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Music therapist Amy Love bands together with St. Jude patients Katie and Rayna.
A cheerful cacophony greets passers-by outside the Kay Kafe in the middle of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A beating drum, jangling shaker and strumming guitar mingle with the sound of a clear voice singing a popular Katy Perry song, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. 'Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.”
The little girl banging the drum has only a few tendrils of hair, artistically held back with a white ribbon. She sits at the feet of the woman who is singing — music therapist Amy Love.
Love recently joined the St. Jude Child Life program, which helps patients deal with the stress of being in the hospital by giving them coping skills and outlets for expression. Music therapy is an established health service, similar to physical or occupational therapy, which uses music to help with physical, psychological, cognitive or social functioning for patients of all ages.
For Love, 23, the profession is a passion. “I really value the patients, what they are going through and their stories,” she said. “I love to see how music helps them emotionally and psychologically.”
Shawna Grissom, director of the St. Jude Child Life program, said music is important because “it brings normalization to a not-so-normal environment of the hospital for children. When you co-treat with a music therapist, we are working toward many of the same psycho-social goals; we just use different mediums to achieve them.”
To become a music therapist, Love attained a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, completed a six-month internship and passed an examination for board certification. She also has additional certifications in neonatal intensive care unit music therapy and neurologic music therapy.
Love can offer many examples of how music has helped patients at St. Jude and in her previous private practice in Louisville, Kentucky.
She recalls playing for a 3-year-old boy who was so nauseated by his medicine that he had been sick all day. “His mother told me, ‘the first time he stopped throwing up all day was when you came in’,” she said.
“Music is normalizing, empowering and an outlet for expression,” Love said, as she remembered one patient who was so angry that he broke a mallet pounding on the drums.
Music also can help patients relax in stressful situations by slowing their heart rates. The therapist plays music in time with the patient’s heart rate and then gradually slows the music; the heart rate follows.
At St. Jude, Love offers individual music therapy in patient rooms or the Medicine Room. She also makes music available in group settings, like the weekly activity outside the Kay Kafe, where she encouraged children to make up their own words to old standards. And she is even planning a piano recital this summer where some St. Jude patients can share their musical talents.
The opportunities for music therapy at St. Jude are endless, Love said, and the program has plenty of room to grow. In the meantime, she will continue to strap her guitar to her back and pile her cart with drums, chimes, xylophones and toys as she helps bring harmony to the lives of the children at St. Jude.
To support programs like the music therapy program at St. Jude, please make a donation.