Updated: Aug 17
Going to college for me meant more than an education, it meant a fresh start. I felt put in a box in high school, but maybe that’s how we all feel? I wanted to go where no one knew me, and I could be who I am while simultaneously finding out who I wanted to become. Thanks to scholarships and supportive parents, I ended up at the University of Kansas. (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!!)
One philosophy in my business today is that by equipping children with a lifelong love of music and reading, they will have skill sets to help them through almost any challenge in life. My love of music gave me band, which gave me an instant way to meet people and make friends once I ended up in Lawrence. Marching band, basketball band, concert band, and orchestra are where I found my people.
The education part of college was a little less natural for me. Learning to be a music therapist meant coming out from behind the flute and finding a way to connect and communicate using words and ideas, not just the music itself. Hands down the hardest classes for me were voice lessons and anything related to choir, where I had to look my audience in the eye and they heard raw and unpolished ME. The voice is such a personal instrument, and it would be years before I found my confidence in it. Then there was the question of where do I fit in the huge spectrum of settings and clientele served by music therapists? Going in to college I was convinced I wanted to work in a behavioral health or psychiatric setting. Although I enjoyed my semester co-leading groups in a mental health setting, it was pretty obvious that my own mental health needed to be sorted out before I could have the emotional capacity to work in that setting again. I was lucky enough to be one of the first students to work in a new practicum site at a hospital in Kansas City. That was it! Or so I thought, and hospitals are where I applied for internships when the time came. I ended up being accepted at a general hospital in Mesa, Arizona, part of the greater Phoenix area.
This playlist is all songs that remind me of specific moments in my life from about 1998-2005.
Curious about a specific song? Just ask, and I'll share! :)
My 6-month internship was the most transformative period of my life. I learned so much about life, death, fear, hope, music, and myself. It’s also mostly a blur at this point. Once again, my experiences showed me that a setting, this time a hospital, although amazing and fulfilling, was not the right fit for me. I hadn’t learned the word yet at this point in my life, but I am an empath. Absorbing the emotions of others happens whether I like it or not, and there’s only so much my heart and head can hold. The reality was that I needed a job and did not have the finances to pick up and move, so I applied to pretty much the only jobs available in the area, agencies that provided in-home music therapy services to kids with disabilities through funding from the state. I was beyond blessed with the most compassionate and wise internship supervisor and once again I hit the jackpot with the BEST possible first boss. I had worked with some kids in the hospital, but this all felt so foreign to me, as I had very little interaction with autistic or disabled individuals during my life. On my first day, I got a lesson about the will power of a 3-year-old child. I went home and learned “Baby Beluga” as quickly as possible rather than return to face her without that knowledge! Our agency would have meetings and resource shares, which was amazing at a time before so many resources could be found quickly with a search engine or on social media. Streaming music services didn’t even exist yet, so it was not easy to learn new songs on a small budget. I had to rely on what the local library had to offer in CDs or what I learned from my fellow music therapists in the agency.
I will never, ever forget this song.
When I moved to Arizona for my internship, I had some local connections thanks to a couple of my friends from KU, who had decided to go to Arizona State for their master’s degrees in music performance. Once again, music connections helped me find a social life. Not right away, but eventually I met the nicest human on the planet through these friends, Chris. It was not a direct path, but eventually we started dating, fell in love, and got married. When we started dating, Chris was still pursuing his bachelor’s in music performance but was already wanting to take his career in a different direction. He finished that degree and then got another bachelor’s in psychology. Soon he was looking for graduate programs in school psychology and the University of Kansas came up as an option, which OBVIOUSLY I fully supported. It worked out as a great fit for him, so in August 2006 we moved to Lawrence. Yay! I know people in the area! Boo! I didn’t get the one ready-made music therapy job that was open! Thanks to a mentor and former music therapy professor, I got a job working as an assistant in a childcare center. That was truly humbling work and still informs me today about how much more we need to respect and pay and support child care providers in this country. But I digress… One of the other employees was a music therapy student who was seeing an autistic adult weekly. She would soon be moving on to internship, etc. and asked if I would perhaps start working with him. YES! My heart still swells thinking
about my time with Jay Turnbull. IYKYK. That lit a bit of a fire under me and one day, while still working at the childcare center and sitting in the dark at nap time, I sat down with a pencil and paper and created Sunflower Music Therapy. I never in a million years wanted to be a business owner. I never believed I could do it. But I had to take my fate into my hands and that’s when things started to roll. A music therapist and graduate student was leaving her job at a local special education cooperative, where she saw three students for music therapy on their IEPs. Would I like it? Yes! It’s not much work and a lot of driving, but it’s music therapy. Another job opened up working for a large-scale grant in Topeka, where they were looking for someone to provide weekly music groups to at-risk preschool classrooms to support early literacy skills. What do I know about this? Absolutely nothing. Do I apply? Of course! And then I found where I belong best of all. Surrounded by 3-5 year olds and making purposeful music with them. It was during this job that one of the substitute teachers referred to me as “Singing Sarah” to the students. It stuck. There have been many ups and downs since those early years. Through it all, I have continued to work with students with disabilities in the rural schools as their music therapist as well as provide early childhood music in settings such as child cares and libraries. You know those slide puzzles that are so hard to solve? At least I find them hard. That’s what my schedule and life feel like on the regular. I still haven’t found that perfect arrangement, but I feel like my pieces all fit together for my skill set and personality, so I’ll keep pushing them around until I get the right arrangement. Recently I decided one of those pieces of my puzzle is the desire to share my ideas and knowledge from the last 20+ years with other music therapists, educators, and families. So here it is, the blog. I wanted to share my why and how first, so next up is the what – what have I learned and what can I pass on to others as they connect with children through music. Thanks for joining me as we slide around the puzzle of life.
For a little fun, can you solve the Sarah puzzle??