Workplace Holiday Traditions

Just like every family has their own holiday traditions… so do our work environments. Here are a few holiday traditions in which music therapists participate.

Music Therapy Department Video

Michelle Kennemer, music therapist in Texas at a school district explains…

15179230_10154639377215692_8732209487998062984_nThis was the first time we made a video, but we had a blast and we hope to do another video before the break.  It all started when a friend of mine sent me a link to a video of some people doing a Christmas song on classroom instruments (in the fashion of Jimmy Fallon). I told my colleagues that we needed to do this and they thought that it sounded like a fun idea. Things really picked up when Mary got a new set of desk bells over the Thanksgiving break.  I went out to see a group one day and when I came back to the office Mary, Heather, and the interns (Jenna and Haide) were putting together the arrangement of Jolly Old St Nick. The rest is history! We sent it to our supervisors and special ed director here at work and shared it on social media. The response has been great! We were a little sad that it was over because we had fun practicing together.

Door Decorating

Rachel Nowels, music therapist at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, Oklahoma explains…


Every year our hospital celebrates Employee Appreciation Week in December. There are several activities for employees including the annual door decorating contest. My MT team and I always try to participate in all of the activities with music related choices. It’s a great opportunity to promote music therapy and remind staff of our services. This year we decorated our door with a choir of singing puppets. Staff can walk by and press a voice output switch to hear a different Christmas tune each day.


We also had a day where staff could dress up as a duo or group, and we dressed up as a mariachi band. We went around the hospital and performed for staff and patients. (I learned that it was very distracting to play and sing with a big paper mustache taped to your lip.). 😄. But it did open up some conversations with staff as well as visitors commenting, “So you’re with music therapy…”.

Having worked at the hospital for 13 years, I love the workplace traditions we have. I grab any opportunity I can to promote MT and the services we can offer. It’s a great way to get to know and educate new staff as well as people from the community who happen to be visiting. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s just part of being an MT.


Jackson Mistletones

Stephanie Epstein, music therapist at the Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, explains…

stephanieepsteinFor the second year in a row, the Jackson Mistletones have been popping up to spread holiday cheer around the main medical campus of Jackson Health System in Miami, FL. The Jackson Mistletones is a holiday caroling group comprised of medical staff from across the campus, including personnel from Human Resources, procurement, real estate, nursing, physicians, recruitment, security, compliance, and music therapists from behavioral health and the Miami VA across the street, just to name a few. We have also been joined by the medical student a cappella group on a few occasions.

When I started the music therapy program at Holtz Children’s Hospital in 2014, I immediately started getting requests to organize a holiday caroling group from staff members. I recruited carolers through campus-wide emails, signs, posts in the daily e-newsletter distributed to the entire health system, as well as a scrolling banner on the system-wide Net Portal.

Prior to our first rehearsal, I send out lyric sheets to everyone once I get a list of names and emails going. We then we hold a couple of rehearsals, just to go over songs and get everyone comfortable singing together. Finally, it’s time to sing! We carol around the medical campus (typically in blocks of about 45 minutes to an hour) in inpatient units (clearing it with the nurse manager first, of course), common lobby areas, and at special hospital events, such as the annual employee holiday party and annual NICU reunion party.

We get more singers every time we carol and continue to receive extremely positive feedback, not only from the people we sing to but from the carolers themselves. Here are some quotes from members:

“Being part of the Jackson Mistletones is about giving those who will hear us a chance to disconnect from all the noise and sadness that can come from the holiday season and our daily routines through the sound of music.”

“I immensely enjoy singing. This is an opportunity to share my gift of singing with someone who may be going through challenging times. I do it with the hope that it will bring joy to the listener.”

“I joined the Mistletones to help bring a little holiday cheer to others. We get to see the smiles and enjoyment from those that we encounter. It’s heartwarming to see the happy responses from guests, patients and staff that hear us. We get to spread a little JOY!”

“It is beyond challenging when a hospital becomes your temporary home during the holiday season. The Mistletones spread joy and holiday cheer to all those in need through the magic of music!”

Here they are in action:

What holiday traditions happen at your workplace?





It’s time to start thinking about holiday songs to use in your sessions… and we’re here to help!
Check out our selection of holiday ebooks

Quick & Dirty Thanksgiving Music Activities

Thanksgiving is a week away. Are you tired of your usual Thanksgiving related activities?

Here is a quick and dirty list of music related Thanksgiving activities that you can use in sessions right away. We hope you gobble them up!

