Q&A with Authors of Songs of Discovery for Music Therapy

Music is the universal language at The Center for Discovery® (TCFD) in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The TCFD Integrated Arts Department is fully enmeshed in its gold standard of care and education. It exudes creativity and freedom, optimism and possibility. The Music Therapy Team is a part of this group.  By all accounts, the work they do is life-altering. Now, for the first time in print with Conio Loretto and Amanda Ruddy Belcastro’s new book Songs of Discovery for Music Therapy, they are sharing their body of knowledge and talent with the rest of the world.

Songs of Discovery for Music Therapy is a practical resource of 32-original songs and is destined to become a classic wherever therapeutic, educational or recreational music is being made, making it essential reading for Music Therapists, Music Therapy students, Music Educators, Special Education Teachers and facilitators of early childhood music programs.  The songs in Songs of Discovery for Music Therapy are extremely relatable and accessible and cover a wide range of creative topics and themes that are easily adaptable to a variety of clinical populations and age groups. Each song is available to download for easy use in practice settings.

Recently we sat down with the authors, TCFD Senior Director of Music Therapy and a 30-year veteran, Conio Loretto, and TCFD Senior Music Therapist, Amanda Ruddy Belcastro who has been a therapist for 16 years.

Describe the birth of this work?

Conio: “I think this book really started many, many years ago, when I first started working at The Center with the students here, and I was surprised how many songs were coming to life.  I was doing so much composing and writing, and as they were coming to fruition in the back of my head I was thinking ‘I wonder if some day we could publish these or make these available to other people.’ As our department grew and all of these amazing Music Therapists joined us, more and more of these songs were born and we started to talk more seriously about it.”

Amanda: “Over time it was clear we should share some of these songs with our interns – we have a strong internship program. We would say ‘This one is really great,’ and they would love it and use it. We just felt they should be written out and shared and used by the masses.”

Amanda:  “From the get-go I’ve been inspired by other Music Therapy songbooks, and they have been a keystone to how I play today and approach session work, and I have learned how to use music therapeutically by looking through these books and studying these books and these songs and getting them in my fingers so I feel – we are giving back.”

Your community is very complex – many individuals cannot speak or have limited language as well as physical limitations and other medical conditions. Your approach to writing and composing is very different.  Can you elaborate?

Amanda: “I can’t just sit down and compose or write something. We are truly inspired by the people we work with. If it’s just something like their foot tapping or just something they said –it’s like a catalyst enough to get us going.”

Conio: “I agree with Amanda. I still don’t liken myself to being a song-writer. These were born of the moments that we get to share with these amazing children and adults, and the way we work is we try to engage them in music-making all the time that results in growth and a new understanding of themselves. And, when a song is called for – there’s a moment when you realize this needs to go to a different place – and that’s how the songs are born. Many times I walk away saying ‘Gosh, where did that even come from?’ I credit it to the person or group sitting next to me in a Music Therapy session.”

Are you always observing the energy of your students and residents as well as their mood/feelings, and nuances like body postures and movements?

Conio: “Our training as Music Therapists prepare us for that –and that’s what we teach our interns when they come. There’s a lot of different ways people practice Music Therapy. Ours is really rooted in reading people and paying attention to people.  Determining what they need each moment and meeting it with music.  So, if someone is upset – maybe the music is going to honor that feeling or maybe it’s going to help them work through that feeling or maybe we are going to try and calm someone down. It depends on the person, and what they need in the moment. If someone comes in and they are joyfully skipping around the room – the music is going to reflect that and honor that.  Honoring the musical self of the kids and adults we work with.”

Amanda: “I was seeing two young men – and the one young man would come in and he was usually moody.  The other one was always happy, chipper – the opposite.  One day the jovial young man came in and he was super upset.  He was crying and didn’t want to talk.  It was so surprising.  And so, I started playing very lightly on the piano – and minimally – because I actually didn’t know what the emotion was because sometimes it’s not so clear. I was kind of using the music to interpret what was going on.  I was saying these statements like ‘Sometimes I feel mad.’   He was like – ‘no!’  ‘Sometimes I feel angry?’ ‘No!’  I was searching through these emotions with him and saying things like ‘Sometimes you want to scream? Cry?’  He kept saying ‘no!’ Finally, I said ‘Sometimes you don’t want to do anything!’ He was like ‘YEAH!’   I really felt that in the moment – like ‘yeah, you don’t have to do anything right now!’  That really seemed to bring him to this calm place.  I just knew that song had to go into the book.  It’s called ‘Sometimes.’ It is about interpretation – interpreting emotions, interpreting feelings – but also validating them.  Just being heard.  Being seen. And knowing that it’s ok to feel certain ways.”

Conio:  “Absent that song he might not have had a way to get those emotions out.  Here’s an example of music as therapy.  He had this opportunity with Amanda to have those feelings honored and validated. For so many of the children and adults we work with here – that’s hard to have a venue to say those things. So here it was, the song became the representation of that.  Every therapist could tell the same story for every song in the book… I hope when another Music Therapist or someone picks up the book – I hope there is a level of musicality that they will appreciate, so the songs really represent what the purpose is… I hope that it is used in a way that is respectful of the person that it is being used for.  I hope that people can find the versatility in the songs.  They are simple enough to change and adapt, but also that they are musically sound enough that they are serving the purpose.”

What has your work with complex individuals taught you about yourself?

Amanda: “I want to say – there are no differences. We are just as complex.  I feel like I’ve learned how to develop this leveled relationship of listening and leading.  It takes a lot of patience.  It takes a lot of authenticity.”

Conio:  “I think that I have learned that everybody just sort of wants the same thing. Everybody just wants to be heard, and everybody just wants to be valued.  We are all complex. Some things are hard that are easier for others. I am lucky enough to have this job that teaches me that – that reminds me that all the time – we are so much more alike as people than different. There’s a commonality that runs through all of us.”

You mentioned an already growing song list for a Book II, a dream of building an online platform for Music Therapists to share experience and inspiration around your songs, and a potential book on your rhythmic program Stomp. What else are you planning?

Conio: “We’ve always been open here to the possibility of what music can do for people.  Some of our Music Therapists are working with folks right before bedtime to help  them relax before they go to bed. We’ve used music during mealtimes to help people focus and eat at a safe rate. We have surprise concerts where we just show up and create joy in a moment.  We’ve played music in a waiting room while someone waits to see a doctor to help them pass the time.  I think what we’ve done in that is uncover all these different ways music can be used.  We’ve been open to all those possibilities and I think that would make for an interesting story for future music therapists.  Being open to where music can play a role has led to music having an even stronger impact at The Center.”

Any final thoughts?

Conio: “ I think every single person we encounter in Music Therapy sits with us.  The lessons that you learn spending time with one person inspires sort of how you are going to interact with the next person – keeps you open to possibilities. You walk away from each relationship you build with somebody with a greater understanding of yourself and the person, and especially music and what music can do. And so, I think you are always carrying that with you and reflecting on that – and it fuels your work all the time.”

This blog post was written by JKP authors Conio Loretto and Amanda Ruddy Belcastro with The Center for Discovery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.