Capturing the essence of Keeley St. Clair, MT-BC is difficult to do in writing. Her presence is so dynamic and joyful that sometimes during this interview we just ended up giggling like kids. She has the same effect on her clients, whether they are small children or older adults. Keeley is the founder and director of Earthtones’ early childhood program, CHIRP! She shared her unique perspective in this interview.
What drew you to music therapy?
I popped around to many different degree paths after finishing the majority of a vocal performance degree– and I had such a negative experience in the University School of Music. It was very competitive, and lacking support. I tried a few things out and nothing felt right; I knew I was spinning my wheels until I could find “it,” what I was supposed to do. A girlfriend of mine started talking about going to an art therapy program at Naropa, which I’d never heard of, and I asked her about art therapy. She said they have music therapy too! As soon as I heard that there was such a thing, I knew EXACTLY that this was what I was supposed to do. I went back and finished all my prerequisites and finished my degree at Marylhurst.
How did you become a music therapist?
The largest factor in me becoming a music therapist was my training and Marylhurst and then my internship at Earthtones. I really think it was just a constellation of all the training that I had, all the didactic and clinical training that was afforded to me as a student and an intern, that made me a music therapist.
What population do you work with? Do you have one population in particular that resonates with you?
I work pretty much everywhere from birth to active dying process– including some mental health, special needs, and dementia. My heart space as a practitioner definitely lies in working with kids. When I work with young children, I don’t feel like I’m working! It’s just a total blast!!
Tell us about a typical day for you.
My days are really variable. I usually start my days working with young children, toddlers, and infants in our community program called Chirp. From there, it can go anywhere from working in our studio, or out in the community. I have clients in private homes, hospitals, day programs, group homes, and libraries. I have the opportunity to work with a myriad clients from a young boy with speech development goals, to a man with Autism, or from a mental health site to a hospice client. I also spend a lot of time working on the back end of Earthtones, with social media and website design, but the bulk of my work is direct service.
Tell us about CHIRP!
CHIRP is Earthtones’ early childhood music program. It’s a community based developmental music program that focuses on helping young children reach their developmental milestones through musical means. It’s also a great way for parents and caregivers to deepen their bonds, develop community, and to do something positive and fun with their young children.
I started my practice as a pediatric music therapist. When Earthtones asked me to come on board, I immediately said yes–with the caveat that I could work with children, because they didn’t work with that population at the time. What originally inspired the CHIRP program itself was taking the Sprouting Melodies training, which is designed by and for music therapists. After completing that training I was inspired to offer a program of that caliber to the Portland area. I was so inspired to work with the Portland-area families!
I knew I wanted the name to be something bird inspired because birds are so musical. After lots of different iterations and ideas I was brainstorming with [my husband] Bryce and I asked him, “What sounds do birds make?” and he said “Chirp?” and I said “WAIT that’s perfect!”
We have weekly groups throughout the city, several times a week, and we also provide services for special events, staff trainings, in-services and consultations, as well as individualized services for young children.
What has surprised you the most about your work?
[She pauses] What’s been most surprising is, after years of being in the field, finally understanding that my extroverted personality is really well suited towards extroverted-type groups. I feel exuberant and enlivened by working with highly responsive and engaged groups. That’s the kind of work that pulls me toward music therapy. So it’s almost a type of self-care, finding the type of groups that help feed my soul too, as well as the process helping them to be their best selves.
Who has influenced you?
The people who have influenced me the most have been the women in my life. That includes my mom and my mother figures, as well as my very dear lady tribe. We have cultivated loving and supportive relationships with each other, and we’re not afraid to take care of ourselves or each other. Those relationships have really served as a foundation for my therapeutic practice and how I approach everyone in my life, including my clients.
Favorite genre of music?
Ow… okay! My first response and easiest response would probably be classic rock. That being said… There are so many types of music and genres of music that echo the life stages and life experiences you have as a person. One day I might be feeling some Led Zeppelin, and the next day I might feel like I need a little Joni Mitchell or Björk. It really depends on the situation for me. But definitely 80’s pop, contemporary chamber pop, indie folk, and a very curated listed of electronica!
Oh my GOD –WHAT? This is karma because when I was president of MMTSO (Marylhurst Music Therapy Student Organization) that’s something that I asked the new students coming in and they were so upset about it and I made them do it anyway! It would probably be… [she pulls out her phone]
Any advice for someone who wants to become a music therapist?
If you want to become a music therapist I encourage you wholeheartedly to do so… AND make sure to do some research on the work before you are accepted and start a program. Try to get a job shadow appointment with a current music therapist in your area so you can see it for yourself, and make sure your musical skills are up to par!