The music therapy profession in the United States emerged following World War II. During the 1940s, volunteer musicians performed for veterans as they convalesced from their physical and emotional injuries. As these music programs grew, medical personnel and hospital administrators noticed that the veterans had consistently positive physical and emotional responses to the music, yet the musicians needed training in order to support more intentional positive outcomes. Thus the first music therapy educational programs were established, followed closely by the formation of a national professional music therapy organization.
Though the music therapy profession has continued to grow over the past 65 years, our work with the military has not mirrored this same pattern. Until recently. Now, it seems there is growing interest in providing music therapy services and offering other music-based programs to military personnel, veterans, and their families.
One example is the Alchemy Sky Foundation, a non-profit that partners with organizations to bring music therapy programs to veterans and VA hospitals. In honor of Veterans Day, I invited Jaye Budd, founder of Alchemy Sky, to share a bit about his program and the work he and music therapist Mallory Even (owner of Metro Music Therapy) and her team do with veterans in the Atlanta area.
Mallory Even, owner of Metro Music Therapy (MMT), had a connection with a former colleague who was working in the nursing home division at Atlanta’s Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC). Currently, the VAMC in Atlanta does not have a music therapist on staff. Therefore, the Alchemy Sky Foundation began contracting with MMT to bring this vital service to our veterans.
We work directly with residents who call the VA home. They are mostly from the Vietnam and Korea War eras. We average twelve veterans in each group music therapy session. Sessions last approximately 45 minutes, and generally involve a mix of veterans playing and improvising on percussion instruments we provide, as well as music listening and singing experiences, all facilitated by the music therapist.
The most successful music interventions include moving to music, musical games (e.g., music jeopardy, “name that tune”), songwriting, and group singing. I think these work best because they engage veterans in active participation. In other words, all of these interventions involve active engagement, or actually “doing something,” as opposed to more passive listening. They are also interventions that can easily utilize the preferred music of the veterans in the group. This adds additional motivation for them to participate!
Specific benefits vary based on the veteran. However, common benefits we see and benefits reported by the veterans include overall improved quality of life, opportunities for peer and social engagement, enhanced memory recall, as well as sensory stimulation and general physical engagement. During the music therapy sessions, we see veterans interact with others, sing, make eye contact, move their bodies, make choices, reminisce about songs and times in their lives, and overall become active participants in a positive, social group situation.
Something magical always happens during our music therapy sessions at the VA. The best moments occur when the veterans show facets of their personality we haven't seen before. We have wonderful memories, like when Mr. S spontaneously stood on his wheelchair to dance to Georgia On My Mind, or when Mr. P zoomed into the room on his wheelchair and said “Jaye, I have three sugar cookies and two harmonicas in my front pocket.” Music therapy seems to provide a perfect opportunity to manifest such moments. Since many of the veterans have challenges such as anxiety, dementia, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, it's this wonderful, welcomed moment when they express themselves in a musical way.