The great equalizer

ann Farrar
Rachel Rambach performs during a music therapy session. Photo by ann Farrar

Connecting through music

By Ann Farrar

When you enter Music Therapy Connections, you can’t help but feel the cheery energy and enthusiasm for music. Light yellow walls are dotted with signs that proclaim, “Welcome!” “Music is my life,” and “Keep calm and strum on.” Mothers carrying babies and chasing toddlers swarmed into an early childhood music class on a recent Tuesday morning.

Rachel Rambach, a native of Springfield and graduate of Springfield High School, recently opened Music Therapy Connections at 1234 Centre West Dr. The facility offers music therapy for individuals and groups as well as piano, voice, guitar and ukulele lessons for children of all ages. Rambach always loved to sing and performed in the Muni and Springfield Theatre Centre as a child. She left Illinois to attend Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, majoring in vocal performance. There, she encountered the discipline of music therapy.

Music therapy is not intended as a solution for any particular mental or physical disorder, rather it is a healing modality that can have positive effects for clients in many different situations. Music therapy can include creating, singing, moving to or listening to music. It is particularly useful for clients who find it difficult to express their feelings verbally. It has been shown to be effective at increasing clients’ motivation to participate in treatment.

Music therapy came into popularity after World War I when volunteer musicians began playing for patients at veterans’ hospitals. Both then and during World War II, patients recovering from physical and emotional battle wounds responded positively to music, leading physicians to formally incorporate the musicians into treatment. When it became clear that more training was needed to specifically address health care with music, the first music therapy degree program was started at Michigan State University and the American Music Therapy Association came into being shortly thereafter.

When Rambach enrolled in a music therapy class in her sophomore year of college, she fell in love. She went straight to her adviser’s office and told him she had found what she wanted to do for her career. She describes music as a “great equalizer” and points to shelves of scientific journals describing its therapeutic benefits. Her devotion to the subject enabled her to finish college in two and a half years and enter the graduate program in music therapy at Illinois State University. After graduating and completing an internship at a private practice in St. Louis, Rambach had the good fortune to apply for a position at Hope Institute just as they had gotten a grant for a music therapist. She began her career there in 2007 using music to engage clients with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, autism and various developmental disabilities. She became known to students as “The Guitar Lady.” Though Rambach learned a great deal from her work at Hope, she constantly came up with new ideas which she wasn’t able to implement, not being in a leadership position.

Rambach never envisioned herself in a 9-to-5 job and it became clear that she needed to strike out on her own.

She started by bringing music into people’s homes, providing music lessons to typical learners and adapted sessions for those with special needs. Word of her talents spread quickly, and Rambach soon found herself putting in 12-hour days. This became untenable, particularly when she became a mother, and Rambach enlisted a colleague, Katey Kamerad, to subcontract some of her work. In 2014, Kamerad and Rambach became co-owners of Music Therapy Connections and the two opened their storefront in September. In May, between signing the lease on the property and opening for business, Rambach gave birth to a second child. Though opening a business made for an unorthodox maternity leave, Rambach’s entrepreneurial talents have made it work. As was evidenced when her husband brought by the baby for a mid-morning visit, Rambach clearly has a crack support team in place.

Music Therapy Connections receives referrals from speech pathologists and pediatricians. Rambach clarifies that her practice allows kids to benefit from music therapy without being set apart as different. Those with more advanced struggles can attend adapted “piano lessons” alongside their more typical siblings. Sessions are priced the same and all types of children have gained self-confidence and increased attention spans from participating. Though she would love to bring her work into the schools, District 186 hasn’t yet found room in its budget for music therapy. If Rambach and her team have anything to do with it though, that hurdle won’t be in place for long.

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Ann Farrar is a freelance writer with an MA in Counseling Psychology from New York University.

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