Music department adds new degree

Mercyhurst University recently added a new degree to its list of course offerings. Students will be able to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in music therapy starting in the 2012-13 school year through the D’Angelo music department.

According to, music therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.”

People have become more aware of this kind of therapy because of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot a year ago and had traumatic brain damage, which made her unable to speak. She is now regaining those skills mostly through efforts in music therapy.

The newly added program will be able to give promising students a strong advantage in this recently popular field because it is the first of its kind in the region.

Instructor of Music Therapy Craig Stevens was the main organizer in making this degree available.

Stevens became interested in the music therapy field when his father was suffering from cancer in 2001.

“My father was in and out of a coma-like state, and when I played my acoustic guitar and sang to him, I got a reaction from him. That moment changed my life,” Stevens said.

The degree received recognition from both the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the American Music Therapy (AMT) association, which ensures students who graduate from this program are music therapist board certified.

Students will have the opportunity to practice their skills with patients at UPMC Hamot hospital because of Steven’s past experience there.

Junior Brittany Barko is excited about the new degree.

Before the establishment of the official music therapy degree, she was a contract major studying psychology but was also interested in the music department. With the addition of the major, she immediately declared herself a music therapy student.

“I may have to stay a few extra terms after my expected graduation date to fulfill the clinical experience hour requirements for the degree. However, I’m going to do as much as I can over the summers to get those finished,” she said.

Barko is anticipated to be the first graduate from this program.

She looks forward to the future of the program and where it can take her.

“Based on my internship experience, I will either do graduate work in music therapy or jump right into the practice. I could work in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, children’s hospitals or special needs facilities,” she said.

The music department is excited about the potential this new area of study offers.

Louisa Jonason, chair of the D’Angelo music department, said that she is very pleased with the addition of the degree, especially with its recognition by NASM and AMT. She is also happy to have an actual music therapist teaching the curriculum.

Barko is excited to see the effect this addition makes on recruitment for the music department.

“I think the addition of the therapy major may interest a different population of applicants than the music department has seen in the past,” Barko said.

Stevens has many plans for the future of this program.

He is very excited to have his students practice in fields like neurology, school districts with kids who have autism or Asperger’s syndrome and in mental health settings.

So far the program has six students enrolled, and they have “calls weekly about prospective students,” Stevens said.