By Mahreen Khan
On Sunday, April 30, Long Island Music Therapy Services, a private practice designed to promote positive growth and wellness, held the last class of its eight-week program – until a new block starts up over the summer.
The six to eight students in Lauren Klimek’s 11:15 a.m. group music therapy session in West Islip said goodbye at the end of Sunday’s class, but it won’t be for long. Since 2011, Klimek, the founder and owner of Long Island Music Therapy Services, one of few music therapy organizations on Long Island, has offered many of these two-month blocks of weekly classes, focusing her attention specifically on children with special needs and/or developmental delays.
“There’s no really, termination, per say, because we’re going to be continuing again,” Klimek, a board certified music therapist and licensed creative arts therapist, said. “Consistency and repetition is so important working with children in special education, because that’s how they learn.” The children Klimek works with range in age from three to eighteen-years-old. Offering in-home services and group therapy sessions in Northport, in towns across Huntington, at the Sensational Development Occupational Therapy Gym in Massapequa and at the In His Steps Dance Studio in West Islip, Klimek’s speciality lies in finding ways to create connections in children’s brains through music.
She has worked previously with the geriatric population, including dementia patients, and with adults suffering from anxiety, depression and terminal illness. She has also worked with children on the spectrum, as well as those who are developmentally delayed.
“I just always have believed in the power of music and the power it possesses, you know, to move us – whether it be spiritually, emotionally, physically – you know, there are just so many components of music that I’ve seen personally that can help people,” Klimek said.
Recent studies, including one that was released this month and documented by Dr. Anthony Leone, a spine surgeon in Buffalo, NY, suggest that music therapy has the potential to benefit patients recovering from spinal surgery. And in the past two decades, the Journal of Music Therapy has released a number of studies focusing on the power of music therapy in triggering memories of dementia patients, and on pain in general.
It isn’t surprising then, that similar programs and organizations are popping up across the Island. The Alternatives for Children’s Dix Hills location, for example, offers weekly music classes that include activities such as singing songs, playing instruments and learning through music.
With socialization therapies on the rise in the United States – take, for example, 6-year-old Brinley Jungnitsch, who suffers from acute myeloid leukemia and is receiving music therapy treatment at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan – education in the music therapy field is argued as being more important than ever. However, as Pamela Carlton, a music therapy professor at Molloy College, puts it, there are not all that many music therapists in the country or on the Long Island peninsula.
“[Molloy] is the only university on Long Island that offers music therapy,” Carlton, an alumna and board certified music therapist, said. While she said there are some schools that offer music therapy along the east coast, Molloy is the first. Carlton has been teaching graduate and undergraduate students in the music department at Molloy for two decades. Early in her life, she was expected to join the orchestra – it was almost a rite of passage, after all – given that both of her parents were musicians and that she, herself, was a violinist who played in New York City orchestras whenever she wasn’t traveling the world as a flight attendant. Once she found her calling and realized that it was indeed music, albeit the very specific branch of music therapy, she ran with it.
“We have been practicing music therapy for millennia, or therapy in music or healing in music, since the beginning of time,” she said. “Formalized education programs were started in the 1940s, I think 1949-1950 at the University of Kansas and Michigan State University.” Carlton said pioneers in the field felt it was important to standardize the education and teach people how not to hurt their patients. “What do you do if you’re just a volunteer coming in for music and the patient starts crying or they start talking about suicide? Are you ready – are you able to handle that?”
At Molloy, Carlton seeks to inform her students about issues like these. Her class of six female undergraduate students met for one of the last times this semester on Thursday, April 27, as Molloy students end their semester on May 5.
“I got to this class because of my huge interest in working with special needs,” freshman music therapy student, Rebecca Auty, said. “It’s one of my passions. I’ve been working in that type of environment probably since I was ten.” Auty said she grew up loving music, having traveled with her band since the fourth grade, and gaining the exposure she needed to develop a connection with music.
On Thursday, after a roughly half-hour discussion that ranged in topic from feminist music therapy to stress and financial obligations, the group prepared for an in-class meditation session – one of many reenactments Carlton engages in with her students. The six women unfurled their blankets and laid them down in preparation.
