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Family Matters - Winter 2008

Music Therapy

Doctors and nurses arm themselves with the latest treatments and therapies to fight cancer. In a different way, one man arms himself with a guitar, rhythm instruments and a drum to fight the same disease. Taking his tools into a young patient’s room, the artistic piece created between the music therapist and patient may not be recognizable to the passerby, but the ending result would make even Mozart happy.

For 23 years, Michael Richardson has used music therapy to connect with patients facing a variety of illnesses. In 1991, he began work as a music therapist at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, primarily working with children in group settings and on an individual basis. His role later expanded to include music therapy for adult patients as well.

Richardson uses music to give patients an outlet for self expression and to give them an opportunity to connect with other patients. The music helps to distract patients from their daily circumstances, and it often increases their self-esteem.

“My techniques are eclectic,” says Richardson. “The classes I have with the kids aren’t like general music education classes. I keep in mind the social, spiritual and environmental forces affecting them and try to simply to encourage patients to use music to express what they are feeling at the moment.”

The Beginning of a Pediatric Holiday Musical Program

One outlet that the patients enjoy expressing themselves musically is the annual pediatric holiday program each December.

Four years ago, a new holiday tradition began at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. A patient and doctor combo approached Richardson with an idea. They wanted to develop a holiday musical program utilizing the talents of patients and staff at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. Since that first performance held in the PediDome, the holiday programs have continued to grow.

This year, for the first time, the M. D. Anderson employee choir joined the pediatric patient/staff ensemble to treat patients and families throughout M. D. Anderson to some holiday cheer. In addition to the singing, pediatric patients performed solos on the flute and harp, and they sang a song, "Holidaze," which they wrote the lyrics for in their Writers in the Schools class.

The performance was held on Dec. 17, and afterward pediatric patients and their families marched up to the PediDome for a special Willy Wonka holiday party hosted by Adam’s Angels.

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