When Tara Baldrick-Morrone stepped out of her friend’s Jacksonville home one balmy summer night in July of 2005, she never thought she’d wake up two weeks later. She was making the trip home, under the Florida stars, when her car came to a head-on collision, brought by a drunk driver. She never heard a thing; she was left comatose from a traumatic brain injury. “I was unconscious for about four days,” says Baldrick-Morrone. Her family kept a vigil at her bedside, unsure whether or not their daughter would come back. “Late one night, my uncle and one of the nurses, who happened to be in a band, tried to get me to calm down because I had been so restless, so they both started singing to me, “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley. As they were singing, they saw my mouth moving.” Despite remaining comatose, Baldrick-Morrone continued responding to the songs, until a few days later, she returned to her awaiting parents.
Music therapy is a music based, therapeutic relationship supported by clinical and evidence-based research. Through musical involvement in individual or group sessions, trained professionals provide communicative assistance to clients in need, from children to adults, with illnesses that range from mental health to Alzheimer’s. Patients with various ailments have found peace, comfort, and success in its work, which is well documented and widely practiced. It’s not as prevalent in the media today as say massage therapy or acupuncture might be; however, more and more musicians are leaving the stage to other professionals, so they can work with a different core audience.
Sometimes it’s people that are chosen innately. At Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, Baldrick-Morrone woke up two weeks after the accident to an audience that had been listening to her sing for several days. She digresses: “I was going through a medley of songs. Things I had really loved or songs that I heard on the radio.” Throughout her time in the dark, Baldrick-Morrone traveled between two hospitals and sang half a dozen songs, ranging from “Roxanne” by The Police to “867-5309” by Tommy Tutone. “I was singing them horribly I’m sure,” she says with a laugh. She doesn’t remember any of it, all of these memories are from stories her parents have told her. “It was like I just woke up from a dream.”
Baldrick-Morrone’s story is not rare, at least not according to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the AMTA is the country’s largest association involved with music therapy, representing nearly 5,000 music therapists who are both board certified and have a degree. “It’s a growing field,” says Al Bumanis, director of communications for the AMTA. Through its publication, the Journal of Music Therapy, the association asserts a continual research within the field, one that Bumanis says is, “a hard to study because sometimes you’re looking at the brain and the emotional response to music.”
Education is pertinent to music therapy and one that requires both time and patience. There are some preliminary steps to follow until the big show is on the road. Fortunately, the Schools of Music in universities across the nation, seventy-four to be exact, offer this rare opportunity. However, Bumanis contends, “It’s pretty intense. Besides all the music information, it often includes a lot of psychology, a lot of educational techniques, a lot of core music therapy courses and research.” Following the four years of schooling, the student/future therapist must complete a clinical internship, which is full time and can last up to six months.
Working as a music therapist involves a relationship with the client and/or patient. The procedure for a typical music therapy session follows a plan, beginning with evaluation, leading to a treatment plan for the specific client, which is then eventually re-evaluated. Much like one’s album collection, it’s personal and reflective. “Each individual case is different,” Bumanis says. “Music is based on the client’s likes and dislikes. It’s not going to work if you play something an adolescent is going to like that something an eighty-year-old grandmother wouldn’t.”
Considering these music therapists are actual musicians, the sessions can be quite exciting. Live performances are common, says Bumanis, where therapists involve clients in drumming circles or other forms of musical improvisation. In cases like Baldrick-Morrone’s, something as simple as playing a tape or an album is uniquely beneficial. Bumanis emphasizes this by saying, “[The connection] is the relationship with the therapist and that process of what’s going on.” However, the sessions are costly, as Bumanis continues, “Most music therapists probably do group work. Individual work is a little more costly just because there aren’t enough music therapists to go around. It’s based on need.”
Music is everywhere. Outside of the hospitals and rehabilitation centers, millions of people plug into iPods, blast their radios, and stream music from their computers. It’s a lifestyle and something that everyone finds peace and escape in. “Even before the accident, I always felt like music spoke for me,” says Baldrick-Morrone. “I live through music. Even now, more so than ever. I’m always listening, no matter what.”