  • Turkey Hokey Pokey – Yup. A feathered version of the song we all know so well. The link actually takes to you a whole free Thanksgiving songbook but the Turkey Hokey Pokey is our favorite in the list.
  • Turkey Trot – Another dance that will exercise gross motor and listening skills. Pair it with a rhythm track and you’ll be flapping in no time!
  • Autumn-Time is Coming – This simple yet effective piggy backed song will help you incorporate colors in your session while bringing awareness of the outside world. Grab some leaves as props and you’ve got a party, baby!
  • Theme Based Interventions for the Music Therapist: Holiday Edition – Twenty Thanksgiving & music themed movement, relaxation, games, instrument play and songs from music therapist, Jaycie Voorhees. That’s just the Thanksgiving section!
  • The Gratitude Game – Use this color coordinated activity as inspiration for clients of any age. Create a simple chant or fill-in-the blank song where clients can insert things they are grateful for.
  • Thank You For The Music – Do YOU want to thank your clients? Sing Abba’s Thank You For The Music and modify the words to apply to your group.
  • Thank You For Being A Friend – Yes! The theme from Golden Girls! Did you know this is actually an entire song? Find it here. Share the first verse (that’s what we’re all used to anyway from the show) or play the whole thing. Start a discussion on friendship and see where it takes you!
  • Thanksgiving Playlist – Lots of great songs here.

Follow along with #AMTA16

Music Therapists from all around are traveling to Ohio for the annual National Conference hosted by the American Music Therapy Association. We are all very excited for you!

Unfortunately, Rachel and I won’t be able to attend conference this year. While we are bummed, we’re also thankful for social media! We will be following along with conference happenings by looking out for these hashtags & accounts:

#AMTA16 hashtags

If YOU are attending conference and you see something worth sharing, please do so! We would appreciate your help in feeling connected as we look forward to coming to #AMTA17.


Check in from Rachel and Michelle

Summer is over and Fall is here! We thought it would be fun to share what we’ve been up to during our summer break.

What about you? Did you do anything special? Leave a comment and let us know!

News from Rachel

Rachel SeeSummer was one glorious break (one of the perks of working in the schools). I was able to shut-off social media for a bit (something I always find a bit hard at first, but ultimately, rejuvenating), and enjoyed some “me” time. This personal time included traveling to a few places – Florida, Nashville, Iowa, and NYC, and experiencing something new in each location, whether it was visiting an art museum, listening to a crazy-amazing bluegrass/folk band, hopping on one of America’s oldest roller coasters at Coney Island, or taking in a Broadway musical with tunes by the incredibly-talented Sara Bareilles… each location and experience recharged my batteries in a sense, and now I’m fully prepared and ready to start in on a new music therapy school year in the special education classrooms. I’m also looking forward to working more on the website to share with the world what our authors have to offer (which are some pretty amazing e-books, materials, and resources). I hope YOU had a lovely summer, as well, and I can’t wait to hear about it!

News from Michelle

Michelle ErfurtMy summer was filled with wonderful adventures! My son, husband and I continued to explore our new area in West Virginia (we moved here last Fall) by visiting local farms with creameries. We ate a lot of ice cream and saw a lot of cows! We were very busy at the end of summer from moving into our permanent home. The end of October, we will be welcoming our second son! I’m very excited to see his face and become reacquainted with the exhaustion caused by having a new baby. I’m also looking forward to another year of watching the Music Therapy Ebooks website grow!

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 2.14.42 PMGet a free e-book “Online Resources for Busy Music Therapists” and stay connected by signing up for our newsletter!

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Yoga + Music Therapy

In music therapy, we can incorporate music and yoga to work on:


  • coping skills
  • relaxation
  • gross motor movement
  • coordination
  • following multi-step directions


I find musical yoga is a great way to begin our session, to help the student become grounded and their bodies regulated.  It can also serve as a movement break halfway through, or as a calming strategy for a child who becomes overstimulated.  Additionally, the routine aspect of yoga is VERY appealing to a lot of the people with whom I work.  



Three of my favorite resources include:  

1. Musical Yoga Adventures was a collaboration between Linda Lara (composer/music teacher) and Suzy Frank (occupational therapist and children’s yoga instructor). The musical/auditory instructions, paired with the yoga poses and routines that are achievable (or adaptable) by students of all abilities, makes this a perfect resource.  BONUS: They have free, downloadable .pdfs for the routines available on their website!

Musical Yoga Adventures

2. Anything by Kira Willey.  “Dance for the Sun” has been in heavy rotation since I started practicing music therapy and I’m excited to start incorporating my newly purchased copy of her “Mindful Moments for Kids”. 


3. These yoga cards. You can have the students collaborate and create their own routine, which gives them the opportunity to practice leadership/teamwork skills. It also gives them a sense of control, which is important, because in many aspects of their daily routine, they are often being told what they can and cannot do.  Providing this sense of freedom and choice-making is crucial for the student who is learning self-advocacy and independence. 

little lotus



What are some of YOUR favorite yoga resources?


