Carly Simon: Healing Through Music

Lesley Mahoney
February 11, 2009
Carly Simon has an impromptu jam session with Berklee students Chris Perry and Marc Davis during her visit.
Donna Chadwick, associate professor of music therapy, and Darla Hanley, dean of the Professional Education Division, talk with Carly Simon.
Harpist Stephanie Johnson and nyckelharpist Bronwyn Bird perform before the music therapy presentation.
Suzanne Hanser, chair of the Music Therapy Department, talks about what inspired students to choose music therapy as a course of study.
Music therapy professor Kathleen Howland talks about the field from a biological perspective.
Professor Peggy Ann Codding talks about her experience using music therapy in prisons.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

As a child, Carly Simon had trouble speaking due to a considerable stutter—a revelation that's difficult to fathom given her prolific music career. To help her daughter communicate, Simon's mother engaged her in song for everything; she taught her how to ask for butter at the table by tapping it out on her leg and singing the words, for example.

"The great laws of compensation are just kind of miraculous," said Simon, who recently paid a visit to Berklee's Music Therapy Department. "As long as there was rhythm, she realized unconsciously that I would be able to do it."

Along with helping Simon get the words out, "it led to an interesting sense of rhythm and musicality," she said. "This was before I even started to sing. My mother was a [music] therapist without even learning that she could be a therapist. It was a way of getting her daughter to talk."

The whole family adopted this approach. "Because everyone in the family knew that it was very hard for me to speak but very easy to sing, we all began to sing around the house all the time, telling each other to go to bed or get up or come to dinner."

This personal connection with music therapy has sparked an interest in the field for the award-winning singer/songwriter: She is recording a song for an album for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

Last week, Simon delved deeper when she got a close look at Berklee's Music Therapy Department—visiting classrooms and attending a presentation from the department's faculty on the Power of Music Therapy.

And she liked what she saw. "Everything struck me as being extremely impressive, and it struck me just how global [music therapy] is, just how much there is to address," said Simon, who has earned several Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe, as well as an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee. "I feel that Berklee is now in a very fertile phase. There's so much interest in music therapy. Watching the presentation, I saw that there are 1,001 areas in which you could apply music therapy. There are so many different realms."

Said Simon: "It's amazing how much music can give and how much it can enliven the spirit." 

Berklee President Roger H. Brown, who said his college band covered Simon's "Anticipation," praised her, calling her an "advocate and activist" whose "work has been very powerful."

Suzanne Hanser, chair of the Music Therapy Department, was thrilled with Simon's visit. "Carly Simon has been a partner to so many music therapists who use her music to help people understand and express their feelings," she said. "Carly is an authentic artist who puts words to the confusion that many of us feel over relationships, love, and life. Her interest in music therapy is a natural extension of her ability to sing out what so many people feel."

Brown, meanwhile, praised the department for its work. "Your work is vital and your role at Berklee is a very special one, helping people to see the power of music beyond simply entertaining and performing but also the power to heal and make the world a better place."