HEALING: Director of SHSU's Music Therapy Program Credits
Student Enthusiasm With Program's Success
Sam Houston State University News
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To say Mary Ann Nolteriek's music therapy students are
"enthusiastic" about their studies at Sam Houston State
University might be a bit of an understatement.
A more genuine characterization, accredited to a former music
department chair, is that Nolteriek's initiates exude a certain
"missionary zeal" toward their craft; an infectious devotion
that has earned the 14-year-old program national acclaim and
continues to place its graduates at the head of the hiring line.
"It's true," said Nolteriek, the program's founding director. "I
get students with high SATs, high standards, and with an intense
desire to help other people."
Helping people is what music therapy is all about. The American
Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as "the
prescribed use of music by a qualified person to effect positive
changes in the psychological, physical, or social functioning of
individuals with health or education problems."
In lay terms, Nolteriek said, "music therapists use music as a
tool to accomplish non-musical goals." Those goals can be as
varied as music itself.
Music therapists can use music to assess and treat clients
troubled by problems as diverse as physical and mental
disabilities, chronic pain, substance abuse, and emotional and
psychiatric dysfunctions. They are employed by psychiatric and
medical hospitals, school districts, nursing homes, hospice
programs, and correctional and daycare facilities. The list is
"Music is our tool, but we don't teach music," Nolteriek said.
But that doesn't mean that music therapists aren't accomplished
musicians. To earn a degree in music therapy and certification
by the AMTA, a candidate must reach a certain level of musical
"Music has to be so much a part of you, that it is a natural
means of communication," Nolteriek explained. "In a session,
music therapists might be called on to compose on the spot or
they might be asked to accompany a song that someone remembers."
Because of its diversity, a career in music therapy can be very
appealing to musicians with a broad range of interests.
"The program attracts students who love music and want to keep
music in their lives, but prefer the multi-disciplinary
education reflected in the curriculum," said Nolteriek.
In addition to the general education requirements for a
bachelor's degree, music therapy students are required to study
special education, anatomy, psychology and philosophy. Their
core music training is the same as freshman and sophomore music
majors, but that expands into music therapy classes and
practicums during their junior and senior years.
The practicums, which correspond with the "populations" being
studied each semester, offer students valuable field training
with pre-schoolers, physically and mentally disabled children,
the elderly, and psychiatric patients. Field work is also
conducted at area hospitals and occasionally students work with
inmates through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
After completing university studies and before taking the AMTA
certification exam, music therapy trainees are required to
participate in a 6-month (1040-hour) clinical internship. Upon
passing the AMTA exam the students earn the designation "music
therapist-board certified" and can tag "MT-BC" credentials
behind their name.
The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect
health and behavior is at least as old as the writings of
Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century discipline began after
World War I and World War II when community musicians of all
types went to veterans hospitals around the country to play for
the thousands of soldiers suffering both physical and emotional
trauma from the wars.
"Doctors noticed that music had an affect on the veterans,"
explained Nolteriek. "For instance, the music calmed some of the
veterans, it increased their tolerance of pain, and it also
seemed to facilitate socialization. In essence, they interacted
more with the music."
Scientific study soon revealed a direct correlation between the
music and the effects. By 1944, Michigan State University had
founded the world's first music therapy degree program, and in
1950 the first national music therapy association was founded.
Today a substantial body of scientific research supports the
benefits of music therapy in an astounding range of practical
applications. Music therapists, especially those from SHSU,
Nolterick said, are in high demand.
The SHSU music therapy program is the largest in the
southwestern AMTA region and one of the largest in the nation.
The program, that began in 1984 with five students, enrolled
approximately 80 in 1998.
"The Sam Houston program has a very high regard from
professionals in the field, as well as from the American Music
Therapy Association," she said.
That reputation was bolstered in 1996 when Nolterick served as
local chair for the AMTA national conference held in Houston.
SHSU students had the opportunity to work closely with some of
the world's leading music therapists, as well as with AMTA
"They just earned themselves an outstanding reputation," said
For more information about music therapy, visit the AMTA web
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