Educating toward healing with music
Tracy Richardson, a first-year music major at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, loved music and wished to help people. But she was struggling to balance her job singing with a band and schoolwork. When her professor, Sister Laurette Bellamy, heard Tracy planned to drop out of school, she urged her to stay enrolled, if only for one or two courses at a time. “We’ll make this work,” she said.
Tracy is grateful. “It changed the entire direction of my life.”
One day, Tracy watched a friend using music to interact with special-needs children — and a fire was lit. She said to Sister Laurette, “There has to be a profession here.”
The reply? “Oh, there is, honey. It’s called music therapy, and we’re starting a program.” (See sidebar on page 17.)
Tracy was among the first generation of women to have earned a Woods degree in music therapy in the 32 years since the program’s founding.
In the mid-1990s, the college’s music therapy faculty member was severely injured. Tracy returned to her alma mater to fill in. That temporary position evolved into the one she holds today: Director of Music Therapy.
She is now Dr. Tracy Richardson.
“None of that would ever have happened without the mentoring of Sister Laurette and the other sisters on the faculty,” she said.
Jay Thompson was in a successful and well-paid career in sales management for a large corporation. He was also doing business career counseling. But his inner musician craved an outlet. Music had been “in his blood” from his days as a trombonist in his high school band.
After beginning a music degree at Indiana University, he had reluctantly left music and ended up with a sociology degree. In the early 1990s — Jay was in his early 40s — the lure of music grew stronger. But Jay had no idea what he could do that would both satisfy his musical longing and also provide a good living for his family.
A close friend said, “You’d be a great music therapist!” “A what?” Jay said. “I had never heard of that. But after doing some research, I shadowed a music therapist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis for a couple of days. That convinced me. I thought, ‘I could do that’ — I wanted to do that.”
Now all Jay needed was to find a place to receive the necessary training. In 1994, at age 43, Jay was the first male student to enroll in the Music Therapy Equivalency Program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. It is a curriculum designed for those who already have a college degree (and the first program of its kind anywhere).
His enrollment was a change for the program, and it launched a major life change for him. [Tracy Richardson reports that his harmonica playing in the resonant, marble-lined halls of the Conservatory changed the culture of that building, too!]
Jay says, “I feel I received double the education I paid for because of the hours of out-of-class mentoring I received from the faculty and the sisters.”
After a satisfying internship at the Indiana Boys School, Jay was hired as a music therapist in the St. Vincent Stress Center. There he had a special interest in helping people involved in addictions and substance abuse. He recently retired after 14 years working with people as they sought to change their lives.
Nate Mensah enrolled as one of the first two male on-campus undergraduate students at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. This was a break from the school’s 175-year-history of serving only women in that capacity.
Nate loved being a trumpeter and drum major at his Fort Wayne, Indiana, high school. After receiving a degree in psychology from Indiana University, his desire to enter med school faded and the lure of music resurfaced.
“I wanted to find a career where I can get up in the morning and be excited about going to work,” Nate said.
He learned about the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods equivalency program and enrolled in fall 2013. He had to enroll as a music major at Indiana State University in order to take the basic music courses he needed to complete a degree. Last fall, when SMWC decided to change course and admit its first male undergraduate students, Nate happily transferred. He plans to graduate in 2016.
“I hope to work with children. I love their openness and freshness — they can’t not be themselves.” He sees a doctorate and college teaching as possibilities for his future. Stay tuned …
(Originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)