Music has always been a huge part of my life from a young age. I began playing violin at the age of 7 and piano aged 10. I am forever grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity of music lessons and encouraging me through every step of my journey. At the age of 11 I attended a percussion workshop led by Evelyn at the newly opened Woodend Barn Arts Center in Aberdeenshire – the area of Scotland Evelyn and I both grew up in. I remember being completely mesmerized by her extraordinary skill and learning about so many different instruments from all around the world. That evening I was not only blown away by her talents but also by her perseverance to follow her dreams despite her compromised hearing. I learned later that she had even auditioned at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was told they wouldn’t accept her because they did not know what to do with her deafness. Evelyn could not accept this answer and after negotiating with the Academy she was allowed a second audition. She then rightfully earned her place as a student and her experience set a precedent across UK musical institutions to allow all individuals a chance to audition, regardless of disabilities or impairments. Evelyn was truly so inspiring to me and from that moment on I became the percussionist of almost every band and orchestra of my secondary (high) school, local brass bands and the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland for two week-long residential summer camps. After finishing school I went on to study percussion performance and composition at the University of Glasgow and the University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music. During my studies at the University of Glasgow I encountered a similar obstacle as Evelyn did when I asked my percussion tutor to present me for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Percussion Diploma exam, to which she told me that I would never be able to do it and there was no point in applying. I did not let her negativity stop me and in 2009 I presented myself for the exam and passed the Diploma, an achievement which I am still very proud of. In 2011, I went back to university to complete a Master of Science in music therapy at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. I always had the passion and drive to help others and this was a way of combining that with my love for music.
I moved to the US in 2014 and completed my additional field work and exam to become a board certified music therapist, along with additional certifications in Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) and NICU music therapy. Since music therapy is a relatively small field, a lot of dedication, patience and many hours of applications were required to secure work. My first contract started at only 4 hours a week at Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation, the #2 acute rehabilitation hospital for the treatment of brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and strokes in the US. I was fortunate those hours gradually built up as word spread about how beneficial music therapy was for their patients. In the meantime I also gained other invaluable experience including working with children with special needs, in memory care for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and with adults with developmental disabilities. I have encountered many setbacks and difficulties along the way throughout my career, especially financially, but I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to use the power of music to help individuals through my work for the past 6 years.
I am now based in Charlotte, North Carolina, working at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital and Jeff Gordon Children’s Center; with Wounded Warrior veterans through Neuro Community Care; and supervising undergraduate music therapy students throughout their practicums at Queens University of Charlotte. I feel lucky to say that the well known quote of “find a job you love doing and you will never have to work a day in your life” definitely rings true with me.
As a music therapist I use music as a tool to work on individualized non-musical goals for each patient – everything from pain management, reducing anxiety, promoting developmental stimulation, increasing self esteem and self expression, to physical rehabilitation. These goals are achieved through many means including live music making interventions, songwriting, movement interventions and lyric analysis. Every session is different for each individual and their needs and music therapists worldwide work with individuals of all ages and diagnoses from neonatal infants to end of life in many different settings including hospitals, schools, memory care facilities, rehabilitation programs, correctional facilities, psychiatric units and private practices.
Just as Evelyn feels the rhythm and sounds through her body instead of her ears, I can do the same to benefit the individuals I work with. I recently used a steel tongue drum (also known as an Idiopan) to provide vibrotactile feedback for a toddler who sustained a hypoxic brain injury – the vibrations of the instrument and it being tuned to a pentatonic scale without any dissonance (“clashing sounds”) is especially calming for patients. I have also used the same instrument during procedural support for a teenager with global developmental delay while EEG monitoring leads were being placed in the epilepsy monitoring unit. For this patient, the sound and vibrations were mesmerizing for him and it completely distracted him from this overstimulating procedure with the pressure of the leads being glued to his skull combined with the chemical smells of the glue itself. I have calmed an infant by lying her on a huge gathering drum and letting her gently feel the steady rhythm throughout her body – this is soothing for infants since it is reminiscent of the sounds of the mother’s heartbeat in the womb. Our team at Atrium Health is now also fortunate to be able to record the heartbeats of end of life patients using digital stethoscopes and the Garageband application as a memory and keepsake for their family. We are all musical beings and it is so special to witness how beneficial this type of therapy is for patients and their families.
Percussion instruments form the majority of the instruments I use in my work on a daily basis alongside the guitar, ukulele and keyboard, and I am so thankful for the prior training and experiences I have had to enable me to use these instruments to benefit those who I work with in the best ways possible. I have had the honor of seeing a patient being motivated to move their arm for the first time to shake a maraca after sustaining a spinal cord injury from a car accident. I have seen a cystic fibrosis patient’s face light up as bright as our LED flashing drum sticks. I have witnessed a veteran with PTSD increase his self esteem after creating a new rhythm on a djembe drum. I have watched a whole family bond and laugh together playing the Boomwhackers® after a surgery with subsequent extended length of stay in the hospital. A teenager with complex medical needs has smiled for the first time in days after hearing the soothing ring of a tone chime. Every day I am inspired by the souls I work with and can see first hand how music and sound uplifts and rehabilitates those who need it most.
Evelyn’s music also continues to feature in my life day to day. I remember walking around Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan a couple of years ago and the theme from her recording of Slaughter on 10th Avenue popped into my head. I remember showing a friend who was visiting Scotland a cathedral in Edinburgh and her performance of Veni Veni Emmanuel was playing in the gift shop. Sometimes if I come across a xylophone or marimba I will see if I can still attempt the Flight of the Bumblebee – not an easy task!
So, thank you Evelyn for sharing your incredible virtuoso talents with so many people across the globe – I for one have taken your inspiration across the globe with me. Thank you to those who have read my story. And remember that every opportunity someone, maybe even you, has to perform can plant a seed – you never know who you might inspire along the way.