June 8, 2021

Family Resource Interview – Discussion with Amy Standridge of Oak Song Music Therapy


I have always been  intrigued with the benefits of music therapy. Many of us have seen the incredible videos on youtube where a loved one who is non communicative begins singing or humming along to a song from their past. In my Alzheimer’s support group I have seen the benefits to music first hand. Our families often use music to create a calm environment which improves the experiencing of showering, bathing or another activity that our loved ones may resist.

You can contact Amy at her website – http://oaksongmusictherapy.com or reach her directly at 512.657.1432 / amy@oaksongmusictherapy.com


Ryan: Hi everyone. I’m Ryan McGuire here with Amy Standridge the owner of Oak Song Music Therapy, and she’s a music therapist herself, and I’m very excited to have her here just so we can learn a little bit more about the company. Learn a little bit more about music therapy. So Amy, why don’t you say hi.

Any: Hello. Nice to see you and all of your friends.

Ryan: Well, thank you for being here. You know, we’ve kind of talked about the series really, it’s just to give families an idea of what type of services are out there and sometimes, you know, services, they may not even know exist or are just totally unaware of. To get started why don’t you just tell us a little bit about, you know, music therapy in general, you know, what is it? What is the purpose and how it differs from, you know, just singing along together or something along those lines?

Amy: Let me just start with music therapy was established officially in the 1950s, because what they found was after World War II, vets who had access to music in the hospital were more likely to be discharged faster and just got better, faster. And so there was something about it and we all know that music has been used since the Bible for calming and soothing and energizing, et cetera. But as an official field in the 1950s, music therapy was born and the American Music Therapy Association is our association. And our definition for music therapy is a little bit dry, but I’m going to share it anyway and then talk about the components.  So music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to address individualized goals with an accredited music therapist from a qualified music therapy program. I didn’t get that verbatim, but I got the main parts. So it’s clinical and evidence-based because the research shows how music is processed in the brain and how music can help people achieve those non-musical goals. I mentioned like improved speech and communication, improves mobility, emotional expression, social connection. Those are all some of the individualized goals that we would address using music.

 Ryan: Very good. So, you know, it’s kind of my understanding that one of the main differences between just music for fun and music therapy is, you’re tracking outcomes, you’re documenting results and those kinds of things.

Amy:  Right, so a music therapy session would either be with an or a group. My feeling is that your team and client base would be more likely to be looking for individual services. And so it would start out with an assessment where the music therapist would interact with a client to find out what their goals and objectives might be, what kind of musical tastes they have, et cetera. And then the interventions are very specifically designed for that. Music enjoyment can be anything. It can be listening to music, it could be playing in a band or orchestra. I’d also love to plug Grace Notes Community Choir. Our goal in that group is to just have fun and share music together. Whereas a goal and a music therapy group would be to improve social interaction, improve cognition, which in a choir, they’re byproducts of the music, but it’s not the focus of the music. The focus is just the music.

Ryan:  Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the choir is really amazing. It’s just an incredible service that you provide. I have a lot of families in my Alzheimer’s support group that participate in the choir and they all talk about how much they love it. So tell me a little bit about the background of Oak Song. You know, your company, how long have you had it, you know, what type of services you provide, that kind of thing.

Amy: So I’ve been a music therapist since 2000, so that means I completed my degree program in my case, it’s a master’s degree. And also then a six month clinical internship and supervised by music therapists to that. And then I worked for some other practices for a while. And then when my daughter went back to school, I decided to kind of start something for myself rather than subcontract for others. And I came to work with older adults because the older adult community here in San Antonio is so amazing. I think there’s no other place better to grow old than San Antonio. And there’s so many programs and services and groups, et cetera. And so I really got plugged in to the older adult community, dementia, memory care, assisted living, et cetera. And so I decided to make that my focus.

I picked the name Oak song because the Oak tree is so starts from an acorn. So that would be a small child, which is not my current population, but then it sprouts into a beautiful tree. It sheds its leaves, they grow their sleeves back. So for me, it just kind of symbolized nature for one and just regrowth and regeneration and change. And music can see us through all of those stages of life. And so that’s why I chose that title. And so I’ve been in business since oh 2017, I suppose. And then, you know, COVID shook things up and now we’re getting back to it.

Ryan: Tell a little bit about your typical client. You know, sometimes I think of, you know, it’s very specific to dementia and dementia patients but you know, maybe there’s a range, you know, what is your typical client, what are they dealing with? How do you help them, those kinds of things.

