Come On Baby, Let’s Do the Twist



If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already well acquainted with how awesome music can be. Maybe you’re a music therapist, or know and love one. You might be an activity director who has seen your residents sing along to Frank Sinatra long after they’re lost their ability to speak. Or maybe you know the feeling of getting in the car after a long day and hearing your favorite song come on the radio. No matter what, nearly everyone has some kind of connection with music. That’s why I want to share this next story with you. If you love music, you’ll understand.

It’s Monday after a weekend of pouring rain. The sun is trying to peek through the clouds. I get called in for an impromptu music therapy session at a day program for adults with mental health needs. I and another music therapist normally have a group here on Tuesday and Thursdays but they requested an extra session this week and I’m glad to step in. When I walk in the door I see a woman beelining towards the exit, staff not far behind. Exit-seeking behavior is a common symptom in dementia, and the staff at this day program are well-versed in redirection, but nothing seems to be working. I make eye contact with the director and she says, “Do you want to go to music?” The woman looks at the director, looks at me, and says, “I don’t think I can.” I approach the woman with my hand extended and introduce myself. She takes my hand and tells me her name. Then I ask, “Do you like rock & roll?” The woman’s eyes light up. Like the sun peeking through the clouds, her affect begins to brighten. She starts humming and moving her shoulders up and down in time, and enthusiastically agrees to walk to my group with me. We hum “The Twist” by Chubby Checker as we go.

A Golden Moment


Not long ago I had a gentleman join one of my memory care groups. We can call him “John.” For the first few weeks that I saw him, John sat on the periphery of the group and declined invitations to join in. One day he was wearing an Oregon Bach Festival t-shirt, so I naturally struck up a conversation with him. John was soft spoken and kind, and from that point on we bonded easily over our mutual love for baroque music. When I brought my flute to a session and played a sonata by Handel, he lit up. After that it took very little prompting for John to make himself comfortable in the group. He played maracas and sang along to Sinatra. One afternoon John’s wife came to visit and sat in on a music therapy session. She pulled me aside afterwards and said, “I haven’t seen him like that in a very long time. You’re the only one who can reach the real John.”


Working as music therapists gives us a special and unique perspective. We get the gift of seeing our clients in a light that is only possible through music. If you believe in magic, this is where it happens. I feel honored to be a part of it!

Song List Series – Classic Rock Songs with Vowels in the Chorus


This may seem like an oddly specific sub-genre, but music therapists often work with clients that have speech goals. Songs that have sustained or repeated vowels in the chorus can address breath control, word “shaping,” and even self-expression! Plus, in this day and age classic rock is an increasingly popular genre that reaches across generations.

  • “Who Are You” by The Who
  • “Jersey Girl” by Bruce Springsteen
  • “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
  • “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
  • “D’yer Mak’er” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns n Roses
  • “Take on Me” by a-ha
  • “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
  • “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by  Bobby McFerrin
  • “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Obla Di Obla Da” by The Beatles
  • “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood
  • “Listen to the Music” by Doobie Brothers
  • “Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin
  • “Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash


Tune in next week for songs with great hooks!

Song List Series – Songs About Grief and Loss

Every so often a repertoire-related question pops up in a music therapy forum online. What follows is usually a flood of fantastic song suggestions. We thought, why not compile them? This week our theme is “Songs About Grief and Loss.”

  1. “Work Song” by Hozier
  2. “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” by Flogging Molly
  3. “St. Jude” by Florence + the Machine
  4. “Wanting Memories” by Sweet Honey in the Rock
  5. “Beam Me Up” by Pink
  6.  “Mark’s Song” by EastMountainSouth
  7. “When I See You Again” by Charlie Puth
  8. “Parting Glass” by Wailing Jennys
  9. “To Where You Are” by Josh Groban
  10. “Temporary” by John Bucchino
  11. “Brief Eternity” by Bobby McFerrin
  12. “Hey Kind Friend” by Indigo Girls
  13. “Through My Prayers” by Avett Brothers
  14. “In My Life” by The Beatles
  15. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen (Or Israel Kamakawiwo’ole)

We also highly recommend “Heart Strings Vol. 1”, which is an album written and performed by  Willamette Valley Hospice music therapists Jillian Hicks MA MT-BC, Jessica Western MT-BC & Ivan Caluya (Music Therapy intern). It features original music by the music therapists AND songs that were written and co-written by hospice patients. You can find more info –> HERE<–

Check back next week for another list! The theme is “Classic Rock.”


