Follow my story of literally driving "from sea to shining sea" to make a new life in San Diego and continue my music therapy practice with children with autism.
My career blossomed out of a need for a new perspective. I majored in music in college (jazz voice and music technology), when my Dad died sophomore year. Up until then it was all music all the time: choir, marching band, concert band, orchestra.... anything I could do to avoid being home with my abusive step-brothers and step-sister. Being adopted into a family with racist siblings was no joke. Enter music. It was the perfect opportunity to explore something I felt I was good at in the safety of the band room walls away from home. My music teachers became my safe people and the music became my language. Back in college, I was more serious about music than ever, becoming proficient in jazz styles and really finding myself. When my Dad died in a tragic trucking accident at work I quite literally lost my voice. It would not sing. I opened my mouth and it seemed that all of my technique disappeared.
This is when I wished my voice teacher at the time (now a good friend) was a music therapist, as my body was clearly responding physically to emotional trauma. She kicked me out of the jazz studio and I was forced to spend a semester in the classical voice studio because the only other option was to give up my major. It was devastating. She called me into a meeting, where I found my teacher, the dean, and another faculty member in the department. Reluctantly and completely defeated, I did the breathing exercises and sang the arias and folk songs assigned. My boyfriend dumped me eight weeks after my Dad's death, sending me into a deep dive of depression and constant public break downs. I got straight A's that semester, but it was all simply going through the motions. I was an academic zombie. I did, however, feel that the classical voice teacher really saw me, even if I didn't have the energy to show that gratitude on the outside. As soon as I began to feel ready to really open up, she announced she was moving to Germany to pursue a performance career. I bawled like a baby. It ripped my heart out and I vowed to never enter into a relationship with music ever again. I planned to simply finish my degree and call it a day.
The world had different plans for me. The following year I was asked to sit as a student
representative on the hiring board to find a new music technology teacher. While I accepted, I was internally devastated because my tech teacher was a good one! The department was "downsizing" and essentially invited him to apply for the "new" tech position (their own job). I was determined to help them keep their job. It didn't work. Upon the final vote, the board decided on a new instructor with a big name from Japan. Long story short, I did end up opening my mind and formed a great academic relationship with the new faculty member. They helped me to really hone in on my engineering skills and build a portfolio to get into grad school, where I continued my jazz and tech studies. On the vocal side, I returned to the jazz studio where my old voice teacher was delighted to hear my progress. I dismissed it and decided that they weren't safe to trust, so I went through the motions to graduate and a few years later, I let my insecurities about singing get the best of me and stopped performing in public.
Fast forward through an incredible grad school experience at NYU filled with projects, amazing friends, living in and exploring the remarkable city of New York, and really truly finding myself; and I became a new me. After grad school I began my real career, music education. I decided to make some extra money substitute teaching and fell IN LOVE with it. I landed a public school music teacher where I taught two schools and 400 kids weekly. I put on nine concerts my first year and found out what "new teacher hazing" was like. The veteran teachers were not happy with having someone so "young and too different" (their words). In hindsight, racism was real. I worked my way up to Director of Music at a local arts center and eventually I landed a recording gig in Chicago, where I decided to stay. A marriage, eight apartments, and a divorce later, my private music studio grew and the widening opportunity to serve those who are differently abled became obvious to me. I had a lot of students with Autism and other Neurodiversities in my studio; and I knew I was missing a skill set to help them. I found SMWC with joy, because it meant that I didn't have to get another degree. I had competed my masters in music and my MBA; and I had a ton of student debt. That said, my passion for helping my students online and in person was stronger than my fear of moving forward.
The Equivalency program was no joke. I had never even touched a guitar and the language was really new to me. The hardest part was all of the clinical hours that were UNPAID. I developed a serious resentment over the fact that I had no choice but to hold down a full time job to pay my bills while working clinical hours and watching some of my peers roll through it without having to work. At least, that was my feeling. Right before my internship I was a faculty member at a local college, when the college closed down and I lost my job. I had no choice but to start internship while job searching in panic. I burned out halfway through my internship and had to take a semester off to figure things out. It was the hardest decision I had made since leaving home for Chicago. My supervisor made a big deal of my return, but honestly I just wanted to be invisible and finish my hours. My peers had all graduated and I was more than embarrassed that I "couldn't hack it" (of course, I know now that that wasn't the case).
In the meantime, the world was changing. COVID-19 became a new buzz word and things shut down a month before the end of my internship. I KNEW I HAD to get this done. I didn't have it in me to restart again. I convinced my supervisor to let me write music therapy group curriculum and made it to the finish line just in time. The hospital had already limited their workforce to essential staff only. They called us to tell us not to come in and our supervisor dropped our belongings off in a box. I never got closure with my patients or the internship for that matter. I was just glad I was done.
In my first job outside of private practice, I worked as a MT-BC at an inpatient behavioral health hospital, working with adolescents, those with substance abuse, acute psychosis and intellectual disabilities. Seven months later, I had facilitated inservice presentations on Music Therapy, dug deeper into my multiculturalism research, been racially attacked by patients, and was completely burnt out. I was madly in love with the work but could barely function after work I was so burnt. My partner began to comment on how miserable I seemed. I was so blind and in survival mode I could barely tell. Eventually I quit and took a job in San Diego working with children with Autism.
I packed up my bunny, and my partner and I hopped in the car for the 3,000+ mile drive. We stayed with old friends, stopped to see the Grand Canyon, stayed in a Navaho Woman's B&B, and navigated the windy roads to the Colorado mountains. It was a trip to remember and now, it all makes sense. The entire journey set me up for this.