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May 18, 2020

Alumna Spotlight: Beth Honan ‘13

Music has always been a part of Beth Honan’s life. At three years of age, she began learning piano. Harp soon followed at age nine, which was a dream come true for her mother, who had always wished for a daughter that played the harp. Beth’s six siblings also started piano at young ages, after which they each chose a unique instrument in which to further invest themselves. Growing up, the Honan family often performed together at churches, nursing homes, Civil War reenactments, and other venues.

Beth grew up not far from Roberts, taking lessons at the Roberts Community Music School and playing in the orchestra through the years. “Roberts was a huge part of my life as I grew up,” Beth reminisced. “When it came time for me to choose a college, I originally wanted to go away from home, but I changed my mind. Roberts was close and familiar but ended up being exactly what I needed.”

When asked which professor was most influential during her time studying Harp Performance at Roberts, Beth couldn’t pick just one! “From the instant I met Dr. Kris Kuhlman, I felt that she was on my side,” Beth shared. “She was passionate and held everyone to a high standard, but you knew that she was on your team as you strove. Dr. Paul Shewan and Dr. Dan Barta both spent a lot of time listening to me and encouraging me musically, personally, and spiritually. They have continued to be an encouragement in my life even beyond college.”

Highlights of campus life included meeting new people from many different places, forming friendships she wouldn’t have made elsewhere, enjoying a variety of new experiences, and being able to go through all facets of life with a community for four years. “It’s a unique bond that you don’t find in other areas of life,” she mused.

Upon graduating in December of 2013, Beth knew two things: she didn’t want to pursue performance further, and she enjoyed helping people. This led her to spend some time volunteering with a social work organization in Romania, which affirmed that she wanted to invest her time in helping people. When she returned to the United States, doors and conversations about music therapy began to open. The field was a perfect mixture of her desire to help people and her passion for music.

Beth remembers hearing about music therapy during her undergraduate degree and thinking that it sounded intimidating. “I knew that the expectations and skills required would push me out of my comfort zone; I was intrigued but absolutely terrified.” Being drawn to the field was a continual process of stepping out of her comfort zone. “You miss out on so much if you’re not completely willing to give it everything you have. Exploring elements and styles of music that you’re not naturally drawn to forces you to grow but also allows you to connect with so many more people than you could reach while sticking to your own musical path. Combining the power of music with a step outside of your comfort zone allows you to share life’s journey with others.” Beth received her graduate degree in Music Therapy two years ago and has been working as a music therapist ever since.

She began her career in a school for children with developmental disabilities and now works as a subcontractor with a private practice called Sound Inspirations Music Therapy, LLC in Ohio. “When I originally started working as a music therapist, I thought I would have to give up my performing side that I had spent so many years working towards. What I found was that my performing skills enhanced my music therapy work and vice versa. I’ve been able to perform a lot on the side, as well as through music therapy.”

Beth has found several similarities between the two fields, and she recently performed a recital titled, “A Musical Journey Between the Worlds of Classical Performance and Music Therapy.” In her recital, she used her performance side to showcase shared elements between the two fields, such as collaboration. “The music you make in music therapy is never just yours; you’re sharing it with someone or making it with someone, and that’s similar to performing classically,” Beth explained.

Her recital also featured improvisation as she took her classical theoretical foundation and applied it to spontaneous music within a group. “Always look and listen for the elements that connect you - rhythm, mode, key, etcetera - that’s how you’re able to create one sound that twenty different people participate in.

Further, she performed music in differing styles, featuring a pop song on a classical instrument as a student with cerebral palsy played harp with a spatula and demonstrated that there are no limits to music. “As a performer, I put limits on myself about what I can and cannot do with music. Being able to play a song in a style that I wouldn’t typically have chosen allowed me to connect with someone else - it opened up a new world of music and sharing.”

She concluded her recital by using technology to connect a looper pedal to her harp, record loops, and play underneath a singer. This showed that she hasn’t limited herself musically. “So many people connect to music in different ways; being willing to branch out and try a new style lets you step into someone else’s world. Staying in one style would keep me from being able to use the foundation I have to reach more people.”

In her current position, Beth works with a variety of clients in various settings. She goes into nursing homes and long-term care facilities for group and individual sessions, works in a school special education classroom, and has individual in-home clients such as those in stroke rehabilitation. Her first music therapy job was set in one location with a similar demographic. At her current position, she is broadening her skills and experience to branch into new areas. “My current position is a lot more independent than I anticipated. I do planning and documentation from home and drive to my clients with my instruments. It’s very flexible, but the challenge is that I have to work harder to stay connected with other music therapists and continue my education. I have to make those opportunities for myself so that I get what I need as a therapist to provide the best possible services.”

Thinking back to her time at Roberts, Beth is grateful for the music department’s emphasis on community. “They push you to be your personal best as a musician, but community is vital to everything you’re doing. The professors invested in me and provided a community. My current position has helped me see the value in that.”

This summer holds the promise of wedding bells for Beth, and she is not sure where she will end up. But, she plans to continue working in music therapy and is considering opening her own practice to work with children with developmental disabilities. “Music therapy has had unexpected challenges, but I’ve known all along that it’s exactly the right field for me. It’s incredibly fulfilling to be able to walk alongside other people using the medium of music.”

Beth’s advice for students interested in pursuing music therapy is as follows:

  • Develop musical skills, and don’t limit yourself.
  • Being able to play piano, guitar, and hand percussion fluidly in and out of different styles is invaluable.
  • Any exposure to or growth in these skills will help you so much when it comes to learning the clinical side of it. Create your own opportunities!
  • Get in contact with a music therapist, and absorb what you can.
  • Be sure that it’s what you want to do. Once you get through the program and out into the real world, you have to be really confident in yourself, your abilities, and your passion in the work to be successful. It’s still a growing field, and not everyone recognizes it for the value it has, so you have to do a lot of advocating. It can be discouraging, so let your passion guide you in a realistic sense. If you’re passionate about it, don’t give up on it at all. Keep that passion always in front of you. But, be realistic and listen to yourself if that passion isn’t enough to get you through.  

Roberts offers a B.S. in Music Therapy which prepares students for board certification by thoughtfully combining coursework in Music Foundations, Psychology, Human Development, and Music Therapy. Students in this program will also leave with a minor in Social Welfare, giving them an excellent foundation that enables them to work in a variety of clinical settings.

To learn more about Music Therapy at Roberts, click here.

Written by Emily Hutchinson, 5.13.20

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