My Story: Why I am a Music Therapist

Anne Vitort Music TherapistA friend’s daughter, whom I shall call “B” to protect her privacy, was undergoing treatment at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital for leukemia.  Her family had been part of my Kindermusik program; older brother “M” attended my classes for several years and I was well acquainted with parents and other family members.  So when I was asked to visit B and her mom “J” at Doernbecher and bring some of my instruments, of course I did.

I had not seen “B” in some time, and her appearance was typical for a leukemia patient:  only a few tufts of hair remained, her face puffy, eyes gray.  She had two IVs hooked into her chest and was not able to travel very far without needing to pull the pole along with her.  I was told that during other visits, she was usually quite tired and listless, conversing only a little with visitors, so I didn’t expect much.

I knew “B” liked animals, so I started singing a hello song followed by “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” and “Five Bears Out Tonight.”  Soon she was singing with me and asked if she could see what instruments I had brought.  She loved picking out melodies on my step bells, banging loudly on my hand drums and shaking my egg shakers with excited vigor.  In short order, she and I, her mom, and the other visitors were parading around the room, each with an instrument in hand, playing and singing “Yankee Doodle” with abandon.

What was it that transformed this little girl, if only for a few moments, from seriously ill child to a happy and carefree musician?  How could a few moments of singing and music-making release a little girl from the pain and frustration of hospital confinement?  (I was told later that she had not been that animated since she had begun treatment.)  Profoundly moved by the result of my amateur attempt at music therapy, I resolved to find out how and why music has such tremendous power.For seven years as a Kindermusik educator and Children’s Music Director, I had taught hundreds of children and their families about the joys of music making.  We sang, danced, and moved with delight.  We rocked the babies and taught the toddlers how to crawl through hoops.  We learned to take turns and keep a steady beat.  We played musical games and enjoyed old-fashioned circle dances.  The parents had fun and noticed the growth and development of their children.  The children enjoyed the time with their parents and couldn’t wait to come to class and see what was on the agenda for the day.  It was thrilling to witness the power of music in this way, but I couldn’t help wondering what my next step might be.  Was there something more I could do to have a positive impact on people through music?  And if music can make such a difference in well children, can it be even more beneficial to the ill or disabled?

I contacted the music therapy program at Marylhurst University and the rest, as they say, is history.  I studied music therapy there for 2 years and following the completion of my academic requirements toward the Bachelor of Music Therapy degree, I was accepted as an intern at Portland’s Earthtones Music Therapy Services.  Earthtones provided me with an extensive clinical background in music therapy with clients with various levels of functioning and therapeutic needs.