When people think of therapy, it is not typically seen as a creative and fun outlet, but music therapy is not your average therapy session. 

Jennifer Buchanan, an award-winning music therapist, has started a new music therapy series called Tune in to Music for Health, Happiness, and Success. The drop-in series is being hosted at the National Music Centre at Studio Bell every Friday at noon from on Oct. 20 to Nov. 24. 

Admission is $15 for the general public and $10 for students and seniors. Museum access is included in these prices. Participants should register in advance at studiobell.ca/whats-on.

The sessions are intended for leaders, educators, artists, and wellness practitioners who are interested in learning how they can use music to improve their personal and work lives. 

“Even if you don’t land in one of the professions we’re talking about, any of them are going to speak to anybody who’s interested in learning more about music therapy,” said Buchanan. 

Musical effects

Buchanan started her music therapy journey after her grandfather had a stroke when she was a young teenager. She said that her grandmother asked her to come and sing his favourite song to him. 

“It sounds like such a simple request, except for the fact that I had very little relationship with my granddad because he was absolutely miserable and this stroke did not make him any happier.”

However, because she would do anything for her grandmother, she decided to learn the song, The White Cliffs of Dover by Vera Lynn. 

YouTube video

“It was one of those moments where I felt such a deep connection to Granddad, to the song, to the music, to the environment,” said Buchanan. “Seeing music at such a young age within … an environment that just didn’t have a lot of things going on and to see the vibrancy that music could bring to such setting.” 

Fast forward five years, Buchanan applied to a music therapy program in North Vancouver from which she later graduated. 

After moving to Calgary for an internship, Buchanan loved the city so much that she decided to stay and open her own practice and the rest was history. She now has more than three decades of experience in the industry and is continuing her work. 

How music aids student success

Music therapy is the practice, teaching and study of how music affects people. In order to become a music therapist, practitioners are required to receive a university-level certificate in the field and are considered allies among health professionals. 

A music therapy session could look like a wide range of things, however, the main building block is sitting down with clients and helping them achieve their health and wellness goals through the use of music.

“We spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, sometimes an hour and a half with someone just supporting them, bringing music, and reminding them how great they are,” said Buchanan

“We might song write, we might drum, we might sing, we might hum.”

Jennifer Buchanan, registered music therapist will also delve into how music affects different areas of the brain and why that matters. PHOTO BY CHAD SCHROTER-GILLESPIE  

For Buchanan, these upcoming workshops are good for anyone, especially students. 

“I’m certain a lot of students are going through the usual now which is things like anxiety or stress, or needing focus to get through a paper and music can help with all those different elements,” said Buchanan. 

Not only does she believe that music can have benefits from a therapeutic perspective, but also in our everyday lives. Buchanan said that we, as individuals, very intentionally seek out music to help us with day-to-day tasks. 

“It’s a real safe drug to use,” she said.

Everyone welcome

Whether you’re a manager, educator, artist, health care worker, wellness practitioner or a student entering into one of these career paths, each session is tailored to the language and experience of that industry to teach attendees how they can use music both in their work but also in their personal lives.  

“I want everybody to come on down. That’s really important. What I feel they’re going to get is the resources…so they can intentionally use music for whatever their specific goal is in their life,” said Buchanan. 

This five-part series is being hosted at Studio Bell every Friday at noon starting on Oct. 20 to Nov. 24. PHOTO BY JEREMY BITTERMANN

“I end each of the presentations with my top eight tips for all the considerations of how to use music in your particular domain to make it more fun, joyful, but also meaningful,” said Buchanan. “I just hope that everyone comes in and enjoys it.”

  • October 20 – Tune in to Music in the Classroom, suited for teachers and educational assistants working with all ages of students
  • October 27 – Tune in to Music in Healthcare, suited for healthcare providers, medical specialists, allied health professionals, and nurses
  • November 10 – Tune in to Music for Optimum Wellness, suited for wellness practitioners including yoga and fitness instructors, and coaches
  • November 17 – Tune in to Music for the Artist, suited for musicians, community music teachers, visual artists, actors, dancers, writers, and all creatives
  • November 24 – Tune in to Music at Work, suited for managers, leaders, HR professionals, corporate wellness coordinators, and operational directors

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Isabella West is a fourth-year Journalism student at MRU. She completed her work term over the summer of 2023 at LiveWire Calgary in partnership with the Calgary Journal.