For about 100 students on the Kansas University campus, the hill is alive with the sound of music.
That’s in large part because of KU’s music therapy program. Started in 1946, the music-intensive path prepares students for a diverse range of careers working with music amid diverse populations, from youths to the elderly. Alicia Ann Clair, director of music education and music therapy, said most students entering the four and a half year program already had a passion for music.
“Many are musicians but don’t want to teach for a profession,” Clair said of the typical music therapy student. “They have inklings about a service career.”
The music is key for any student entering the program, whether working with children on campus or other deserving populations within the community. In order to complete the program, students must participate in a six month internship at the end of their four years. Those internships often occur in the city and county, providing services for local organizations such as Bert Nash and the Douglas County Jail.
The understanding of the music is even more important. Clair said students learn to recognize and utilize tempos, rhythms and lyrics — among other attributes — as part of the process. Each aspect can be used in different ways to facilitate outcomes in the clinical part of their studies, a staple of the program since its inception.
The studies have attracted students from around the world because of what Clair referred to as a cyclical process. The program has been recognized as one of the finest in the world.
“Many of our graduates are teaching abroad,” Clair said. “They establish KU roots in the country and then send students back.”
Hannah Seger, who recently graduated from the music therapy program, said the program’s reputation drew her away from her hometown in Massachusetts. Currently a practicing music therapy professional, Seger has been able to apply the lessons learned at KU seamlessly.
“I’ve acquired the confidence to recognize prospective areas of service and see the potential for music therapy within that setting,” she said.
Music therapy is used in a variety of places including hospitals, mental health facilities and rehabilitation settings. To get to that point in the curriculu, students must study music, anatomy, brain development, psychology and behavioral sciences. The broad range of study provides students and graduates with more opportunities for their professional futures.
KU’s current program offers degrees at the bachelor, masters and Ph.D. level.
Throughout their education, students’ musical repertoires expand, though Clair said their musical preferences rarely change. Daily exposure to all kinds of music make it possible for students to develop a wider variety of possible treatments, depending on the client.
For a discipline so heavily involved in research, music therapy is not very well funded, according to Clair. But things are looking up.
“I think research right now has nothing to do but grow,” she said. “That’s very exciting.”
Changing technology and recent research has helped the Music therapy profession to expand. Clair said she believed the KU program was well on its way to following suit.
“I think it’s a win-win for the community and the university and for the students,” Clair said. “And definitely our students are successful so it’s a win-win for us as well.”