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music therapy students
From left, Spencer Mason ’20, Kate Pisarczyk ’17, Christine Nyquist ’14, Professor Sangeetha Rayapati, Sean Harty ’16 and Victoria Kleeman ’18. (Not pictured: Josh Morano ’17)

What should music therapy become? Augustana students join conversation

Augustana music therapy students are joining a national discussion about where their profession is heading: Will it be more medical, or creative, or the best of both?

Sangeetha Rayapati, professor of music, and six students traveled to Sandusky, Ohio, for the American Music Therapy Association’s national conference in November. The conference draws about 500 attendees each year, and it was a first for Augustana students.

Augustana’s 7-year-old program in pre-music therapy continues to grow. About eight students are pursuing it this year. Most have double majors in psychology and music.

students in van

“With a cohort that size, it’s a good time to invest in something like this,” Dr. Rayapati said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be face-to-face with practitioners in the field, to learn about the breadth of music therapy and also the kinds of questions being addressed.”

The best way to use therapy

One such question grew from “a philosophic discussion that was resurrected from last year,” she said. Music therapy faculty, students and practitioners are talking about whether to combine two different approaches: neurologic music therapy and Nordoff-Robbins music therapy (also known as creative music therapy), for a more holistic approach.

“They are health care providers using music therapy to improve people’s health,” she said. “Music therapists think a combination is the best way to get the public to understand the benefits of music therapy.”

Race and music therapy formed another major topic during the conference. While 83 percent of music therapists are white, Dr. Rayapati reported, clients are much more diverse.

"So we ask ourselves: How are we treating students of color in the classroom? And how are they treated as professionals?”

Students learned about music therapy and neonatal intensive care, how private practices can work, and practical issues such as licensure.

They also enjoyed performances of all kinds — especially a “chant circle” which used a call-and-response format that was more about emotional response than performance quality.

In the van on the way back, the students shared how much they appreciated being involved in the conversation about what music therapy is and will become. They also decided to start their own ukulele circle in 2017.


Sam Schlouch, senior communications director

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