Fifteen years ago professional pianist Robin Spielberg's daughter Valerie was born at 23 weeks and five days! Weighing just under a pound, Valerie was too small for an incubator. Her eyes weren't even open yet and her lungs were not fully developed. Robin and her husband, Larry Kosson, were feeling very helpless and very vulnerable. However, the medical staff granted them permission to bring some of Robin's recordings into Valerie's neonatal intensive care area. After a few weeks, the nurses noticed that Valerie's oxygen saturation level increased and her blood pressure stabilized. They were seeing positive effects on the other babies around her as well.
Shortly after Valerie's very premature birth, Robin began reading about music therapy on the Internet. She found reports of the work and research of Dr. Jayne Standley regarding the positive effects of music and music therapy on premature infants. As Robin continued to read more about music therapy, including about our professional membership organization, AMTA, she began to feel empowered and to believe she could participate in Valerie's recovery and well being. She could sing to her, hum to her, and play recordings of her music by her station. Robin also made plans to record a solo piano lullaby CD for her once they were "out of the woods." Robin's CD, Beautiful Dreamer, was released in 1999, just a year after Valerie's birth. To this day, Robin donates a portion from the sale of each of these CDs to the American Music Therapy Association. I personally buy the CD as a baby gift for any new parent I know! Several of my music therapy clients also use this music to assist in their relaxation and stress management routines.
Sometime after Valerie had come home from the hospital, Robin spoke with Dr. Andrea Farbman, Executive Director of AMTA. She wanted to thank Dr. Farbman for the information and assistance she found through AMTA. She offered her support and has been an official Artist Spokesperson for AMTA for the past 12 years. At first she focused on helping parents of other preemies. She and her husband participated on a panel with Jayne Standley at an AMTA conference. Later she and AMTA broadened her focus to introducing young people to the profession of music therapy, a profession that can bridge the gap between helping people and the arts. Robin started visiting high schools, hospitals and nursing programs, where she spoke about her own experience and about the experience of music therapists with whom she had become familiar. She also tagged along with music therapists to observe and participate and "demystify" the process, as she says. Sessions included such varied music experiences as guided imagery, drum circles, and making mock CD covers listing songs illustrating situations in the clients' lives. Robin was amazed by how powerful the encounters were and how each situation was such a unique personal and individualized experience.
Robin has recently written about music therapy in her new book, Naked on the Bench: Adventures in Pianoland, which just hit the stores a few weeks ago. This book, a memoir, is about "all the things that happen in between the notes." In our interview she used a quote from Suzie Orman, to be able to "Stand in your truth." She said she talks about what really "feels good and is true for you." Robin continued by saying that she has "noticed that things that make me really happy are the things that no one else notices." For example, no one sees her garden except her (it faces a wooded area of a neighbor's yard), and when she performs for residents in a nursing home, she knows she is making a difference for those residents, even if no one else might know.
In addition to her donations and her writing about music therapy, Robin makes sure that when she is on tour performing, her presenters know that she is available to do workshops advocating on behalf of music therapy. She tries to increase general awareness about music therapy in the community, talk about case studies, follow doctors on grand rounds, and more, often pairs with local music therapists and visits their settings. Robin is now spreading the word about music therapy in a concert and book-signing tour. I just heard her two weeks ago! Her live readings from the book are interwoven with her piano playing in an intimate setting. Look for her at a venue near you! She will even be performing at the opening session of the next annual AMTA conference in Jacksonville, Fla, on Nov. 21, 2013.
Robin will tell anyone who will listen that she thinks music therapy as a profession needs to grow. She opines, "I think that our health care system, as everyone knows, is extremely broken. Anything that we can do where we can interact with another human being in a positive way is good." Robin saw that music helped her own baby thrive, and she has witnessed the benefits of music therapy in many different settings. It can help distract us from pain, help our memories, shorten hospital stays, and so much more. Robin continues, "People have been doing this for thousands of years. It's very natural ... Listen to mothers cooing with their high-pitched voices. It's extremely important not to ignore what is right in front of us. We should use all of these resources. Live and human interaction, with someone who is trained in this profession, using music, with an individual who is unwell is extremely powerful." On a practical level, music therapy is safe and cost-effective. Robin says, "It simply makes sense," and she reports that her husband knows she would want this as part of her care in the future.
Robin is extremely impressed by what music therapists do and by their commitment to the profession. "They have to be extremely intuitive, empathetic and compassionate," she comments. "The profession attracts people who are very warm and accessible. That's why I keep coming back!" And we're glad she does.