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Music therapy class brings Christmas classic to life

Monday, December 12, 2016

What would the holidays be without a visit from the Grinch, Max, Cindy Lou and the folks from Who-ville? Thanks to Mercyhurst University’s music therapy students, pupils at St. Stephen’s Preschool in Fairview got to experience the ultimate Dr. Seuss Christmas classic complete with a live musical soundtrack, sound effects and audience participation.

Excited 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds were fully engaged in the Mercyhurst students’ version of How the Grinch stole Christmas, said Craig Stevens, music therapy program director. As a St. Stephen’s alumnus with a 4-year-old in the program, Stevens said, “Since the preschool relies heavily on donations and volunteers, I saw this as an excellent opportunity to not only give back to a school that meant so much to me, but also as another way for the music therapy students to engage in community service and to practice their group leadership skills.”

Of his 20 music therapy majors, Stevens took five freshmen along for the experience. They included Miranda Wall on saxophone, Rachael Kinlan on clarinet, Abigail Whitman on piano, Josh Phillips on guitar, and Meredith Beals provided the voice. 

“Although music therapists primarily work with those living with disabilities, this gave our freshman students excellent early experience in designing interventions that address sustained attention, direction following, reading comprehension, social skills and gross motor development for children," Stevens said.

All music therapy students need a minimum of 1,200 clinical hours in order to be eligible to sit for the board exam. Community involvement and real-world clinical experiences are a major part of the curriculum.  Among the clinical experiences are those in neurorehabilitation at Health South and LECOM, palliative care and hospice at UPMC Hamot, Alzheimer’s and dementia at Sunrise Senior Living, and autism at the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst.

For the past year, music therapy students have been a key component of the Therapeutic Arts Initiative at Harborcreek Youth Services. Together Stevens and Sam Krahe, Mercyhurst music therapy alumnus, have engaged with 83 youth at the center, recording highly positive outcomes.

According to a recent client survey, 85 percent of clients reported looking forward to their music therapy sessions, 77 percent reported they like music therapy, 92 percent said they feel safe in music therapy and 66 percent said they feel better about themselves as a result of music therapy.