The Ethical Music Therapist

Last week I attended a continuing education course on music therapy and ethics, presented by Jodi Winnwalker (our awesome CEO and founder). I’m not gonna lie– it took me a long time to write this post. The course was 3 hours long and we covered what felt like every topic under the sun. Even then, the subject of ethics is so incredibly deep that we could have talked for days and there would still be more to consider. I left with a million new pieces of knowledge, and about a billion more questions. It was amazing! There are two components to what I took away from the workshop:

Part A – What I Learned

Okay. Let’s talk ethics. Our primary resources in this workshop were the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) Scope of Practice, the AMTA Code of Ethics, and Cheryl Dileo’s amazing book, Ethical Thinking in Music Therapy.  Dileo’s book is rich with information, so I tried to distill some of it for this blog post in the form of two infographs.

  1. Ethical Decision Making When we encounter ethical dilemmas, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. They wouldn’t be dilemmas otherwise. Luckily, Cheryl Dileo actually outlined steps we can take to ensure our decision is ethical. You’ll notice that the last step is to evaluate the decision. Even once we’ve executed our choice, we must continue to examine and evaluate its repercussions.

4 Traits of a.png

2. Core Ethical Principals of Music Therapy Everyone has their own set of values and morals. They are typically very personal and guide us through our daily lives. Did you know that music therapy as a profession has its own set of ethical principles? You can read more about each one in Dileo’s book (and I recommend it!), but in the meantime here’s a list of them:

ethical principals


Part B – What I Feel

This topic is one that I will grapple with for the rest of my career — and that’s exactly what I should be doing. One of the most important steps is to actively check in with myself on a regular basis. If something feels wrong for whatever reason, I owe it to myself and to my clients to explore it further. Every challenge is a new opportunity to grow.

I also think it’s extremely important to talk about ethical dilemmas with members of our community. We encounter dilemmas so, so often… why are we afraid to talk about them? If we normalize our problems, they become addressable.

I have definitely fallen down the “Ethics Rabbit Hole” and you know what? I’m excited to be here!

Self Care Practice for Every Day Life

Earthtones Spotlight – Patricia Chang


Earthtones Intern Patricia Chang is the kind of person who you know is passionate about music therapy. Whether she’s sharing her latest awesome iPad app discovery or learning a boatload of new chords for a song, Patricia puts care into everything she does. She is always ready with an easy smile! We were glad to learn more about Patricia and her journey through her internship.

What drew you to music therapy?

Music therapy just sounds so wonderful. How can you not! Originally, I was studying psychology, but it was just not enough. I heard about music therapy when I was 16, and later learned more about the scientific aspects in one of my classes. But our school didn’t have the program. I had never heard of any school that had a music therapy program, until one day I was doing research on something that had nothing to do with music therapy. That led me to the AMTA roster of schools that offered a program.

What population do you work with? 

During my practicum and internship I have worked with babies 0-18 months, 3-5 year olds, teenagers with learning disabilities, adults with mental health needs, older adults with dementia, an individual with autism, assisted living facilities, an eight-year-old with Down Syndrome, adults with developmental disabilities, and an adult oncology unit.

Do you have one population in particular that resonates with you?

[She laughs and frowns at me] All of them! I feel like it’s not so much about working with one population as it is working with these wonderful individuals.

Tell us about a typical day for you.

Wake up, check work email and my schedule, prep time, driving, session, driving, meeting, driving, session [laughs]. And maybe some practice here and there. After work, it would be session planning, progress notes, and learning new songs, learning sign language, customizing Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

What has surprised you the most about your internship?

My clients are full of surprises. No matter how much time I spend with them they can always bring, not just surprises but joy. One client is an example: We have 2 sessions a week and he’s surprising me every session! My client today waited so patiently while I tuned his guitar. Before he wasn’t okay with waiting, but now he really listens to the quality of the music. You could see how he was really listening, not just with guitar, but with autoharp, and recorder. He knew I was tuning his guitar so he could make beautiful music, so he was willing to wait. And the whole time he was still smiling! It’s just… I feel like I can never stop when I talk about him.

Who has influenced you?

Everyone has inspired me in some ways. My instructors, supervisors, peers, clients. In the music therapy world they taught me how to be a compassionate, mindful, patient, loving person. But outside of the music therapy world, there are always new perspectives to teach me to see things differently. For example, I went to a laughter yoga class. I asked the instructor about how her leadership has shaped her as an instructor. I learned from her that everybody has their own styles. I came to the realization that you change and find yourself overtime. You become like water and embrace your environment.

Or the other day I met this lady, just randomly on the road, and we started to talk. She was wearing a name tag from one of my sites. I’d never met her but I felt like I knew her. I felt like there was so much in her. She was very insightful and full of genuine wisdom and life experience. Just being around her I felt like there was so much to learn from her.

I’m also inspired by little humans! They are so joyful, genuine, and expressive. If they like you, they’ll tell you they like you. At the same time they’re so creative, and they help me see things differently. They have no limitations or fear.

Favorite genre of music? What’s your favorite song?

