Berklee Today

Music Therapy: Creating Harmony in Life

Music therapist Brian Jantz '97 works with five-year-old Daniel Macht at the Community Music Center of Boston.

Therapy for musicians? Playing music for sick people? Drumming away your anger? No, these do not describe music therapy. Rather, music therapy is the systematic use of music by a qualified therapist to bring about positive changes in people's lives. It is a unique treatment methodology that combines art and science to help a person in need. Music therapists use music and their relationship with the people they serve to identify their creative potential and develop new ways of expressing themselves, communicating with others, coping with challenges, or learning new skills.

Since Berklee's Music Therapy Department opened its doors three years ago, the pioneering first class of Music Therapy majors faced many challenges in preparing for this innovative career. The curriculum demanded activity from both sides of the brain and making the connections in between. Students were expected to fulfill basic music requirements beyond the Berklee core curriculum, including a firm grasp of guitar, keyboard, voice, and percussion, and a natural ability on their own instruments to emote or evoke a particular mood spontaneously. They needed excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to take part among professionals on a medical, clinical, or educational team. They were required to use objectivity to assess and evaluate their clinical work; they applied subjectivity in the form of sensitivity, insight, and empathy to connect with any person seeking their help. With these prerequisite abilities, they had to have the creativity to integrate all they were learning into an effective treatment program.

Music therapy is a career that demands that you give your all if you hope to succeed. The concurrent clinical practicum gave students the opportunity to practice skills and apply theories with people who were counting on the music therapy session. Obviously, cutting class meant a lot more than a lower grade. Some students made beautiful music, but weren't very good listeners yet. Therapists learn to listen and teach others to listen to the effects of the music. Life lessons like these were taking place every day in the clinic as the classroom. Students also mastered specialized techniques through such diverse activities as coleading a stress reduction through music therapy program for the community, participating in a music therapy training group where they were the recipients of the therapy, and learning the latest in music and medical technology in the Technology for Music Therapists course.

Music Therapy majors need a firm grasp of guitar, keyboard, voice, and percussion, and a natural ability on their own instruments to evoke a particular mood spontaneously.

A grant from the Elinor and Lou Hens Charitable Trust established the Music Therapy Institute to support programs in the community as a training ground for Berklee students. The Community Music Center of Boston provided teams of music therapists to supervise students in the field. The Peery Foundation and a generous donation from Joan Johnson enabled local medical centers, nursing homes, classrooms, clinics, and other community programs to benefit from music therapy services for the first time. Significant collaborations forged between established institutions such as Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care, Children's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and Judge Baker School (to name just a few) created new alliances in health care and education. Music therapists gave freely of their expertise in the training of future music therapists, rounding out a great team. The first national television satellite broadcast "Music Therapy and Medicine" was produced by faculty member Karen Wacks. A music therapy residency was even developed for geriatric fellows and residents at Harvard Medical School, building interest in this nontraditional treatment alternative.

After completing their course work, students began applying for six-month, full-time internships at any of 160 clinical internship sites nationwide approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Berklee students accepted offers from sites as close as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, and as far away as California, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The new graduates took the National Board Certification Examination in Music Therapy and passed on the first try.

Success stories are already streaming in. Jay Jay Lim just completed his internship at Music Works of California and immediately accepted a job at Bayview Psychiatric Hospital in San Diego. He is also initiating a Wellness Program in Music Therapy at Greene Music. Jennifer Withey finished interning at Taconic Developmental Center in New York and accepted a position at the Boston Alzheimer's Center. After completing his internship with the State of Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation, Brian Jantz was hired as a music therapist at the Community Music Center of Boston.

Berklee-trained music therapists are contemporary musicians who are well versed in technology and have proven themselves as helpers, listeners, thinkers, and qualified professionals. In learning their craft, they have discovered the power of music and how to care for others in a manner that emphasizes the strengths and abilities inherent in every person. They are already making a difference in people's lives and, in the process, have even changed something in themselves.


Berklee Press, the publishing division of Berklee College of Music, has just released the New Music Therapist's Handbook, by Dr. Suzanne Hanser. This book is the definitive work for music therapists.