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Q&A with a music therapy graduate alum

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Nicole Drozd with her award. Photo by Elizabeth Dreher '14.

Meet Nicole Drozd, winner of the 2014 Outstanding Music Graduate Student Award.

1. Where are you from originally?

A: I am originally from a small town in upstate New York called Evans Mills. When I was younger, I grew up on Fort Drum Military Base while my father served in the Army. When he retired from the military, my parents decided to stay in New York, and beyond our backyard was Fort Drum. It was like we never really left that community. I associate both places as my hometown.

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Department of Music Chair Al Wojtera and Nicole Drozd during the awards ceremony.

2. Why did you choose Radford University to pursue your masters in music therapy?

A. When I did my music therapy internship at the Salem Virginia Medical Center in Salem, Va., almost four years ago, I fell in love with the state of Virginia. So when I decided to look at graduate schools, I decided to explore my options in Virginia. I liked that the master’s program offered counseling courses as well as level 1 training in GIM (Guided Imagery in Music). I also liked the potential of getting a teaching assistant position that would require me to not only teach undergraduates about music therapy, but also supervise them at clinical sites. I had a feeling that I would gain a lot of hands-on experience coming here.

3. What are some challenges you have had to face as a music therapy major?

A. I think the hardest part in pursuing this degree has been reconstructing myself as a professional music therapist. I already had a way of practicing, but because I have an invested interest in working with active duty soldiers, veterans and their families, I needed to learn several new skills as well as have the willingness to face the challenges that can come from working with this population. I had to relearn how to take time for myself when doing this work as well as recognize that I am a witness to all of my client’s stories that they share with me, which can sometimes be really hard.

4. What makes music therapy important to you?

A. I always have had a love for music and helping people. I didn’t see myself as a teacher nor did I see myself as someone who wanted to be a performer all her life. I have found that I love music the most when I can share it with others and make a connection (even just for a moment). It is amazing what music can do through the therapeutic relationship between the therapist, client, and music. I have seen people’s anxiety and pain be reduced from music therapy, and I have also seen it bring together families as their loved one is dying. I can go on and on about what makes this occupation important to me, but ultimately, what makes music therapy important to me is the connection I see that the client has with the music and how that one connection can potentially heal them or help them in their own therapeutic process.

5. How did you get the opportunity to work with Vietnam Veterans using songwriting as music therapy?

A. For my final graduate project I wanted to use the music therapy intervention of songwriting with a group of veterans to explore its ability to initiate contact with, and movement into, the stories of their military service. In doing this, I wanted to see if it would help build a supportive community for the group as well as increase self-expression. I also wanted to adequately understand military as a culture, and how we can better serve and understand them as a civilian community. Because I had done my internship at the Salem VA Medical Center, I was able to get five veterans willing to volunteer to participate in my project. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of men to work with.

6. What did that experience entail?

A. This project was multifaceted. For a period of 16 weeks the group composed eight songs about their personal and shared experiences of either life in the military, war or civilian society. In collaboration with the professional recording studio at the Jefferson Center Music Lab, the group professionally recorded their songs for their album with the help of myself, supervising professor Jim Borling, and other staff present. The final session ended with having the opportunity to listen to the rough cut of the album. Once the final cut of the album was complete, along with the design of the CD case and the inside cover, each veteran received five copies of the album to distribute to friends and family. The album was also sent to the Library of Congress’ Veteran’s History Project in the hope that it can have a permanent place in history, and so that friends and family members will have a place to look up the group members and listen to their stories as well.

In addition to all of this, there is an advocacy element to this project as well. By giving each of the group members an album, they now can tell their stories in a different way to their families, friends, and local communities. In addition to this, I feel like it is my job, given my work with this group, to pass along their stories and my knowledge of military as a culture to other music therapists as well as the civilian community.

There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do." By changing myself and how I practice as a music therapist as well as how I live as a human being, it is my belief that the tendencies and attitudes toward our veterans and their service would change as well.

7. What was the most rewarding aspect of getting to work with the veterans?

A. The most rewarding part of working with this group was just having the ability and the support to do it. I have wanted to do something like this since my first year as a music therapy undergrad. Being an army brat and living right next to the military base, I saw the direct effects that the attacks on 9/11 had on the military and their families. I wanted to do something that would support them and also show them that I appreciate their service to our country. So for me, regardless of what war or conflict veterans have come from I want to serve them, the way they serve our country. Having the opportunity to be witness to their stories has been an honor and a privilege. Their stories and perspective have made me cry, become angry and feel ashamed of our country at times. Their stories also gave me insight, hope and a fiery passion to continue my work with Veterans and to advocate that their needs be met, whether big or small. They have taught me so much and I will always carry their voices with me. I don’t think this project could be any more rewarding.

8. How does it make you feel to know that you are being awarded the outstanding student award?

A. I am extremely honored to receive this award. Many of my fellow classmates did wonderful and inspiring final graduate projects that would, I believe, also warrant an outstanding student award. This very fact is humbling because I am sure it had to have been a hard decision to decide who would receive this honor. Receiving this award is proof that I need to keep doing the work that I started over a year ago for this project. I think it will forever be a reminder of what I am passionate about and the group who participated in this project with me.

9. Who/what has helped you grow in your pursuit to become a music therapist?

A. My passion for this profession has got me through all of the years of school and practice. If I didn’t feel rewarded everyday by the occupation I chose, I wouldn’t be in it. Being a music therapist does that for me and my passion helps me grow as a professional in this field day by day. There are many people who have helped me and supported me along the way through the journey of becoming a music therapist and going to grad school. My family has supported me through this entire process. They always understand that my work is important to me and they are huge advocates for this field. Other people who have made me a better therapist, musician and human being have been my mentors. These include Jamie Fazio, Toni Zygadlo, Mandy Elliot, Susan Nowak, Abby Unger and Beth Woodward. Finally, I have a lot of thanks and appreciation to give to Dr. Winter and professor Jim Borling. Dr. Winter challenged me to think about my role as a music therapist and encouraged me to apply and present at the American Music Therapy Association Conference. If she hadn’t put that bug in my ear a year or so ago, I don’t think I would have deemed myself as someone who the association would want to hear from. Professor Borling is an amazing teacher who puts a lot of time in teaching and supervising his students. I have learned so much from him and he has shown me the skills that I already had from the beginning. Working with him on my final project really helped me see myself as I am as well as who I could become as a music therapist in the future.

10. Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

A. I would love to see myself working as a music therapist with veterans and active duty soldiers and their families. It is my hope that it will be easier to provide and implement music therapy services to this population not just at the VA, but also within the military and civilian communities as time goes on.

May 15, 2014
Sabrina Anderson
540-831-6237
cvpa411@radford.edu

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