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Music therapy strikes a chord in mid-Missouri

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Music therapy strikes a chord in mid-Missouri

Taylor Surprenant, 11, began receiving music therapy at Giving Song in Columbia when he was 5 years old.

His grandparents, Randy and Johnna Carrender, noticed his response to music at home and thought it could be a motivational tool to address his developmental skills.

“It seems like every goal we’ve tried to accomplish with Taylor we’ve tied it to music,” Johnna said. “It’s just the center of his world.”

Eleven-year-old Taylor Surprenant is awakened by his grandparents, Randy and Johnna Carrender

Eleven-year-old Taylor Surprenant is awakened by his grandparents, Randy and Johnna Carrender, in their Jefferson City home. Taylor has trouble moving both his arms and legs, so his grandparents roll him onto his side and lift him into his wheelchair every morning. Since Taylor has grown, getting him out of bed has become a two-person job.

Giving Song provides musical therapy to a variety of people, from unborn babies to those at the end of life. The company began in 2010 with Giving Song’s owner, Kristin Veteto, treating six children at the Delmar Cobble School for the Severely Disabled. It has since expanded to include a team of five therapists serving a 100-mile radius around Columbia.

Johnna holds up the first instrument Taylor ever had

Johnna Carrender holds up Taylor’s first instrument. She would place it in his lap to encourage him to use his arms and hands rather than leaving them curled inward. After bringing Taylor home from the hospital when he was only 7 months old, his grandparents Randy and Johnna Carrender have found that music is the one of the only things that will calm him.

Therapists serve in patient homes, in the Giving Song clinic on Towne Drive, during after-school programs and in public schools. Because music therapists work with such a diverse group, they are trained to assist in a wide range of treatments, including speech, language, physical, motor and cognitive skills across the lifespan.

Giving Song treats primarily children with developmental disabilities like Taylor’s.

He has lived with his grandparents in Jefferson City since he was about 7 months old, after he was injured by a family member and diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Randy prepares to brush Taylor’s teeth in the kitchen of their home

Randy Carrender prepares to brush Taylor’s teeth in the kitchen of their home in Jefferson City. Taylor has little control over his arm and leg movements so the Carrenders feed, bathe, dress and change him. Brushing his teeth is one of Taylor’s least favorite activities.

Initially, doctors believed Taylor wouldn’t survive his injury. He was in the hospital for two months struggling with seizures and extreme sensitivity to light and noise.

His nurses discouraged Taylor’s family from touching him, so Johnna found CDs that played quiet, soothing music and kept it playing for most of his hospital stay. The music seemed to relax him.

Johnna takes Taylor for a ride around the house

Johnna Carrender takes Taylor for a ride around the house to get fresh air outside their home in Jefferson City. Taylor loves to go outside, but loading his chair onto their van and finding a wheelchair-friendly park nearby is difficult. To make the outdoors more accessible, the Carrenders have poured a wide strip of concrete all around their house, making a circular drive where they can push Taylor’s chair easily.

It was trial and error for the Carrenders to find things Taylor enjoyed once he got home, but what pacified him and brought him joy had to do with music in one form or another. When Taylor got a little older, his grandparents turned to music therapy, which proved to be a useful teaching tool.

Music therapy can be a productive treatment because of the way music is processed in the brain, Veteto said. When melody and rhythm are present during the learning process, the information essentially attaches itself to the music and the brain processes it more efficiently.

Taylor naturally keeps his hands and fingers curled inward

Taylor naturally keeps his hands and fingers curled inward. One of the goals of his music therapy session is to use instruments that introduce movements that encourage him to flex his wrists and fingers outward. Taylor attends music therapy once a week at Giving Song clinic in Columbia.

That’s why memories that are connected in some way to music are the last to be forgotten, even among patients with Alzheimer’s disease.When treating patients with developmental disabilities like Taylor, music therapists tend to work within treatment teams to reach a set of goals. According to a study published by The New York Academy of Sciences, music is beneficial for learning and understanding actions, as well as predicting the actions of others.

Taylor has cortical blindness because of his injury, meaning his eyes work, but the area of the brain that interprets what his eyes are seeing has been damaged. It’s common for those who have visual impairments to let their head fall to one side rather than sitting straight.

Taylor’s therapist, Holly Pering, has used music to teach Taylor to keep his head up by reinforcing the action with celebratory music.

Holly Pering, Taylor's music therapist, plays the guitar for him

Holly Pering, Taylor Surprenant’s music therapist, plays the guitar during a music therapy session at the Giving Song clinic in Columbia. Taylor’s grandparents, Randy and Johnna Carrender, appreciate any progress he is able to make at music therapy, but their primary goal is for him to live a happy life. Music seems to bring him the most joy, so they continue to fill his world with song.

When his head hangs to the side, Pering waits in silence. Taylor then lifts his head and is rewarded with music for as long as he can hold it up. The goal of the exercise is to eventually strengthen Taylor’s neck so he can keep his head upright for an extended period of time until the posture becomes natural for him.

Taylor is able to practice making choices directing his eyes towards what he wants

Taylor is able to practice making choices directing his eyes toward what he wants when presented with two choices during a music therapy session. Taylor’s injury resulted in cortical blindness, a condition where his eyes work, but the part of the brain that translates what the eyes are seeing has been damaged. Doctors believe he is able to see forms and light.

Music has also taught Taylor how to take turns. When he started therapy at Giving Song, if an instrument was taken away from him, he would throw a fit and cry. Now he understands that if something is taken away from him, it can come back later.

Since Taylor is unable to speak intelligibly, he and his grandparents tend to communicate with each other in song.

Holly offers Taylor the choice between playing the guitar or the keyboard

Holly offers Taylor the choice between playing the guitar or the keyboard by asking him to look in the direction of which one he wants during a musical therapy session. Taylor has been going to music therapy since he was 5 years old. “It seems like every goal we’ve tried to accomplish with Taylor, we’ve tied it to music,” Johnna Carrender said. “It’s just the center of his world.”

According to an article published by the American Music Therapy Association, musical interactions create new methods of communication for people with disabilities and develop social closeness with their loved ones. The Carrenders’ home is almost always filled with some sort of music, and it has created a bond between Taylor and his grandparents.

Taylor's music therapist, Holly Pering, uses musical reinforcement to teach Taylor new skills

Taylor’s music therapist, Holly Pering, uses musical reinforcement to teach hims new skills at Giving Song in Columbia. During their sessions, Pering helps Taylor work on his speech by singing with him. She’ll sing the same songs to him each week so he becomes familiar with them, and she has him sing certain lyrics back to her, as a call-and-respond exercise.

When Randy walks into the room, Taylor begins to sing a song he associates with his “Papa.” He sings different songs for Johnna.

“Singing back and forth is kind of how we learned to interact with each other since we can’t really carry on what you’d call a meaningful conversation,” Johnna said.

Before Taylor came into her life, she wouldn’t have sung in front of anyone.

“But not anymore. It’s all about Taylor,” she said.

“So the rest of you are just going to have to get over it because even my terrible singing is music to Taylor’s ears.”

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed

Taylor plays "The Star Spangled Banner," one of his favorite songs

Taylor plays “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one of his favorite songs, on an ocean drum at his grandparents home in Jefferson City. Taylor loves to play several instruments, including the guitar, keyboard, maracas and tambourine.

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  • Public Health and Safety reporter, spring 2019 Studying photojournalism. Reach me at corneliawaldrum@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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