Photo Provided by Megan Catalibe Photography

Marcus has always been a performer in addition to a creator. The microphone is his instrument of choice. In his teen years and early adulthood, he often enjoyed going to Karaoke Nights with our friends. His specialty songs included Harry Belefonte’s “Banana Boat Song” and The Blues Brothers, “Soul Man,” among others. And, as you may know, in 2015 with the book launch of Black Day: The Monster Rock Band, there was the release of his music video featuring the song, “We are the Band (Black Day!).”

The singing knack maybe came from growing up in houses full of song. For starters, my Grandma Dede was always singing and using singsong speech with teaching activities. She was an important part of Marcus’ childhood years, sometimes we lived with her to help each other, and when not, he spent many hours of his afterschool (or around school) time at her home, learning to put music into everyday moments.

As everyone got older, and Marcus more independent, he broadened his musical taste to…oh, just about everything. It would be easier to tell you what he doesn’t like than what he does, but why bring that negativism into the storyline? So a bit before Black Day, but after high school, I was hoping to find someone to provide voice lessons to help him along his musical journey.


I can’t remember the exact date, in or around 2013 I think, I was writing in a coffee shop (as was the custom) and I happened to hear a conversation near me. (Also, part of the custom.)

It was an interview, of sorts, and involved a Music Therapist. She shared about the benefits of therapy, the certifications of training, and that her own personal musical outlet of choice was voice. (This is when I *really* perked up.)

Fortunately for me, The Therapist, who here-to-forward will be known as Emily, stayed back to finish her coffee. I approached.

As I remember it, I expressed in short form that I had overheard some of her conversation and I was interested in voice lessons for my son, an adult with Down syndrome.

Music Therapy: Basics 

First, let’s just talk some basics.

“Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”  – American Music Therapy Association

What’s so amazing is that Music Therapy facilitates exponential benefits because of the way it engages the entire brain. For example, you’ve probably heard of anecdotes where an individual can’t speak but may still be able to sing. This is, in part because music is processed in multiple brain regions, and sometimes, even when speech centers are damaged or impaired, the ability to sing may remain intact. This phenomenon is known as “melodic intonation,” and it’s a key element in music therapy for individuals who have difficulty with speech. Which is amazing!

But that’s not all! Music Therapy can also extend to facilitating improvements in socialization, gross motor skills, and overall quality of life. It complements other therapies, as needed, and contributes to reaching a variety of goals. It’s an incredibly flexible approach that adapts to the unique needs and perspectives of each person.

Omaha Music Therapy shared this on World Trauma Day:

Music activates multiple parts of our brain (cognitive, motor, and speech centers), music therapy can play a crucial part in rehabilitation with our patients who have been affected by traumatic injuries.

Not only can music therapy play a role physically in these journeys, but it can also help with the following: decreasing anxiety and depression, pain management, improving quality of life, promoting self-expression, and improving self-regulation especially when faced with difficult emotions.

Benefitting People with Down Syndrome

For people with Down Syndrome, music therapy can enhance their communication skills, coordination, and fine motor skills. It can promote social interaction and teamwork, as they engage with others in a fun and supportive environment.

Simple songs can be used to teach daily routines and tasks, making the effort more engaging and memorable. For instance, a song can be created to help with brushing teeth or getting dressed, turning these activities into enjoyable learning experiences. Most people undergoing music therapy often don’t even realize they’re in therapy, thanks to the enjoyable nature of the sessions.

The Real Deal

A qualified Music Therapist has a minimum of bachelor’s degree in music therapy and then is Board Certified; their education includes music, psychology, biology, and a lot of practicums. Emily Wadhams and her team at Omaha Music Therapy are all board-certified Music therapist plus they regularly host practicum students and interns.

Back to Marcus

So, we started with Omaha Music Therapy for Marcus to enjoy voice lessons. She “snuck in” the therapy.