Amy: So typically more and more, you know, my ideal client, my typical client is somebody who has dementia that might be an early stage or even a very late stage. People still respond to music even when there is not speech anymore, speech and language. And I also find that, especially with our choir, it’s the caregiver, the care partner that also is sort of my client, because there’s a lot that goes into it. I know that that it’s stressful and it can bring, you know, both physical stress and emotional stress, financial stress, et cetera. And so I feel like I can also be of service to that person, as well as I work with their loved one who has dementia, because we can bring joy and we bring sometimes increased communication. I’ve had clients who are non-verbal and if I sing a hymn, they’ll say blessings or that’s beautiful. Whereas they weren’t speaking at all before music came into, into play. So those are just some of the–,

Ryan: That must be so powerful and impactful. And you have a patient that’s non-verbal and maybe their loved ones. Haven’t heard him speak for years and you all of a sudden they’re engaged and that’s exciting.

Amy:  Yes, the other thing too, is music is such a powerful point of connection. It’s something most everybody relates to. So if I were to, you know, have a client who was in a, maybe a later stage of dementia, and if I were to go sit with them, you know, it might take some time and effort to, to bring them sort of into focus and to relay in that way and connect. But if I sing a familiar song that’s just an instant point of connection. And so even if it’s just, you know, I’ve had sessions where I’ve sung a hymn with a patient that was their preferred music and just give them a little hand massage with lotion and music, and we’ve connected in that way. So music is just a really great way to address some other things that people might be weary of doing, and even just like making eye contact. That’s huge, especially in later stages of dementia music is the perfect medium to bring that.

Ryan: Yes, that’s great. Yes, that’s really good. So what’s something that people misunderstand about music therapy or what are a lot of, you know, a common question that you get asked and, you know, maybe you’re like, okay, I need to clarify this point.

Amy: Yes. So, oftentimes people think it’s listening to music and the answer is yes, it is and so much more. So, you know, when I tell somebody I’m a music therapist and they say, so you play music for people. Yes. And they, you know, they’re playing music too. They’re interacting, they’re playing instruments. Sometimes body percussion, you know, clapping, snapping, patting the legs, even tapping the toes is something that that seems so minor, but really you’re strengthening some important muscles there for walking, et cetera. And so it’s so participatory, I think that’s often a misunderstanding. And the other thing is I want to say that music therapists are so specifically trained in not only knowing how music can help people, but actually sometimes it can be harmful if it’s the wrong song, if it’s too loud, if it’s too fast, et cetera. And so a music therapist will be trained to see when something’s overstimulating and be able to address that. Whereas a lay person, using music, just recreationally might not be aware of those things. And so that’s something that specifies music therapy from just an entertainer or a music group. But I want people to use music. So I don’t want someone to go well, without a music therapist, I can’t, you know, dance with my loved one, you know, that’s not true. But with a music therapist, you can just target those individualized objectives in a different way.

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. And I can definitely see how, you know, there would be some confusion between what you do versus some of the music programs I know, you know, like at the Alzheimer’s Association or other community organizations where they [inaudible] you know, I-pads or, you know, whatever it may be and try to you know, introduce and keep people engaged through listening to music. But what you do is really you’re taking it to another level and documenting outcomes.

Amy: Yes, there are some, yeah, there are some wonderful programs, some occupational therapists that do drumming and use that therapeutically, and then just some recreational drumming groups that come and entertain us the same, and those are all wonderful, beautiful applications of music. And I think people should do more of that.

Ryan: Perfect. Well, that sounds good. So what is a good way for our families to connect with you? Where can they find you online?

Amy: Yes. So I have a website and I guess maybe link that, it’s just Oaksongmusictherapy.com. And then probably the best way is just straight by email. I’m more likely to respond to that message faster. And my email is amy@oaksongmusictherapy.com. And then the choir, if people are interested in the choir, we are sponsored by Meals on Wheels. So if you would to go to the meals on wheels, San Antonio website, and pull down programs, you’ll find Grace Notes and you could sign up for a newsletter and that’s a free program currently. Sign up for a newsletter and join us any Friday from 10:30 to 11:45.

Ryan: Okay. Very good. No, that sounds great. And I’ll put all that information in the notes. So people can find it, be accessible., But thank you so much for joining us. I’m just so glad that you’re out there in the community and yeah, we’re looking forward to continuing to work together.

Amy: All right. Me too. Sounds great.

Ryan: All right. Thank you, Amy.