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From Nursing Home to Nursery School and Back

Today I am delighted to feature a guest post from Rachel Rambach, MM, MT-BC. Rachel is a board-certified music therapist primarily working with children with multiple disabilities. She also blogs and publishes original songs for use in music therapy at Listen & Learn. Here she writes about how musical experiences with her grandmother led her to the field of music therapy.

My music therapy journey began while I was a sophomore majoring in vocal performance at a college without a music therapy program.  I’d never heard of such a profession, but once I did, there was no going back.  I graduated one semester later (a whole year and a half early) so that I could hurry up and become a music therapist and work with older adults, particularly those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

When I tell that story, people are surprised.  After all, I spend my days (and nights) providing music therapy for and teaching children of all ages – but not one older adult.

My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was in 8th grade.  I watched as her memory and health rapidly declined, yet her love of music remained unchanged.  I witnessed the power of music firsthand when she’d sing along to every word of a Frank Sinatra album.

I wanted to help people like my grandma, so when it came time to choose my first practicum in graduate school, I made it clear to the professor that I wanted to be placed in a nursing home.  She obliged, and I loved every minute of it.  I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, and was convinced that this was the perfect population for me.

The next semester, I was placed in a classroom of young students.  Some were typically developing, while others had very special needs, and while I had felt completely comfortable with my previous population, this one completely intimidated me.  I had no prior experience with children and wasn’t even sure where to begin.

But to my surprise, working with these students came naturally to me.  My supervisor commented that she thought this population was a great fit, but I was still convinced that I belonged with older adults.  She begged to differ, and next placed me in a one-on-one practicum with a tiny little girl who had a sensory disorder.

That was my turning point.  As much as I had loved my time in the nursing home, I realized that I was truly meant to work with children.  I went on to complete an internship with a private practice who served a special education school district, got my first job working with multiply disabled children in a residential school, and started a private practice and teaching studio where my main clientele is young children.

Before my grandma passed away in late 2009 (after 13 years of suffering from her disease), I had the chance to visit her in the nursing home.  She’d long forgotten the names of my family members, and was really just a shell of her former self at that point.  But I got to see my grandma one last time that day as herself, happily singing along to every single Christmas song I played on my guitar.  I can’t express in words how much joy that experience brought me. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll revisit the population that first led me to become a music therapist.

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