CHINESE POP! And New Age music. One of my favorite songs is Evolution Era by V.K.

Any advice for future interns?

Learn like a sponge! Soak in everything you can and have FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From Intern to Professional: What I’ve Learned So Far

From intern to Professional

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Our current interns are wrapping up their internship, and new ones are beginning on Friday. I’ve been chatting with our outgoing interns and reflecting on my own process. Six months after I joined the professional world, I wrote a blog post called “Professional Life: The First 6 Months.” I made a list of things I had learned in my first half-year as a professional. I think a lot of it still applies, and since then I’ve gained more insight on what it means to be a music therapist.

So graduating interns and new professionals, I have some wisdom I’d like to share with you!

First, here is my original list:

1. On saying yes: As soon as I got those letters after my name (and even a little bit before!), I said yes to EVERYTHING. And I mean E*V*E*R*Y*T*H*I*N*G. Because I made myself available, people knew they could rely on me. As a result, I had not only a job but a full case load within weeks of graduating.

2. On saying no: I don’t think that saying yes all the time was a bad idea. That being said, now I’m learning that just because I am available at a certain time, it does not mean I have to accept a task, whether that’s a client, a favor, or a gig. I drive something around 250 miles a week, and spend an average of 2-3 hours a day in my car. This week I had another therapist take over one of my clients because it took me 1.5 hours of sitting in traffic to get to them. I’m transferring another one of my clients to someone else because I just couldn’t get on the same page as the activities coordinator. I loved all the clients in those situations, but it wasn’t working for me. In the wise words of one of my MT buddies, “If it’s soul sucking, don’t do it.”

3. MT-BC is just the beginning!: I feel like becoming board certified was often presented to me as The Final Step. In school and internship, our process was referred to as a “journey,” and somehow I took that to mean that becoming a music therapist was the destination. I guess that’s technically true, but that doesn’t mean I’m anywhere CLOSE to being done learning. I never, ever will be. Is that scary? Sure, a little bit. It’s also encouraging in a way. It means that as long as I’m making an effort to improve, my work will never be stagnant or boring. And on that note…

4. Routine?: It’s AMAZING how fast my work started to feel routine. That can be a good thing, because it meant I wasn’t constantly stressing out about what was going to happen next. On the flip side, it was pretty easy to fall into a lull where I was using the same songs and same interventions from week to week. Just because my internship was over, it didn’t mean I should stop trying new things! It also means that sometimes new things will fall flat, and that’s okay because…

5. You’ve got lots of time. :  This is the first time in my very short music therapy experience that I don’t have a predetermined end date with my clients. In my case, doing long-term work that focuses primarily on quality of life means that it’s okay to spend a whole session coming up with ideas for a song, then spend the next session writing two bars, then setting it aside for a while. That also means that I can’t “power through” things like I did as a student. (Oh, like I’m the only one who stayed up til 2 AM to write my lit review? Sure, guys. Sure.) What I’m doing has to be sustainable in the long run, or else I’ll burn out FAST. It’s good to provide variety but a session doesn’t have to be jam-packed with intervention after intervention. Once I figured this out, my daily life became significantly less stressful.

¡BONUS TIP! Start making it a habit to answer emails as soon as you get them, even if it’s just a quick “Got it, will respond more later.” Return phone calls as soon as you are able. Timely communication is key.

¡BONUS BONUS TIP! Don’t take criticism personally. Don’t be afraid to re-assess your approach, and also know that sometimes things won’t work out, even if you are providing high quality services.

And here are a few more additions to that list that I’ve learned since then:

  • Make self-care a priority: Seriously do NOT skimp on this. Check in with yourself on a regular basis and consider your own needs. You will be a more effective therapist and a happier person if you do.
  • This doesn’t have to be a solo gig: Reach out to your peers, keep in touch with your mentors, join your professional association. Talking to other people who “get it” can be both grounding and invigorating all at once. If you are the only music therapist in your area (which can and does happen), there are lots of great resources online. If you’re on facebook, I recommend joining Music Therapists Unite! and Music Therapists Silver Lining. They are closed groups and there is a ton of great discussion going on there.
  • Advocate… for your field, and for yourself. During my internship, I was (happily) sheltered from having to convince anyone to get on board the music therapy train. As a professional, I learned very quickly that not everyone would receive me with open arms and a tambourine. So take a deep breath, tuck in your shirt, and shake some hands. Sharing what you do can help build rapport with staff and it moves our field forward. YOU are the expert!
    • Addendum: That being said, not everyone will “get it,” and that’s okay. I’ll reiterate my “Bonus Bonus Tip” – criticism is not always personal.
  • NEVER stop learning. Learn new songs, new techniques, new instruments. Keep reading research. Foster the flame of curiosity that got you here in the first place.

And finally….

