MSU was considering adding a third faculty member as well, however this did not happen and now the program is in jeopardy. “We are really beginning to be seen as a legitimate career choice. This is sort of a slap in the face. I feel that MSU is letting me down,” Hemming said.

This year there is only one music therapy freshman student. Isn’t that reason enough to cut the program? It has no future and will die anyway, right? Maybe, maybe not. First of all, there are consistently very few freshmen music therapy majors. Few 18-year-olds know this very specific major is what they want right when then get to college. The progression to becoming a major oftentimes consists of enrolling at a college (MSU or elsewhere) with a vague psychology career in mind, taking music, psychology, physiology, introductory music therapy, or philosophy classes, understanding the value of music therapy, auditioning, and finally transferring into the program. Most of the first-year music therapy students are sophomores or juniors, cross-campus transfers and university transfers. Once the moratorium was announced, the program saw a spike in students trying to transfer into the program before the moratorium became official. Another reason so few freshmen are music therapy majors is that very few high school counselors advertise the idea as a career choice. “I don’t think a lot of high school counselors understand what we do,” Tims said.

Compared to just a few years ago, however, the number of students in MSU’s program has dropped, while the number of people auditioning for the program has remained steady or actually increased as it did this year. How could the program shrink while the number auditioning is increasing? The answer to that question is complex, and may raise some philosophical questions for the College of Music. To be admitted as a music major, students must have a principal instrument and take applied lessons (save a select few majors, of which music therapy is not). The professors of performance for each instrument listen to auditions and have the greatest influence over which students are admitted to the programs. Each student must be accepted by a performance professor for private lessons, at which point they are considered to be part of the faculty member’s “studio.” In addition to the private lessons, each professor holds a weekly “studio class” in which all his or her students have opportunities to perform and learn from each other’s performances. “One of the reasons our enrollment is down is because so many of the studios have been full. Voice has bloomed in the last five to ten years. It’s almost impossible for us to get anyone admitted into any of those studios,” Tims said.

Recently, the auditions, especially in voice with the advancement of the opera program and voice faculty, have grown more competitive. Word has been spreading that the MSU College of Music is becoming a school for extremely high quality performers. In this more performance-emphasized atmosphere the faculty can be more selective, and prospective music therapy students hold relatively less value than performance majors. “Faculty get rewarded for having performance majors and for people winning prizes and things like that. For our people, that’s just not their priority,” Tims said. The system seems to encourage professors to take performance majors, which makes being admitted as a music therapy major even more difficult.

Jennifer Cook stands with some of the instruments used in music therapy. (Tom FitzStephens)The College of Music can live without the music therapy program, but the music therapy program cannot live without the College of Music. “We are valued, very important, but we are not part of the core of the College of Music. That emphasis has been increasing over the last few years,” Tims said. Every music student has to take theory, history and lessons, but only a select few take music therapy classes. “I have to take conducting lessons as a performance major, and I have to take performance classes as a therapy major, but I don’t think anybody has to take a therapy class,” Cook said.

One might find it odd that as of now no other College of Music cuts have been made. Figures have been thrown around that the provost has requested the College of Music to cut approximately $800,000 from its yearly budget, but music therapy’s budget is only $250,000 and no other departments or programs have been eliminated, said Tims. Why not ask each department to take small cuts instead of dropping an entire program? “You get rewarded if you cut a program, and you may not have to make so many other cuts,” Tims said. “It seems like a painless cut because it doesn’t affect the other people in the college so much… the state has decreased expenditures so much since the 1990’s. These aren’t just cuts to get through an economic downturn, they are actually permanent cuts from the state. They are looking for long-term solutions… If we raise $5 million, we are spared.” Tims said the number was originally $1.5 million, then $3 million to keep both faculty members, and finally with all costs incorporated, the quote from the administration is now $5 million. It takes $250,000 per year to run the program. The $5 million would be an endowment which would provide an income of $250,000 per year to run the program without touching the principal. A $5 million endowment would keep the program open, and it’s all the College of Music will accept.

Some wonder if the MSU College of Music is becoming a more conservatory-style, performance-centered institution where excellent performers and community accolades are paramount. I
f so, is that a good thing? Was this the first of many cuts, and if so what will be cut next? Is music education doomed as well?

What can be done to help?

Not surprisingly, many students and community members are doing their best to save the program, or at least some portion of music therapy at MSU. Student fundraisers are sprouting up and can be found on the Internet, particularly Facebook. One event is the Run for Abilities 5K & 1Mi Run/Walk being organized by Michael Woodward, a sophomore music education major. The event took place March 28, but donations will be accepted at any time (find information on Facebook).

The MSU Council of Graduate Students (COGS) has unanimously adopted Resolution#: 08-09.05 in favor of supporting the existence and continuation of the music therapy program. Their petition can be signed at www.petitiononline.com/080905/petition.html. There is also a Save MSU Music Therapy Facebook Group. Many parents, community members, faculty members, and students have shown their support for the program and questioned the College of Music’s deans on their decision. Tims was pleasantly surprised at the community and university response to the news of the moratorium. “I think it’s obvious that they didn’t expect much uproar, but that hasn’t happened.”

Most of the MSU music therapy patients can’t afford to pay for services on their own, so their sessions will most likely terminate with the program, whether they have reached their goals or not. Perhaps the money will be donated and scholarships will be provided, but that money would be a finite source of funding for the patients. Much of society is uncomfortable with people with special needs and the public often reacts to them with fear, awkwardness, anger, or more often than not, pretends these people don’t exist. The citizenry seems content to allow a small number of compassionate souls work with and take care of these people so that the rest may ignore them. The fact is, everyone will encounter people with special needs, and the most should be made of the opportunity. “It’s something that we all need to try to understand, and it’s unfortunate that with the program’s demise that’s not going to happen,” Cook said. “These people are human and this job is necessary to these people’s lives. People don’t understand the profundity of music’s impact. If you’re having a bad day and you listen to your favorite song it makes you feel better. That may not seem like a big deal to most of us, but for some of music therapy’s patients, it’s something they will miss.

Leave a Reply