From the get-go, Marcus really enjoyed having this time to focus on songs and sing. They also worked a little on guitar and there’s a fascinating use of drum and speech which combines movement and rhythm to help the brain make new connections that are simultaneously meditative and spark connections “across the hemispheres.” It’s pretty wild. Anyway…

Remember, we met Emily and Marcus began lessons just as we were also getting serious about Black Day. This was a key launching point for Marcus’ making great strides in improving his speech and then ultimately doing public speaking.

At the event

Like most humans, when we first started doing public speaking, we weren’t great. There’s video of how not great we started, and there’s video of how far Marcus and I have both come. Of course, it’s been years now since we’ve been out there, we may have to start over. But the next time around, if we do put our toes back out there, we’ll have a few good tips under our belt.

I believe Marcus’ Music Therapy has been a huge part of his speech improvements and his confidence levels also grew exponentially to enable more and better public gigs. (Some people like to assume other people aren’t anxious or nervous about public speaking or big events, those people are wrong.)

In 2017, The Global Down Syndrome Foundation honored Marcus as Ambassador and created a lovely tribute video. (Check it out here.) The video features Marcus’ in his voice lesson and includes interview time with Emily.

Roughly two seconds after COVID came into the American consciousness, therapy for Marcus moved to a virtual platform. In late March 2020 this post, here,includes a video of Marcus’ virtual therapy. Since we have a drummer in the house there are also, fortunately, drums, Marcus has continued his therapy this way. He participates once a week and very much looks forward to each session. 

Screen Shot of live web-cam – Marcus Speaking at the United Nations

Quick Sum Up Of Benefits

I almost said, “You don’t have to be musical to get the benefits of music therapy,” but I rescind. Only because I believe being musical is being human and vice versa. Living, thinking, moving, feeling…these are all musical moments. So, I’ll alter the statement to: “You don’t have to believe your musical to get the benefits of Music Therapy.”  

Benefits, reiterated from the vastness of the internet:

Enhanced Communication: Music therapy can improve verbal and non-verbal communication skills, making it particularly effective for individuals with speech or language challenges.

Emotional Well-being: Music therapy helps reduce anxiety, manage emotions, and improve mood, promoting overall emotional well-being and mental health.

Physical and Cognitive Development: Through rhythmic activities and engagement, music therapy supports physical coordination and stimulates cognitive functions, making it a valuable tool for rehabilitation and skill development.

Music to the End

My sweet Dede, in 2021 she was 92 and living “on her own.” Then, as happens, she slipped one day and the fall was the beginning of the rough path to her final rest. Her cognitive state slipped quickly, then once she was past “rehab,” it was time to find a new safe and comfortable place for her. That’s its own story, but ultimately, I did get her settled and then called Emily for Music Therapy.

Grandma enjoyed singing with Emily; My Dede was a master of harmony, a Sweet Adaline’s and show choir alto, you know. I’ll be honest, I had hoped that the music therapy would help to bring her a bit “back” to me. That was out of reach, but it did give her comfort and, I think kept up a little pride in herself, that’s certainly worth holding on to.

 Marcus and I went to join her at a music therapy session just around/after Christmas 2022. They were so funny, Dede and Marcus, each trying to encourage the other to participate. Each nodding at and pushing the other a bit. That was possibly the last time Marcus saw Dede, as she quickly took a turn and requested that Marcus not see her that way. Which probably also explains why I can’t stop crying at this point of the story.

Marcus and DeDe in June 2022

 Emily continued to provide therapy to Dede even as she moved to hospice stage. I’m thankful there was music to help her through her final days.

The lesson is this, we’ve seen the benefits of Music Therapy at various stages of life, serving very different human needs. This is our lived testimony.

Switching to a high note, here’s Marcus’ music video of “We are the Band (Black Day!)” The high note is the line he wrote and performed, “Here we go, rock and roll scream…Yeeeeeeoooooowwww!”