Did you know that March is Music Therapy Month? In honor of this occasion, we’d like to introduce you to Laura Beer, PhD, MT-BC, director of Maryville’s Music Therapy Program and associate professor of music therapy. In her role, Beer oversees all aspects of the Music Therapy Program, including teaching student courses, supervising faculty and staff, and providing outreach to alumni.
Maryville is unique in the St. Louis region in offering both a Bachelor of Music Therapy degree, a Master of Music Therapy and an equivalency program. One outgrowth of these offerings is the acclaimed Kids Rock Cancer music therapy outreach program in the St. Louis community.
During the pandemic, Beer has been instrumental in leading students and faculty to successful engagement in online and hybrid learning formats, thereby maintaining needed contact with students, professors and clinical supervisors. Importantly, she has also been actively engaged with community partners, such as St. Louis Arc, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Angel Band Project to continue the vital work they do.
Beer’s academic and clinical experiences are impressive and extensive. For example, she led music therapy programs at Marylhurst University, Lesley University and Naropa University. She served as a music therapist in the neonatal intensive care unit at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and as a hospice music therapist in Fort Collins, Colorado; she worked at the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University; and the School for Language and Communication Development in N. Bellmore, New York. Throughout her career she has maintained a private music therapy practice.
Beer received her Doctor of Philosophy, Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado; her MA in Music Therapy from New York University; and her BA in Music from Smith College. Not surprisingly, Beer has been recognized with numerous university-wide, local, national and international awards. For example, she was a Spotlight Speaker at the 2017 World Congress of Music Therapy conference in Japan, and in March received the 2021 Service Award from the Midwest Region of the American Music Therapy Association.
Can you tell us more about Creative Music Making?
This annual event is an incredible collaboration between Maryville University music therapy students, St. Louis Arc and the St. Louis Symphony. For the past 11 years we have worked together to create a fun, therapeutic program of music and songs that culminates in a public performance, either at Powell Hall or Maryville’s Auditorium. It creates an opportunity for Arc individuals, adults with developmental challenges, to literally take center stage and perform their music using their talents and voices. It is an empowering and uplifting event!
Due to the pandemic, this year’s collaboration will be virtual, and we are busy shifting what we would typically do in person to a format that continues to support Arc individuals and help them feel connected, less isolated.
The music therapy students lead this project every year. This year the primary goal is to engage participants in song writing with the outcome of a special song that will be recorded, shared and celebrated. I will say it again: it is a time to recognize and honor individuals who normally do not have the opportunity to be on stage and for the world to recognize their creative contributions to our community.
How is music therapy used for different people, for multiple kinds of situations and in all stages of life?
Over the course of my career, I’ve served as a music therapist in many different environments, from the NICU to hospice care. Music therapy is transformative and therapeutic. It is a profession that requires a good amount of specialized training from an accredited program, national board certification and the completion of 100 continuing credit hours every five years. I view music therapy as a validated health profession and as a gift, a valuable therapeutic experience for people in need of help and support. One more thing important to say here is you do not have to be a musician to be a client of music therapy! In fact, most of our work is done with clients who have minimal music training. I believe that every person has an innate response to music that is natural and, when tapped into, brings about growth and change.
What are the common denominators in your academic and clinical experiences?
Being fully present, being either client or student centered, and focused on the music are the priorities that drive my interests and efforts. In these challenging times, I started sending weekly emails to all students, faculty and community members with tips for online learning, and resources for life and learning; and worked individually with faculty to facilitate their mastery of technological aspects of online and hybrid learning. These strategies help to address the barriers we are currently facing in being present and focused. I’ve been amazed by how our students – and clients – have proved to be resilient, patient and fully present.
What makes the Kids Rock Cancer program so special and so effective?
Kids Rock Cancer provides a way for children with cancer or sickle cell disease and their families to not just find their voice, but to creatively and fully express who they are, what they love and what their hopes are through therapeutic songwriting. The song becomes a living legacy that can serve as an enduring and beautiful marker of a difficult time in their lives. I applaud the Kids Rock Cancer music therapists who are fully dedicated to their clients. Also, given the pandemic it is so important that they found a way to keep providing services. With the support of The LIGHT Foundation and its fully equipped recording studio, Kids Rock Cancer was able to continue with therapeutic services and also successfully launched their outreach program called the Couch Series. I encourage you to check it out on their Facebook page – Kids Rock Cancer is all about the healing power of music.
What’s new that you’re working on?
I am very excited to announce that I have a new book contract with Routledge Press! Jacqueline Birnbaum and I will serve as co-editors for a book with a working title of “Trauma-Informed Practice in Music Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide.” We will have 15 to 18 chapters written by people who are experts in trauma-informed theory and practice. The goal is to give music therapy clinicians current ways of thinking about trauma in practice and suggestions for how to integrate this lens into their own work.
This will be my second book. I co-authored the book “Using Music in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy” in 2019 with Jacqueline Birnbaum.
Another project I am working on as editor of Music Therapy Perspectives is to infuse a social justice lens into the journal. We had a mini-focus on social justice a few months ago, and have an entire issue dedicated to understanding issues important to clinical work that will be published in 2022. The intention here is not to just shine a spotlight on equity, diversity and inclusion, but to create a space that becomes permanent for music therapists whose voices have traditionally been marginalized and discounted.
And, of course, I look forward to supporting our evolving, exceptional Music Therapy Program. We will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Maryville University program next year, so stay tuned!