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Music Therapy program holds meanings far beyond song lyrics

October 21, 2015
<p>Rock n'Roll combo member Adam Shepherd plays the drums on Oct. 12, 2015 inside the MSU Community Music School, 4930 South Hagadorn Road, in East Lansing. The MSU Community Music School's music therapy program is aimed at increasing motor, verbal, and social skills through music for students with special needs.</p>

Rock n'Roll combo member Adam Shepherd plays the drums on Oct. 12, 2015 inside the MSU Community Music School, 4930 South Hagadorn Road, in East Lansing. The MSU Community Music School's music therapy program is aimed at increasing motor, verbal, and social skills through music for students with special needs.

Photo by Joshua Abraham | The State News

The Music Therapy Clinical Services program, which holds monthly events at MSU’s Community Music School, serves to help special needs individuals develop motor, vocal, and social skills while enjoying the wonders of music.

“When we do weekly music therapy, you see a lot of progress, you see progress in speech and social and communication,” Music Therapy Area Chair Cindy Edgerton said.

Edgerton moved to Michigan in 1986 and began studying for her masters in music therapy in ‘88. She co-founded the music therapy program at MSU’s Community Music School in 1993 with Roger Smeltekop, a former music therapy professor at MSU, and she continues to work as a music therapist today.

“I didn’t think the once a month that I would really see progress, but oh my gosh, when I look back I’m like ‘this is really cool!’” Edgerton said.

"It’s amazing, the things that can happen through music, that are hard to happen in other ways."

“It’s amazing, the things that can happen through music, that are hard to happen in other ways,” she said.

Held the first Wednesday of every month, “Together, Let’s Jam” is the result of a joint effort by MSU Community Music School and the Capital Area Down Syndrome Association. This event encourages MSU students, East Lansing residents and Capital Area Down Syndrome Association members to play music as a group using percussion instruments, piano, and singing. Another CADSA event, “Crazy Action Songs,” is held on the second Wednesday of every month and focuses more on movement and singing.

Other group programs, such as “Rock n’ Roll Combo” sessions, are held weekly. Individuals are encouraged to play rock and pop songs by artists such as The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift, chosen by participants, on several instruments. Adam Shepard, who regularly attends Rock n’ Roll Combo, has developed miraculously through his love of drumming.

“I introduced music therapy to a nine year-old boy (Adam) who was diagnosed with autism, whose parents were told ‘do not expect him to speak, he will never speak,’” Edgerton said.

Edgerton said Adam first started making vocal sounds during a drum improvisation.

“Today, if you come to one of our Celebrate Abilities we have every May, he will sing any song you want him to sing, he will be in front, he will know every verse to all the songs and he will communicate with the audience, which is the coolest thing,” Edgerton said.

Gordy Shepard, Adam’s father, said Adam has been in music therapy for about 22 years.

“I originally put him in just because he liked drumming,” Shepard said.

“At the time I don’t think I or anyone else knew the benefits MT (music therapy) would have for him, it’s just been wonderful for him. It’s funny how he will sing a song all the way through (and) try to get the audience involved, and play the drums. I don’t think there’s anything he enjoys more,” he said.

Shepard, a resident of Laingsburg, said Adam has been interested in drumming since he was about eight-years-old.

"Definitely, (music therapy is) almost a must I think, something that (not only) helps him (develop), I think it helps calm him a lot."

“Definitely, (music therapy is) almost a must I think, something that (not only) helps him (develop), I think it helps calm him a lot,” Shepard said.

Edgerton said there are also many more stories like Adam’s, such as that of a girl with severely impaired movement.

“Not once did they ever dream she would (wheel herself),” Edgerton said. “At one of our Celebrate Abilities, she wheeled herself out on the stage to get to her therapist.”

Outside of events sponsored by CADSA, the program also hosts weekly music therapy sessions for individuals, weekly music lessons for special needs to help them learn instruments, Rock n’ Roll Combos that meet on Mondays and Tuesdays, an adult recreation group that meets on Wednesdays, and adult and children’s camps in June.

“All kinds of things can happen through music therapy — the neat thing about music therapy is it’s for everyone,” Edgerton said.

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