Regional Conference Report

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Music Therapy, Related Issues

Over the last weekend, I attended the Great Lakes Region Music Therapy Conference in Grand Rapids, MI.  This was the first music therapy conference I’ve attended since just after I completed my internship in 2002.  So, ten years – wow.  It was a very interesting weekend, and I thought I’d give a brief rundown of some of the highlights for me.


My coworker and I were sent to this conference by work as we’re trying to get an internship program started.  One of the requirements is that we complete a 5 hour CMTE course about supervising music therapy interns.  It was being offered at the conference, so that was our first thing.  It was fairly long, but we learned some good information and got some more things to think about as we continue with the application process (which generally takes about a year to go through).

The opening session featured Ken Medema, a music therapist that graduated from Michigan State’s program.  He’s a piano player, a fabulous improviser, and blind.  The keynote speech was all about how music matters.  He talked about advocacy in the government, and had the entire group running around giving each other back rubs at one point (I sat out because I have never liked back rubs – I’m a little tactilely defensive in that area).  He also asked for some stories about the moment people realized that music therapy worked, and improvised a song about each.  It was beautiful, and quite touching at times.  One particularly moving story was about a woman in hospice care writing a lullaby for her granddaughter, and singing it just before her death.


Friday was the first day of the concurrent sessions.  I didn’t get nearly enough sleep the night before (I never sleep well my first night in a new place) and kind of stumbled through the day.  I went to sessions on social stories, songwriting, and mentoring in kind of a daze.  I did get to a session run by Ken Medema specifically about improvisation, and got some good ideas of things to try.  I went to another session about using the iPad and got some good ideas of apps to try.

The big event of the day was the town hall meeting about Master’s level entry.  From what I understand, there’s a movement afoot that will be presented to the general membership soon that a bachelor’s degree will no longer be enough to practice as a music therapist (though I think currently practicing therapists would be grandfathered in).  This is a move designed to increase the legitimacy of the profession, particularly since other therapies require at least a Master’s to practice (occupational and speech therapy, for example; physical therapy requires a doctorate).  The town hall was being run at every regional conference this year so the panel could hear concerns before putting together a report that I think will be presented at the national conference in October.  Some concerns were presented – we’re asking students to take on another two years of schooling on top of their undergrad experience; the bachelor’s degree programs would ultimately become worthless; and it’s increasing the barrier of entry into the profession – people might not want to pursue music therapy anymore once they know there’s more involved.

My personal thoughts is that I think it’s a good idea.  Obviously, I got my Master’s to increase my knowledge base and make myself more marketable, so that’s in line with what the committee is thinking.  However, I think it’s kind of limiting to say “you must have a Master’s in music therapy.”  What about getting a bachelor’s in music therapy and a Master’s in special ed?  Or speech?  I would go with a Master’s degree in music therapy or a related discipline (as long as you have a bachelor’s in MT), and define what those related disciplines are.  Obviously, that’s not the exact wording I’d use, but there you go.

On Friday night, I went out to dinner with the Illinois State students, professors, and alumni.  I got back to the hotel ready for bed, but since my ride was participating in the drum circle, I sat and waited.  I would have participated, but I was running on fumes at that point.  I sat there for an hour before I finally caught her eye and we left – I had been waiting for a stopping point, but that was some unreal endurance.


I was much more rested on Saturday, which was good since our first session (the Indiana state meeting) was at 7:30 in the morning.  Yecch.  But, we’re trying to get more involved on the state level, so there we were.  It was good to meet some of the other therapists from Indiana.

The first session I went to was about the use of technology, and particularly how one therapist (Louie Morand of Kalamazoo) was using it in juvenile detention facilities.  He showed off a number of gadgets, including mixing boards, synthesizers, GarageBand, and a cool little device called the Kaossillator.  It has a touch pad, and you can program in what scale you want it to play, as well as different sounds to play as you run your finger around the pad.  There’s also a tempo button you can tap to get to just the right speed, which I also think would be useful when trying to figure out the actual tempi for recordings.  The best part is this $90 device is also available as a $20 iPad app.  The presentation was one of my favorites of the conference, and was really what I think a presentation should be – Morand was obviously very passionate about what he was presenting, had lots of examples from sessions, and was able to give some hands on demonstrations of how things worked.

Another really good session I went to was one about West African rhythms and movement, as presented by Carolyn Koebel (also of Kalamazoo).  This was essentially a drum circle class with dance incorporated in.  We learned a song written by a group of Koebel’s clients, which consisted of various rhythms based on phrases (ain’t no thing but a chicken wing, I like bananas coconuts and grapes, etc).  Some of the clients drummed those rhythms, while others did a kind of interpretive dance with movements that represented the phrases.  We then wrote our own.  It was a very cool session, and I look forward to implementing those techniques.

The last session we went to was about incorporating music and therapeutic riding.  Sister Ann Frances Thompson is the music therapist at Equest in Rockford, MI.  I didn’t think it was going to be as interesting as it turned out to be.  I never thought you could combine horses and music therapy, but Sister Ann is using it as a way to help people feel more comfortable getting on horses, learning the steps of riding, and as a guide for the horses who she discovered would match the beat of certain songs.  It was kind of fascinating, and I find myself wanting to know more.

There was another business meeting that day and some CMTEs on Sunday, but we decided to just head home after a long weekend.  It was a very good conference, and I hope I’ll be able to make it to the national conference in October.  Thanks for reading!


  1. JoelK says:

    Thanks for posting this; interesting stuff. (MT and horses!) I’ll be following the Master’s requirement idea with interest; in the UK, where I trained, a Master’s has been the base level for quite some time. (I squeaked through with a one-year postgraduate diploma, before that program got changed to a 2-year Master’s).

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