Saturday, December 11, 2010


Hello everyone! I'm Justin and I've been a Board-Certified Music Therapist for a year now. Sherrye has asked me to partner with her in blogging about different topics related to music therapy and recreation. I am excited for this being my first time blogging about anything. Currently, I'm the Director of Recreation at a long-term care and rehabilitation center in Bridgewater, NJ. I interned at a Veteran Affairs Hospital in Montrose, NY where I worked in long-term/sub-acute psych and dementia care. I've presented at several local, regional, and national conferences on the topic of music therapy with current veterans with mTBI/PTSD. Additionally, I've lectured at the West Point Military Academy on stress and music relaxation techniques.

I'm currently pursuing my PhD in clinical neuroscience or in neuropsychology. I haven't decided on which path yet. I enjoy reading and conducing research in neuroscience. I wish to explore how music therapy interacts in the restructuring of atrophied axons following primary blast injury from atmospheric pressure changes caused by repeated exposure to blast wave during war. I believe that by studying how the brain restructures itself from TBI, TIA, or by stroke, we can better understand how the brains adapts to other neurological/physiological disorders.

Thank you, Sherrye for the opportunity to blog with you. This will be a great sharing experience with other clinician out there. Next, I would like to blog about my most recent presentation on mTBI with veterans and on the topic of brief therapy.

- Justin

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Or is it?

While playing Christmas songs for a group of older adults with dementia, a family member was sitting with her mother. She (the daughter) started crying when I played and sang Silent Night. I discovered through talking with her, that it was triggering Christmas memories and bringing her to the realization that her mother was no longer the same, and that Christmas was no longer the way she remembered.

It had already occurred to me that while these songs might bring the client back to some happier times, it might also evoke sadness if they were cognitively aware enough of the changes in their situation. However, I never truly considered the impact on the family members until I witnessed it first hand in my session. I know that dementia is extremely hard on the family especially around the holidays, but somehow during this particular sing-a-long, I was expecting "comfort and joy". By the way, she did thank me for the music at the end of the session and said that it felt good and cathartic to cry.

So now I've had my "ah-ha" moment and will address the holidays with more sensitivity. While in hindsight this is seemingly obvious, it was a career eye opener for me, because any "happy" occasion can be laden with sad memories. Of course I'm prepared for and aware of these reactions during the sessions, they still catch me off guard sometimes. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this.

My question is to you, the music therapy world, what have your experiences been in situations like this? Have you experienced this with other populations? And how do you address these issues in your practice?

May your days be merry and bright,


Friday, November 26, 2010

Hannukah Songs beyond "I am a Little Dreidel"

Hey Everyone,

The holidays are upon us, Thanksgiving is officially over and I realize that that means it's time for Christmas songs. Personally, I am trying to brush up on mine. (Can I tell you that O Holy Night sounds pretty good on my new ukulele?)

It also has been brought to my attention that while I'm cramming on learning Christmas songs, some of you might need Hannukah songs for your clients that go beyond "I am a Little Dreidel" and "Rock of Ages", which are great songs but there are so many new ones out there and not to mention that the previous two songs might be young to use for older adults.

Here is a great resource to find Jewish Holiday songs to use in your practice. The website is

Even though there are a lot of children's songs on this site, there are songs that are modern enough to use with all age groups, including older adults.

My favorite song on that website to use with older adults is We Kindle the Lights by Peter and Ellen Allard. It was written for children, yet it is not juvenile at all. It's a fill-in song where the participants name things that they wish for for each night of Hanukkah. When I tried this song with children, I got a lot of responses such as video games, toys, candy. However, when I tried this song with older adults, their responses tend to be more contemplative using words such as health, family, good will, etc. That's not to say that children don't understand the message in the song, but in my experiences, adults can really relate to it. The sheet music is available on the Tot Shabbat website.

Additionally, there are a couple of other songs on the Tot Shabbat website that I would recommend. Light One Candle by Peter Yarrow, Ocho Kandelikas by Flory Jagoda, Not By Might - Not By Power by Debbie Friedman, and my personal funny favorite - Hannukah in Santa Monica by Tom Lehrer. Traditional songs include Mao Tzur, Mi Yimaleil, and Al Hanissim.

Lots of other songs on there so be sure to use this site as a resource. Let me know if you're looking for any other Hannukah suggestions.

Happy Holidays and Happy Hannukah! First candle is Dec 1!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

They're Playing My Song!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope yours was better than mine. I spent the day by myself because I was sick and couldn't drive home. On the plus side, once I started feeling better, I had time to create this blog.

There are so many things that I want to write about regarding my experiences at the AMTA (American Music Therapy Association) National Conference in Cleveland. For now, I'm going to give a quick shout-out to some people I met there and who's blogs I linked to on the side of this page. They are Kat Fulton, Michelle Erfurt, Kimberly S. Moore, Rachel Rambach, and Janice Harris, just to name a few. Please be sure to check out the blog list and give theirs a read.

So anyway, during a dinner break with some friends, just before the opening session of the conference, I was looking at the program and noticed that they had a Cabaret (I guess open mic style) listed for Saturday night. "That is so cool," I thought. I had the perfect song that I wanted to do, as long as I could get access to a projector or something to display the lyrics. To explain the song to my friends, I wrote out the lyrics to I-M-4-U in a notebook and sang it for them. I had already played it once for MARAMTS students at last year's Mid-Atlantic Region conference and it was a great success. I was looking forward to playing it for the Cabaret.

You can imagine my surprise when the amazing opening night performers, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, played I-M-4-U in their opening set. "They're playing my song!" I screeched. I couldn't believe it. I was mildly jealous that they beat me to the punch but tremendously excited that they were playing it anyway. I pulled open my notebook where I had just written the lyrics down only hours earlier (as some sort of self-rightous claim) and enthusiastically sang along. It was so much fun. I never did sing it on Saturday night but I feel equally satisfied.

For those of you who weren't at the conference, I-M-4-U is a great little gimmick song using only letters and numbers for the song lyrics. It can probably be easily adapted to work in a number of different music therapy settings and populations. Unfortunately, I can't make a recording now because I have no voice but I will as soon as I'm feeling better. I'll also post the chords then too.

In the meantime, here are the "lyrics":

I - M - 4 - U
S - I - M
S - I - M
G - I - 1 - 2 - B - 4 - U - 4 - F - R

U - R - X - T - C
S - U - R
S - U - R
I - N - 10 - 2 - B - 4 -U - 4 - F -R

I - M - I - N - U
U - R - I - N - 2
S - E - Z - 2 - C
B - B
U - N - I - C - I -2 - I
I - M - 4 - U
S - I - M
S - I -M
U - N -I -L - B - S - 1 -4 - F - R - N - F- R - N - F - R

iPhone test post

So welcome to the first blog post that I am testing from my iPhone. I'm using an app called BlogBooster so I can blog on the go. This is one of the major features I was looking for. There are still tweaks that I need to work through on blogger but for now I'm just going to play.

BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop