Sheri Smith has seen music heal wounds in ways drugs and surgery can’t touch.
Songwriting gave the veteran, who went through sexual trauma in the military, the courage to make eye contact with people again.
In Alzheimer’s patients, beating on a drum can provoke emotions and expressions that have been missing from their faces for years.
“In making music, the loved ones see how daddy’s still there, just coming alive and singing with gusto or crying or laughing,” said Smith, a certified music therapist at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. “All those responses that music can create where other interventions don’t.”
To help expand the reach music therapy has in the Augusta area and beyond, Augusta State University is developing an undergraduate music therapy degree program with hopes of enrolling the first class in fall 2014. The new degree would be one of many planned collaborations between the liberal arts school and Georgia Health Sciences University after consolidation.
Suzanne Hall, an assistant professor of music education at ASU, said her department is writing a proposal that will go to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for approval.
Her team is studying the only other two music therapy degrees in the state, which are at the University of Georgia and Georgia College, and working with Smith and other certified music therapists.
Hall said graduates can go on to work in education systems, elderly care, mental health, veteran affairs, forensics and other professions.
It can be used to treat depression, trauma, autism and other physical and mental issues. Smith said the therapy can have a healing effect on things like depression and mental health and be more of a coping tool for diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“It can go so far,” Hall said. “Music therapy is not just in the music field or therapy field, it encompasses so many areas.”
Prospective students would complete basic core classes along with medical classes, music studies and a clinical component to complete the degree.
The staff is unsure how many students will be accepted in the first class, but the music department currently has about 100 students between the three degrees offered.
Christine Crookall, an assistant professor of music at ASU, said the idea for the program began with the announcement of the merger of ASU and GHSU.
Because the department currently offers degrees in music, music education and performance, Crookall said adding a health-related component seemed obvious.
The ancient Greeks believed musical notes in a certain order could be bad for your health, Crookall said, and other ancient cultures used melody as medicine for centuries.
“Most of us, we listen to music for entertainment, but if you really stop and listen to it and see how it affects your mood,” she said, “it’s the logical next step to use it as therapy to access parts of your brain other things just can’t reach.”