  • Enjoy the ride! Some days are crazy. Learn from them, grow from them. You’ve GOT this!

Earthtones Spotlight – Keeley St. Clair

keeley interview

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.
You can learn more about CHIRP! at our website
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!
Favorite song?
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!

Earthtones Spotlight – Kate Bodin

Kate interview

Earthtones Associate Director Kate Bodin is a grounded woman. No matter how busy she is, when you talk with her you feel heard. She always has a laugh in her voice or a smile on her face. It’s easy to see how she thrives as a horticultural therapist. Kate says, “I have a passion for plants and growing things, working in the land, and helping people.”

What drew you to horticultural therapy?

I started working academia in the early 90’s and before that I was a greenhouse grower, garden designer and professional gardener. While working in academia I really honed my people skills. When I found myself at a crossroad in my career, I asked myself that age old question “What would I do with my life if money was no object?” I did some soul searching and that’s when I found horticultural therapy. It’s the perfect blend of my passion for plants, gardening and people.

How did you become a horticultural therapist?

I’d already earned a MEd in Creative Arts and Learning, and a BFA in Visual Arts. I returned to school in order to fulfill the remaining academic requirements for becoming a Registered Horticultural Therapist with the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). I took horticultural therapy, horticulture, and gerontology classes and completed the required internship with Teresia Hazen at Legacy Health in Portland. When I joined Earthtones, I combined the best components of that internship with the rigor of the music therapy internship at Earthtones, and created the unique horticultural therapy internship at Earthtones.

How did you become connected with Earthtones (EMTS)?

Jodi [Winnwalker, EMTS founder and CEO] had come to present to our horticultural therapy class so that we could learn about music therapy. During my internship, my supervisor Teresia Hazen sent me to Jodi to learn the Earthtones business model. We met for tea and I had 3 questions for her. After an hour of talking I still hadn’t asked her my 3 questions– We discovered that we adored each other! Actually she says that we loved each other! [laughs]. She said, “Come work for me instead!” You can imagine the grin on my face as I drove away from that eventful meeting!

You do so much to make sure Earthtones runs smoothly! Tell us about a typical day for you.

I love my job! I don’t think there is any typical day, but over the course of the week I spend time working with the horticultural therapists, interns and residents, and on developing the horticultural therapy program. It’s a lot of fun contacting and working with clients, and I spend a lot of time working with Jodi directly. I do pro bono work, and a lot of presentations on horticultural therapy for classes and clients, at both the national and local level. I have clients I see on a continuous basis and I also do one-time retreats and specialty sessions. I’m also currently managing our client information system. I’m teaching a class at PCC this fall on nature, music and end of life therapies. I think that’s it – where is my job description?

What has surprised you the most about your work?

I would actually call myself a bit of an introvert, although I’ve learned over time how to compromise for that. However, I am so fulfilled when I’m working in a session and with clients that I become the opposite. I thrive on meeting new people, meeting their needs and their goals. I rarely feel intimidated by a new group or situation. It doesn’t matter what the population is or who the people are. And of course I’m just the facilitator for the plants and gardens! People are people, regardless of their strengths and challenges. I feel completely at ease in that setting — this is obviously what I was meant to do.

What populations do you work with? 

I’ve worked in mental health, with older people in memory care, the whole gamut of elder care really. I actually work with a lot of administrators in my presentations. I haven’t worked in hospice but I have worked with people who are dying. I’m really intrigued by that work and would like to do more of it. It’s something that we don’t talk about culturally and people typically are really uncomfortable with death. I feel that I can make that process more comfortable for people–both the client and their loved ones and caregivers.

Tell us a little bit about Weaver’s Tale

Weaver’s Tale is a non-profit organization with the mission of connecting elders to nature. It was “on hold” for several years before I became the executive director late in 2015. I came to it with my passions for gardening, food and for creating community – and a vision for reviving it.

Think about the City of Portland and its wonderful neighborhoods. There are many people that are “aging in place” and they may have grown apart from their support network and either do not want to move into a retirement community, or cannot afford to. They’re potentially living on a fixed income and may no longer have family involved in their lives.

I realized that many neighborhoods have houses of worships and other non-profit organizations that own big chunks of land that aren’t being used to their full potential. What if we created accessible raised beds for older persons living in those neighborhoods with horticultural therapists on site and classes on gardening and nutrition? We could literally be creating community for these folks, helping them live healthier and more connected lives. We have just created a partnership with the Friends of the Portland Memory Garden and their adjacent community garden beds and have several other proposals in the works that will support this vision.

You can learn more about Weaver’s Tale at their website,


Finally, what is your favorite plant?

It changes– if not on an hourly basis then certainly a daily one! If I went out to my garden, what would I be captivated by…? The lavender! The lavender is amazing this time of year. Lavender and Ladies’ Mantle – stunning color combination!