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Director of SHSU's Music Therapy Program Credits Student Enthusiasm With Program's Success

SHSU student Kathleen Brown leads a percussion exercise in one of Mary Ann Nolteriek's music therapy classes. Brown, a breast cancer survivor and professional singer, uses music to carry a message of hope to fellow breast cancer patients. A strong desire to help others is a common characteristic of Nolteriek's students. Read more about Kathleen Brown's extraordinary story.

To say Mary Ann Nolteriek's music therapy students are "enthusiastic" about their studies at Sam Houston State University might be a bit of an understatement.

A more genuine characterization, accredited to a former music department chair, is that Nolteriek's initiates exude a certain "missionary zeal" toward their craft; an infectious devotion that has earned the 14-year-old program national acclaim and continues to place its graduates at the head of the hiring line.

"It's true," said Nolteriek, the program's founding director. "I get students with high SATs, high standards, and with an intense desire to help other people."

Helping people is what music therapy is all about. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as "the prescribed use of music by a qualified person to effect positive changes in the psychological, physical, or social functioning of individuals with health or education problems."

In lay terms, Nolteriek said, "music therapists use music as a tool to accomplish non-musical goals." Those goals can be as varied as music itself.

Music therapists can use music to assess and treat clients troubled by problems as diverse as physical and mental disabilities, chronic pain, substance abuse, and emotional and psychiatric dysfunctions. They are employed by psychiatric and medical hospitals, school districts, nursing homes, hospice programs, and correctional and daycare facilities. The list is virtually endless.

"Music is our tool, but we don't teach music," Nolteriek said. But that doesn't mean that music therapists aren't accomplished musicians. To earn a degree in music therapy and certification by the AMTA, a candidate must reach a certain level of musical expertise.

"Music has to be so much a part of you, that it is a natural means of communication," Nolteriek explained. "In a session, music therapists might be called on to compose on the spot or they might be asked to accompany a song that someone remembers." Because of its diversity, a career in music therapy can be very appealing to musicians with a broad range of interests.

"The program attracts students who love music and want to keep music in their lives, but prefer the multi-disciplinary education reflected in the curriculum," said Nolteriek.

In addition to the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree, music therapy students are required to study special education, anatomy, psychology and philosophy. Their core music training is the same as freshman and sophomore music majors, but that expands into music therapy classes and practicums during their junior and senior years.

The practicums, which correspond with the "populations" being studied each semester, offer students valuable field training with pre-schoolers, physically and mentally disabled children, the elderly, and psychiatric patients. Field work is also conducted at area hospitals and occasionally students work with inmates through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

After completing university studies and before taking the AMTA certification exam, music therapy trainees are required to participate in a 6-month (1040-hour) clinical internship. Upon passing the AMTA exam the students earn the designation "music therapist-board certified" and can tag "MT-BC" credentials behind their name.

The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior is at least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century discipline began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types went to veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of soldiers suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars.

"Doctors noticed that music had an affect on the veterans," explained Nolteriek. "For instance, the music calmed some of the veterans, it increased their tolerance of pain, and it also seemed to facilitate socialization. In essence, they interacted more with the music."

Scientific study soon revealed a direct correlation between the music and the effects. By 1944, Michigan State University had founded the world's first music therapy degree program, and in 1950 the first national music therapy association was founded.

Today a substantial body of scientific research supports the benefits of music therapy in an astounding range of practical applications. Music therapists, especially those from SHSU, Nolterick said, are in high demand.

The SHSU music therapy program is the largest in the southwestern AMTA region and one of the largest in the nation. The program, that began in 1984 with five students, enrolled approximately 80 in 1998.

"The Sam Houston program has a very high regard from professionals in the field, as well as from the American Music Therapy Association," she said.

That reputation was bolstered in 1996 when Nolterick served as local chair for the AMTA national conference held in Houston. SHSU students had the opportunity to work closely with some of the world's leading music therapists, as well as with AMTA officials.

"They just earned themselves an outstanding reputation," said Nolterick.

For more information about music therapy, visit the AMTA web site.


Media Contact: Phillip Rollfing
April 24, 1998

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