“Professor Carlton has definitely provided us with a sense of belonging in this classroom and allowed all of us to be able to express our own opinions along with what she has in mind and definitely guide us to a more comfortable place,” freshman music therapy student, Chloe Ambrosi, said. “I mean there’s six of us and we’re able to comfortably be a part of the group and be able to communicate with one another in a safe space.”
Auty said there are many days she comes to class feeling tense, and that soon enough, her tensions are relieved. “Especially those days when we do those circles together, playing different instruments, singing and doing different things – it’s definitely helped me a lot,” she said. “I come in stressed probably the majority of – every class – and just having those times, it’s just been such a stress reliever and being able to just like, let it out through music, that has helped me so much.”
Ambrosi agreed, suggesting that the drum circles humble her. “You really get that sense of grounding, and you’re part of the group and you kind of clear your mind of everything that’s going on outside of yourself, you know?” she said. “And I think that’s important.”
Carlton said that for a music therapist, finding ways in which you can relate to your client is critical – especially at a time when resources are scarce within facilities. Graduate student and research assistant at The Rebecca Center for Music Therapy at Molloy College, Nick Farr, shares this sentiment. He said that personalizing the experience and building a relationship with your client is one of the most important aspects of each session.
“[Music therapists] engineer and set up the room to best fit that child’s needs, whether they need a wide variety of musical instruments to work with or perhaps that’s too overwhelming for what they need, and it’s just a drum and a cymbal and a piano,” Farr said. “They usually begin with some sort of greeting, they get to know each other, become oriented to the session room and then they follow that child’s lead. The way they move, any sound they make, where they’re looking in the room is all reflected in the music that the therapist is improvising. And then, as they connect on that level, they begin to have a back-and-forth in some sort of music conversation.”
Farr said that if you view health through the model of building and maintaining relationships, these tenets are key in therapy. Klimek’s students experience a similar type of relationship-building, being that many of them spend weeks, months and even years with the same peers at each session.
14-year-old Julianna has been learning and growing under Klimek for about five years. Her mother, Kristy Giacchetto, said she first brought her daughter to a mommy-and-me class when she was just two-and-a-half years old, and that she was later inspired to give music therapy a try.
“She’s like a food-and-music kind of girl and it’s supposed to help also with speech and language because she’s pretty nonverbal,” Giacchetto, a Blue Point resident, said of her daughter. “She really responds well to it, so that’s why I keep coming. It’s just something that she loves and I keep trying to do the things that she’s interested in.” Giacchetto said the classes run by Klimek are judgment-free, offering children the opportunity to make friends, and parents the opportunity to build connections with other parents because of their childrens’ shared experiences.
Brad and Lauren Dean have a five-year-old son named Christian, who is new to Long Island Music Therapy Services. His parents moved to Massapequa in order to ensure he could receive the services he needed for his Autism, while also receiving a sound education. He was wrapping up his first eight-week program on Sunday the 30th.
“We definitely heard about the benefits of music therapy for kids on the spectrum, and he’s always been musically-inclined,” Brad Dean said. “So we figured, this is great. This is such a good combination of socialization, music which he loves and language.” Dean said the class allows Christian to get his energy out, while also giving him the opportunity to explore his interests.
“Conversationally, Christian is pretty much nonverbal, but he sings and he sings so clearly,” Dean said. “And it’s like that’s his way of talking – through music. It’s paid dividends, we can see it. Even when we leave here, he’s mimicking the songs that they sing in here.” Dean said he sees the services as a form of “edutainment,” where it has concrete educational purposes and also serves to entertain the children in attendance.
Farr looks at music and the emotion it elicits through a single lens because he said the two are deeply rooted within one another. “In any sort of session that I do, the first thing I’m trying to do is emotionally – musically and emotionally – meeting them where they are, as authentically as possible,” he said. “I’m not trying to push away this pain that you’re feeling. Let’s be there in that experience and then provide opportunities to move somewhere else, if we can. If we can’t, we’re going to stay there and we’re going to work on trying to accept and move on with what we have in that moment.”
Long Island Music Therapy Services will be starting up its next eight-week program in June, just one month away, and the Giacchetto and Dean families are already planning to re-enroll their children.