Written by Kathleen Gredler
I am a young professional in the arts.
More specifically, I am a musician. To further complicate things, I am also a music therapist. To an outsider of the field, it's quite a hard career path to explain, and my specialty is something much more easily understandable through experience. As a whole, music therapy is described as being “phenomenological”—we know that it works, but not fully why it is as powerful as it is. Most of this is simply due to the elusive and somewhat intangible influence music has over us: It effortlessly transports us to another time through reminiscence, affects our mood (both positively and negatively), and connects us with strangers in crowded music halls. In summary, my field focuses on harnessing that quality and using it purposefully to achieve a specific goal.
Most people don’t equate a job "in the arts” with the consistent Monday-through-Friday work schedules we’ve grown so accustomed to following within the workforce. But, for most of us, that’s exactly the schedule we end up adopting. Believe it or not, my career path will lead to a nine-to-five job, and thus, being a professional in the arts might not always follow a stereotype. For a lot of people, a job in the arts may look something like working as an administrator for a music venue, advising at a university, teaching music at a middle school, working in a gallery, illustrating for Disney, producing blockbusters, composing movie scores, or photographing weddings.
Of course, as a society, we need doctors, sanitation crews, nurses, and postal workers to keep our world spinning, but it's important to remember in the hustle and bustle of life that the legitimacy of pursuing one career field doesn’t diminish the value of another. We all have our part to play in creating this multifaceted, complex and cohesive world, and as young professionals, we have such beautiful opportunities to support, learn from, and connect with each other in the process. Some of us are best suited to perform on stage, some of us in surgery. In my experience, every young person I’ve met who is following their ambition has become a teacher of mine, whether or not they know it.
The hard and fast rule is that a typical day as a music therapist is an unpredictable one. For those working in hospice, it may mean working with several clients and writing life review songs to leave behind for their families after they pass. It may mean spending an entire day providing palliative music therapy and counseling to a dying patient and their family. For a music therapist working in a mental or behavioral health unit, you may be leading group sessions for at-risk youth, individuals in recovery programs, detox programs, or in acute care settings where turnover is so high you only get to interact with each patient once.
Or, perhaps you’re employed in the main unit of a hospital. Your morning begins with anxiety reduction for a toddler undergoing a medical procedure they don’t understand, but by noon you’re helping a cancer patient fall asleep during chemotherapy treatment—and before the end of the day you’re leading a Parkinson’s choir. My point is, it’s unpredictable. But what career isn't?
As a full-time graduate student, my day-to-day is a little simpler. I work in a preschool with 2- and 4-year-olds in an inclusive multicultural classroom. I found my passion there, in early childhood development. Some of my students do not speak English. Some have conduct disorders. Some have developmental delays. Some are typically developing. For students around this age, most of the goals they have are introducing themselves, listening, waiting for directions, taking turns, participating, as well as enforcing typical cognitive development. This past spring, I worked with a child with cognitive and behavioral delays for five months. At the end of it, he had only learned how to introduce himself; to say hello, his name, and ask for yours in return. A simple activity, but an activity he will do every day for the rest of his life. For some, that is not enough, and that’s okay. But for me, it’s everything.
No matter what you’re passionate about or where your talents lie, you have the potential to see them through and make them a reality. Whether your career is in the arts, science, mathematics or everything in-between, remember that you play a vital role in making our world turn by filling a space with your unique strengths and capabilities. Artist or not, doctor or not, athlete or not, being a young professional in the workforce is tough, and the workforce doesn't come with a handbook. In whatever role you find yourself navigating, stand up a little taller, and speak a little louder knowing you’re not at it alone, and that your work fulfills a unique and specific purpose.
Kathleen is currently managing Liberty Bar and Restaurant in Tallahassee, FL, while pursuing her Master's in Music Therapy. She specializes in working with medically fragile children and hopes to be a Music Therapist in a children's hospital. In her free time, she practices yoga and cultivates a knowledge of as many cocktails as possible.