For Julie Finke, collectively creating beautiful music has nothing at all to do with the quality of the sound.
As a music therapist at The Guild School, the object of her sessions with individual classes is to provide students with non-musical personal growth benefits: enhanced communications, strengthened connections to peers, feeling a sense of mastery and improved cognitive skills.
“Music therapy combines clinical interventions and the creative process of making music. We focus on the arts experience and not on symphonic skills like a traditional music class,” Julie explains, a few days before the start of March’s Music in Our Schools Month. “Although it can look very similar, I’m thinking very intentionally about the non-musical skills and benefits of music rather than making the best-sounding product.”
During Julie’s sessions, students enjoy playing instruments (drums are a particular favorite), singing along, swaying in their chairs or merely listening alongside others. Sessions are held either in The Guild’s well-equipped music room or in a classroom setting, depending on students’ needs and desires, and to foster the best environment for engagement.
Julie and Heather Boston, the school’s expressive arts therapist, serve as integral parts of The Guild’s clinical team, which uses a variety of strategies to improve students’ behavioral, emotional and interpersonal skills. The team also includes Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), behavior clinicians/specialists, social workers, psychologists and other mental health clinicians.
Julie’s face brightens as she recalls stories of students who have shown growth through participation in music therapy sessions.
Julie shared the story of a non-verbal student who often covers his face with his hands but, when music therapy begins, he intently follows her and her accompanying guitar around the room. “It’s so rewarding to see that level of engagement,” she says.
She asked one of her recent classes to customize the words to the Romantics’ song “What I Like About You” to reflect what they liked about a classmate.
“They didn’t like the writing part, but you could see when one of their peers sang about them they were beaming,” Julie says. “It was really sweet.”
Julie, who joined The Guild in September, enjoys the exploration of creating music herself. She began taking trombone lessons in the fourth grade and took up guitar four years ago. Her job allows her to bring together her passions for helping students and playing music.
“I get to play music alongside amazing kids all day long and witness their progress at the same time. How cool is that?” she says. “It’s really rewarding work.”