Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UA has only music therapy program in state

Helen Clark of Huntsville, Ala., was 70 years old the day she sat down to play the piano again. She had not played in 40 years and was suffering with the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Though words escaped her and she could no longer move without the aid of a wheelchair, Clark found she could still express herself through music. The chords of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” flowed through the halls of the nursing home that day, as her fingers recalled the notes of her favorite childhood hymn.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to help individuals accomplish goals that approve the quality of their lives in non-musical aspects, according to the American Music Therapy Association. The only music therapy program in Alabama was founded at UA in 1985 by Carol A. Prickett.

“We work with all sorts of special populations from pre-mature infants all the way up through people who are very old and in nursing homes,” Prickett said. “We actually almost never teach them how to play a musical instrument. We just create an activity with music so that they can address whatever they need to.”

Prickett said treatment varies for each specific case.

“A person, for instance, with a physical disability may need long term care, and our goal is to keep them as independent as possible as we help them through long term care,” Prickett said. “Adolescents, on the other hand, may only need a little extra help from the outside. Then they are able to go on and make a plan and deal with their lives alone after the one time intervention.”

The four-and-a half-year program has only 30 students, but it was designed to be small and individualized. The first step a student must take to be admitted is audition for entrance into the School of Music.

“I play the trombone,” said Mary Young, a sophomore majoring in music therapy. “The audition to get into the School of Music included coming to Tuscaloosa on a Saturday after preparing three pieces to play in front of the brass professors.”

Young said she loves that the program puts students out into the field immediately.

“As a second semester freshman, we are already going with our professor to her therapy sessions at Sprayberry Regional Education Center and helping during the sessions,” Young said.

Young said her dream job is to work in a school setting helping children who have hearing disabilities when she graduates, so the hands-on experience the program provides allows her to learn valuable skills for later use in the real world. Another benefit of the program is that students from Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee are able to receive in-state tuition because there are not programs offered in their home states.

Capstone Music Therapy Association is a student organization that supplements the music therapy program, allowing students to work with behavioral disorders and multiple disability children.

CMTA President Anna Baird, a junior majoring in music therapy, said she finds the community work to be very rewarding.

“We work more with patient preferred music,” Baird said. “We choose songs people are most likely to know based on research. We want to enhance the quality of life people enjoy through music.”

Baird said facial aspects and body behaviors of participants measure the results of music therapy.

“We base the first responses off of their participation, as in finger tapping along with singing responses, smiles, nods and eye contact,” Baird said. “Triggering a response from them is how we know they are doing well.”

CMTA participates in A Walk to Remember to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. While there is still no cure, music therapy seems to be an interactive diversion for patients to forget their problems for a while and get lost in a song.

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