Music is everywhere. It is all around us and it is an integral part of who we are. In the EDGE program at Union University, music is a part of the curriculum. Each first-year EDGE student participates in music therapy as a means of making social connections, addressing emotional concerns, and making progress toward their personal and collective goals.
Music has the power to affect our actions, thoughts, and relationships. Even before we were born, we had a heartbeat, brain waves (frequencies), rhythm and music all around and through us that connects us with the Creator and His created. When you were young, you probably learned several concepts by attaching them to a melody or speaking them in rhythm: the ABCs, days of the week, months of the year, spelling your name, getting in line to walk down the hall, greeting a friend, etc, etc. As we get older we develop particular musical preferences which form emotional attachments, inform our social identity, and influence the paths we take and the choices we make as we allow lyrics and artists to speak into our lives simply by tuning in to one radio station over another.
Students in the EDGE program are experiencing life in the same way as every college student. No matter who you are, there was some point in your freshman year that was a growth point – a moment in time when you realized you had left high school expectations, your family home, your childhood peer group…it all catches up to you at once. Campus life is designed to bring you in, welcome you, and facilitate that adjustment. What if you got to take a class that brought all of that transition to the surface, focused on your personal education and career goals, intentionally developed stronger relationships with your peers, all while allowing you to cut loose a little bit and jam with friends? For the students in the Union EDGE program, Music Therapy is that intentional, focused experience.
What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy, in essence, is using our natural connection with music and the different characteristics of music (rhythm, melody, harmony, etc) to affect skills and goals that actually have nothing to do with music. The EDGE program as a whole focuses on increasing independence as well as spiritual growth, employment training, and creating an accessible education while students live and learn side-by-side with peers and mentors. Each of these areas produces the goals that set the trajectory for our Music Therapy group. The students may engage in improvisational drumming to start off the time together, help them bond with each other through listening and responding without having to say a word. On Monday mornings, words can often be hard to come by, but using your hands to create a rhythm and hearing your peers reflect that rhythm back to you can both communicate and validate your feelings. If students are having difficulty with a new routine, curriculum element in their coursework, or even developing better connection with professors, we may create a song that takes them through action steps. Our brains find music to be an incredibly efficient mnemonic tool…that’s why we still know our ABCs even though we don’t practice them daily. As a culmination of last semester’s goals, the students went caroling. On the surface, this seems pedantic, even elementary, but the process reveals the goals and the work put in to reach these goals…often music therapy is not what it seems to the onlooker. Throughout the semester, students had been learning about and evaluating their individual strengths through music. The students took several weeks to plan, prepare, and practice. They determined their role in the process based on individual strengths: we had videographers, a director, soloists, ensemble singers, instrumentalists, and students who prepared our materials so everyone had lyric sheets to follow. During two classes of practice, the music therapist faded from view as the students took the lead in structuring and evaluating their performance. Even the day of our caroling adventures, the students facilitated the walk from office to office, conducted the program order, and mastered the performance for each faculty and staff member we were able to see. In discussion afterward, students felt empowered, encouraged, and satisfied by their performance and the response from listeners. Not only were their goals met, but the listeners were blessed by the effort and attention of these students and the beauty that music just naturally brings. In the EDGE program at Union, music is everywhere!
Do you know someone who could benefit from a program like this? For more information about the EDGE program, contact Jennifer Graves firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about music therapy, contact Chrissy Watson email@example.com
**This article was initially published in EDGE News: the Union EDGE Program Monthly Newsletter in March 2018 (volume 3, issue 2)