“Hey, Mr. Music Man!”
So I’ve been practicing as a licensed professional and board-certified music therapist for only 6-months now, but my advocacy for the profession extends back to 2011 when I first discovered music therapy. As a student, I remember eager attempts to explain what music therapy is, which was often a daunting task back when I still didn’t fully understand it myself. Fast forward to 2018 and I find that being a professional music therapist requires even more explicit advocacy with a much heavier importance. I wonder to myself, why can it be so difficult to understand that music can function therapeutically?
As I sit here viewing the 2018 Grammys, I can’t help but think of how much music impacts me just like it does these artists receiving awards and nominations. Music plays a significant role in the lives of human beings, so much so that music can be the first word to describe an identity. If Harold Hill is a music man, does that make Bruno Mars a music man? Was Michael Jackson a music man? Am I a music man?
Music was my first love, so when I enter a facility and am greeted as “Mr. Music Man” I don’t become offended or use this as an opportunity to advocate for my credentials (i.e. MT-BC, LPMT, NMT). I am a music man, have always been a music man, and always will be a music man. Some of the first songs I ever learned as a child and know best are from the musical, The Music Man. Two things that describe what I do for a living include using music as a tool and spending time with humans. Music is a part of who I am, in possession of my identity, relentlessly defining my human experience, and interactions with those around me. So call me a music man all you like, because I often ask myself what I would be without music.
Within the past six months I’ve had the opportunity to explain music therapy to landlords, engagement directors, speech therapists, servers, TSA Precheck, the guy standing next to me at TSA Precheck, bankers, parents, and even clients themselves. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be in a profession where my work was widely understood and accepted, but I really don’t mind being in one where I get to explain what I do in so many ways to so many different people. Each interaction is unique in articulating how specific goals can be addressed through music. For example, music to improve communication, improve movement and coordination, promote emotional expression, stimulate cognitive processes, etc. The value of music seems simple to me and it’s value extends beyond my practice.
At the 2018 Grammys this year, the artist by the name of Logic performed his song entitled “1-800-273-8255”. This song is significant considering that the day it was released (April 28th, 2017), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received the second highest daily call volume in its history at the time, receiving over 4,573 calls that day. The Lifeline released a memo regarding the song’s impact stating that “The release of “1-800-273-8255” was a watershed event for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. By using his artistic voice, Logic addressed suicide thoughtfully and creatively to inspire fans to seek help and find hope”. Is this a possible example of music therapy? Absolutely not.
While accepting the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, Bruno Mars stated that he wrote the music on the album for the sake of joy and love, with an intent to bring cultures together from across the globe through dance and movement. After he expressed gratitude to his greatest influences, the show came to a close and the credits rolled while Mars’ song “24K Magic” played in the background as a final ode to music in 2017. Was Bruno referencing music therapy? Not a chance.
The point I want to emphasize is the intentional value of music in our society and experience as humans. Music is embedded within us and for some of us, defines who we are and what we do. I am a music therapist who designs and implements music-based interventions intentionally to address individualized goals, Logic’s song was intentional in expressing a message about suicide prevention, and Bruno Mars wrote music to unite diverse groups of people. The only one who is practicing music therapy in these scenarios is myself, yet, we all share a common theme of using music to serve a specific function. So why, when I introduce myself as a music therapist, do I feel like I have to explain the beneficial value of music when society makes it so easy to understand? I’m a music man for goodness sakes!