I love going to music therapy conferences. It’s basically a wonderful excuse to build community. When else do you get to get together with hundreds of other music therapists and geek out on music therapy stuff? I had the privilege of attending the Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Music Therapy Association’s annual conference earlier this month in Harrisburg, PA. You might think “Conference? Attending lectures? Trying to schmooze and impress people? What’s so great about that?”
Why do I love going to conference? Let me count the ways…
- To learn – I love to listen to fellow music therapist share their stories, their clinical work, their research, their inspirations. And there is no homework or exams! All you have to do is sit back and soak in the information. It’s the perfect way to learn in my opinion.
- To network – I got to shake hands, chat, and exchange business cards with people that I hope to keep in touch with. As a new music therapist, I want to expand my circle of music therapy colleagues. And it was so great to meet face-to-face with people whose work I had read or whose online classes I had taken. Since I have just finished my online training with Sprouting Melodies, it was wonderful to meet the instructors in person after 10 weeks of watching their videos and corresponding on the online forum.
- To reconnect – Out of the ten of us who graduated together from Drexel last June, eight of us attended this conference. So did some of our professors as well as students below and above us. What a wonderful chance to reunite and talk about the good old days of being a student. I also got to sit down with my former supervisor and catch up on life post-internship. I am so lucky to be part of a profession that encourages supporting each other long after school and internship.
- To share – Three of my classmates and I offered a panel presentation about our experience of deciding to change careers and become music therapists later in life. First of all, what a thrill to see your name listed in the conference program as a presenter. Secondly, it is so empowering to tell your story to a captive audience. In our presentation, we each shared our journey to music therapy and the struggles we faced entering into a new profession. We each shared a vulnerable side of ourselves and were honest about the challenges. My favorite part of our presentation was the discussion that occurred after we had finished our formal presentation. When we opened up the discussion to questions and comments from the audience, several people shared their own stories about how they came to the career later in life. One woman said that she was so glad that our presentation was the final one for her this conference because it was the perfect way to cap it all off. We went well over our allotted time because people were hanging around talking with each other, sharing stories, looking for support. We even started a Facebook support group!
- To be inspired – I love hearing new ideas and learning about the work that others are doing. One of my favorites this year was hearing about Center for Discovery’s development of a dramatic arts program for their students with significant disabilities. Watching video clips of young men with autism spectrum disorder who would normally never get a chance to be in a typical high school musical singing “Luck be a Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls on stage and in costume brought me to tears.
- To make music – Music therapist love to jam. We love to get together and just make music spontaneously. At every conference I have been to, there are always times dedicated to jamming. My favorite are the drum circles. Drumming with a hundred other people is a pretty spectacular way to spend an hour of your evening. Try it sometime. You won’t regret it.
- To build community – Unlike the opera community that I was so invested in for so many years, the music therapy community has welcomed me enthusiastically and is not nearly as competitive. We are not trying to constantly compete against each other or to prove that we are the best. We are continually trying to better ourselves so that we can be better therapists for our clients. We share ideas, bounce strategies off of each other, pass resources around, and ask for help. I don’t even know how to express the contrast between these two worlds. I can only say I am so grateful and thankful to have been inducted into this supportive community of music therapists.
And I can’t wait to attend the next conference!