“Music therapy, is there job security?” I was asked.
Recently a mother of a high school student said “my daughter is thinking about music therapy, but is there job security?” Knowing how busy I am, and have been for 25yrs, I said “if you’re an effective music therapist you’ll work all you want.”
I have written about this before, but between this recent question (which I have gotten before) and my last two day of work, one aspect of my reasoning has “played out…” again. First, let me start by saying that a number of things combine to make someone effective at their job. Having a bright, confident personality is important to being an effective music therapist. Also knowing how to be “therapeutic,” i.e., being aware of peoples responses to live music in a session, supporting them, then conveying that information to team members are other important aspects. But what I am writing about today, that “one aspect, having to do with my last two days of work” is very important… and that is being a professional musician. This above all has given my job security. In my experience once you get a music therapy job or position you literally and figuratively “have to perform.” Live music is what sets us apart from other health and wellness modalities and once you get the opportunity to provide music therapy, your live music skills, or lack of them will be exposed. And if you are inexperienced and resort to using recorded music you’re not doing credible service to the discipline of music therapy and you probably won’t have your job very long as a result. At the very least you feel very limited and have difficulty relating (musically) with varied populations.
Before I continue, let me explain what I mean by being a “professional” musician. First, I think there are two kind of “professionals.” The first is simply a person who makes money performing a task or providing a service, which can be narrow in scope. A second kind of “professional” is someone who not only makes money at something but who is experienced and knowledgeable in all or most areas of their chosen field. Some examples.. A professional carpenter can perform all or most woodworking tasks. A professional arborist knows about all or most things related to trees, shrubs, etc, you get the idea. Now, this related to music therapy… A professional musician can be someone who plays and gets paid to play only Jimmy Buffett songs at a Key West restaurant, he’s a professional. This person, with that skill set, would not be a very effective music therapist.
Now, to what I mentioned earlier about “my last two days of work.” Yesterday I did the 3rd (of 5) summer bereavement camps for kids for our hospice, of which I get to organize and have play with me, two Toledo Symphony (TSO) musicians. Yesterday it was with a cellist and flute player. We started out with a Bach Invention (to get the kids to roll their eyes) then went into a fun Monkees song that the kids know from the movie Shrek. From there we performed a movement song that I wrote, recorded and arranged for the symphony members to play with me. The bulk of the music group time (yesterday we had 35 kids in each of two groups) was using a mic Looper to lay down spontaneous, recorded hip hop parts (by myself and the TSO musicians) all to have foundational music churning so the kids can be instructed and supported by us professionals to explore playing cello, flutes, guitars, percussion, bells, etc, all within a hip, jamming song that they could experience success.
And today, in one hospice room with a family, I was initially asked to play bluegrass and country music (the husband organizes the annual bluegrass festival in his town). Then the daughter of the patient introduced me to her teenage daughter, also visiting, who “plays piano in her school jazz band.” When I asked her what she would like to hear, to my surprise she said music by the band Chicago, one of my favorites, I played that music. Then the patients daughter surprised me again, asking me if I know any bossa nova music (from Brazil). I love that music!! I had a ball and the family had such a nice time singing, emoting and reminiscing because ultimately (the family reported) all those (diverse) styles are “all favorites” of the dying patient.
My point of all this is, not that being able to play all the styles mentioned got me the work with hospice, but I know for a fact the being well versed in many and most styles of music KEEPS my hospice work going. So back to the top of the post… job security.
And as I mentioned earlier, there are a number of things that combine to make someone effective at their job. What I am highlighting here is the importance of being an effective, professional musician, which is one very important area in being an impactful music therapist. By being able to provide all or most styles of music, it allows us to work with all or most music therapy populations. Again, job security.
The Creative Clinician is committed to provide education and instruction to music therapists wanting to become more effective, creative and professional musicians and clinicians.