Two women in their twenties sit at a piano together, improvising the notes they play and letting the music unfold. They’re students in the Canadian Mennonite University music therapy program, which is the only music therapy program on the prairies. Today they are role-playing, one is the client and the other is the therapist.
“We learn how to improvise based on what the client is doing. The client would have an instrument and we would improvise to support what they’re doing,” says student Jessica Heise.
Program director Jennifer Lin says the part where they act as a client is just as important as the part where they act as a therapist.
“They learn how to be vulnerable. That class is the perfect place for them to experience what clients might feel like,” says Lin.
Music therapy at CMU teaches how to use music to help people with disabilities, terminal illness, physical and emotional trauma. There are eight students in the program this year, four in their first semester of music therapy and four in their third.
“When I was younger I always thought I would become a doctor, and music was just always a hobby, something that I loved,” says student Alva Espino.
“I realized I couldn’t let music go. So I took a risk and I went into music but when I went into music I felt like something was missing.”
After finishing a music degree at U of M Espino enrolled in the music therapy program.
“I didn’t want to teach, I didn’t want to perform and the thought of still wanting to be a doctor and helping people was at the back of my head. So when I heard about music therapy I just thought it was the best fit for me because it brought the best of both worlds of what I loved,” says Espino.
Students of music therapy take the program as a part of their four-year undergraduate degree or after completing an undergraduate degree. They spend four semesters in classes and practicum and then do 1,000 hours of interning.
They also do a minor in theology.
“I think when you’re working with people that are dying or are terminally ill it doesn’t hurt to have an understanding of spirituality,” says student Jesse Dollimont.
During their practicum students will work in personal care homes, hospitals, schools and community vocational centres.
“We learn about different populations, different disorders, different illnesses, so that we can better help those people and understand what they’re going through,” says Heise.
They also learn about the paperwork — clinical documentation.
Lin and her students believe music therapy is a great way to aid in healing and can invite people to explore ways of getting better without drugs.
“We are not replacing the medicine or any kind of medical practice but we’re just saying there’s another option,” says Lin.
“For people that don’t have the verbal skills this is the only way they can communicate with the world or their loved ones, family members or friends and to me that’s the greatest value.”