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Military Music Therapy x Semper Sound

By Whitney Perry, MusicWorx Intern

Since coming to the MusicWorx internship, I have discovered a personal interest in music therapy with military populations. This population is different from any group I’ve worked with in the past. Working with Semper Sound, I was really able to develop my personal style as a therapist in taking on more of a supportive, rather than a leadership role. In collaborating with these military members and spouses, I re-discovered the value of client led sessions, and found opportunities to refocus on the music as the therapy.

Research shows that music therapy supports the “functional domains of motor, speech, cognition, social integration, and quality of life for military populations”’ (Vaudreuil, R., et al. 2018). The first Semper Sound music therapist, Rebecca Vaudreuil, elaborates; noting that music therapy [c]ontribute[s] to improvements in range of motion, strength endurance, breath support, articulation, task-attention, compensatory strategies, social integration, quality of life, and overall motivation in the recovery process” of service members (Vaudreuil et al., 2018). 

Perhaps the most important effect of music therapy is its ability to provide service members’ with intentional coping strategies for “managing symptoms of PTSD, TBI, substance abuse diagnoses”, and stress (American Music Therapy Association, 2014). 

The American Music Therapy Association highlighted several military music therapy programs in their 2014 article, Music Therapy and Military Populations: A Status Report and Recommendations on Therapy Treatment, Programs, Research and Practice Policy (you can read this article here). Some of the most commonly used interventions with these groups include active and supportive music making, songwriting, lyric analysis, and relaxation; all of which work to promote relaxation, self-expression, and coping.  The Semper Sound program, in particular, incorporates performance-based Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) techniques of therapeutic singing (TS) and therapeutic instrumental music performance (TIMP) to “provide reinforcement in the areas of:

  • Engagement in group dynamics,
  • Community re-integration […],
  • Increase awareness and insight of self and others,
  • Appropriate communication skills,
  • Songwriting and lyric interpretation,
  • Music production and engineering,
  • Sociobehavioral support [and] group cohesion”  American Music Therapy Association, 2014

The Semper Sound group actively works to provide continuity of care to service members. To hear what our group members and staff have to say about the program, please watch this video highlight:

Throughout the MusicWorx internship, our directors request that we write a weekly patient highlight. The Semper Sound group has been featured in my highlights several times because working with these clients has taught me many valuable lessons in a short period of time. From my very first experience with the group, I knew that I was witnessing something special. 

“I Know You!”

20 September 2021

Wednesday was my first time participating in the Semper Sound groups. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but once I got there I was filled with joy. Getting to experience the rapport that can be established through just jamming together was such a refreshing way to end the day. Several moments stood out during these sessions, including the long-term clients’ interest in the new interns, the woman who told me she knew me even though we had never met, and moments where our group sat on the sidelines and waved our arms back and forth to cheer on the vocalists and instrumentalists, and sing our hearts out together.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Sometimes recreational music can be just as effective as music therapy. We are still inadvertently addressing goals without emphasizing that it is music therapy, which may make the group seem less intimidating, and help deter some of the stigma against therapy in military communities.
  2. Learning from one another is such a HUGE part of the therapeutic relationship and it was so awesome to see that in action.
  3. We should use our strengths – they will come out naturally if we let them.
  4. We should be having fun in our sessions. I think a lot of times it can be easy to put pressure on ourselves to do the “right” thing or choose the “right” song, but allowing ourselves to make mistakes, let loose a little, and have some fun can make us more approachable and create a better experience not only for ourselves but also our clients.

My first four weeks with this group were spent preparing for the upcoming fundraiser concert, the Living Your Dreams benefit concert. Watching our clients’ determination and growth across these four weeks was inspiring, and the reward of seeing them perform together (and solo!) on stage was something I will never forget.

“Living Your Dreams”

18 October 2021

This weekend I had the pleasure to be a part of the Living Your Dreams Showcase with the Semper Sound Band. I have never felt so much energy, excitement, and pride. This group came together to share their talents with a large audience, and while all of them expressed their nerves, each of them poured their entire heart into their performances. Seeing these clients perform their original pieces, solo on cover songs, and talk about how much music has helped them brought so much joy! To see them push their fears aside and perform with contagious smiles and energy was invigorating. Having the opportunity to get to know each of these individuals and perform on stage with them was genuinely one of the highlights of my career and honestly my entire life. Working with this group has been a constant reminder of my passion for this field and I will never forget this night.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Recreational music groups can be just as therapeutic for clients and can be a less intimidating way to approach “therapy”.
  2. Seeing your clients recognize the therapeutic value that music holds for them and recognize/appreciate their own skills and talents is SO rewarding!
  3. Taking on a supportive role and creating a safe space for clients allows for so much growth in confidence, self-esteem, and their own leadership for your clients. 

You can watch this concert online below.  Individual performances begin at 00:02:09; the Semper Sound Band performance begins at 1:40:45.

Blue Christmas

1 November 2021

During our Semper Sound rehearsal, we began to run through some holiday repertoire that we are considering for a holiday concert. I love the holidays, so this was already very exciting for me. However, what was most exciting was seeing the way that the group members engaged to arrange each tune in a way that was unique to our sound. Over the past few weeks, we have seen these clients write impromptu songs together and present ideas on how to make popular pieces their own; it has been so powerful to see this growth, and I left Monday’s group with such an excitement for music.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Playing music for ourselves is important, too. Having a reminder of why we love music so much can help reignite that passion and excitement and will transfer over to the way we interact with our clients.
  2. Creating a safe space for clients can lead to tremendous amounts of growth. We should not just be encouraging them to feel comfortable with us and confident in our knowledge/skill, we should be encouraging them to feel comfortable and confident with theirs. I’ve noticed that a lot of our clients were/are hesitant to present new ideas, but seeing the increase across the board has been really exciting.

The Semper Sound Band was a huge “aha!” moment for me, teaching me many valuable lessons. This group reminded me that music heals, showed me the value of individual strengths, encouraged me to address and stretch my own vulnerability (both musically and emotionally), and reignited my passion for the music therapy field. We talk a lot about how therapists support and help navigate client growth, but this group has been such a powerful reminder of how much our clients do the same for us.

To learn more about the Semper Sound program, please visit the Resounding Joy website: https://resoundingjoyinc.org/semper-sound/. Here you can discover and explore our Toolbox for Military Music Therapy, and receive updates about what our program is up to. 

Consider donating in support of our program. Right now, all new and returning donors will have their gift matched up to $10,000 thanks to the Parker Foundation.

[button size=”large” type=”normal” target=”_self” text=”Military Music Therapy Toolbox (CMTEs)” link=”https://musicworxinc.com/product/working-with-active-service-members-and-veterans-third-edition/”]
[button size=”large” type=”normal” target=”_blank” text=”Learn More About Donating” link=”www.resoundingjoyinc.org/thriving”]
[button size=”large” type=”normal” target=”_blank” text=”Learn More About Semper Sound” link=”https://resoundingjoyinc.org/semper-sound/”]

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BARBARA REUER, PHD, MT–BC
CEO / Founder
P: 858.457.2201
E: breuer@musicworxinc.com

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San Diego, CA
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