Ps. I am not being paid to promote these materials – I just really enjoy using them and wanted to pass along the ideas!

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Author shout-out!

We’re so proud of our authors and we LOVE hearing what they are doing to impact the world around them through music therapy.


THIS WEEK’S AUTHOR SHOUTOUT is to Lisa Barnett, author of: “My House”

Find out what Lisa’s been up to, in her own words (and it’s chock-full of ideas you can use for YOUR sessions):

In my practice as a music therapist this school year, I have become more aware of the importance of networking with the community. I am looking forward to an event that will take place in our school district, (the Berkley Public Schools) later this month. In the fall I wrote a grant with Sarah Bruce- Damore, one of our early childhood special education teachers in the district, and we were awarded funds from the Berkley Education Foundation to purchase the raw materials for my interactive songbook called, “My House,” which is available on Music Therapy Ebooks. I donated my time making the books for 14 children in Sarah’s morning and afternoon preschool classes and we will have a special celebration with parents focusing on the importance of speech and language development and literacy on May 26th.

My House Mini Grant photo

Parents had to submit 17 photographs which help tell the story about where each child lives and the people and special things that are important in their lives. These photos were assembled on pages containing illustrations and the lyrics to the song

“My House.” Each book comes with its own CD and interactive name and address board. As the child sings about their house they “fill in the blank” with special words that answer four questions.

This is the ________at my house.

This is a _________ at my house.

This is my ________at my house.

These are the ______at my house.

There is a word list of over 150 words to choose from and these words become laminated word tags that each student can attach to the book with velcro. The words are assembled on a Word Menu Board for easy access.

The students learned the melody to the song very quickly and have enjoyed telling their individual stories about where they live. I hope to be able to share photos from this event with you at a later time.

FullSizeRenderAnother facet of my work with the Berkley Public Schools ASD program is providing music therapy services to a young man now 24 years old who is both blind and autistic. He plays piano three times a week as a volunteer at Beaumont Hospital. This has been going on now for two years and during that time I worked with Lance I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Bunny Behrmann, who volunteers at the hospital with her therapy dog Moose. I lost my own dog one year ago and found myself very attracted to learning more about the therapy dogs at the hospital. Moose is a Golden Retriever and I was so taken with him that I started researching Golden Retrievers and initially tried to adopt one through a rescue organization.

FullSizeRender     During that time period I was brainstorming about the theme of my annual music therapy program for
elementary aged students with autism
at one of our elementary schools. I decided to explore songs, and movement activities with the theme of “dogs and cats”. The result were two “Informances” that took place during the school day for these elementary school aged students on the autism spectrum and their parents. The program was called “It Is Raining Cats And Dogs!” I was so pleased to discover that Ella Jenkins had actually written a song with the very same title, “It Is Raining Cats and Dogs!” You can actually look up the song on Youtube and it is a classic. Our students loved singing it for their families.

Students engaged in other activities that included singing, “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” and playing the song, “This Old Man” on touch bells.IMG_2803

We also created a game called, “Where Oh Where Has My Little Pet Gone” that required students to walk in a circle on paw prints as the song, “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone” was played. When the music stopped the student would have to read a question that was attached to a large bucket just adjacent to the paw print.FullSizeRender

Various Beanie Baby dogs, cats, frogs, parrots, mice etc where placed under the buckets and each child had the opportunity to read and answer a question such as “Who is hiding under the table?” It was a great activity to promote reading, speech and language and turn taking. IMG_2807Once the child read the question they could turn the bucket upside down and retrieve their pet! For our students who were nonverbal we had a communication device called a Go Talk so that they could engage in labeling the various items under the buckets.

FullSizeRender   I also asked parents to submit photos of our students’ pets from home, and I assembled a PowerPoint presentation called “Our World Of Pets!” This PowerPoint was emailed home and included photos and special stories about both our students’ and staffs’ pets! The highlight of the two Informances was a visit from Moose the therapy dog from Beaumont Hospital. Our students were so excited to perform for Moose and Bunny and the program ended with lots of time to interact with Moose and have photographs taken with him. This speaks volumes about the importance of the relationships we develop in our work as music therapists. Clearly it was a blessing to meet Moose and Bunny at Beaumont Hospital, and this only happened because of the work I do with Lance Vardon supporting his volunteer work as a pianist.


I truly believe that we are all connected, and it is recognizing these connections that can really make a difference in one’s therapeutic work.

The feedback from parents and staff on our “Informances” was very good. In years passed I had done a very large Music Therapy Concert during after school hours in the evening. I realized early on in doing the therapeutic work this year, that the configuration of students I was seeing had more complex needs, and I felt that an evening program of a larger magnitude was going to be very challenging and counter productive. I am so happy with my decision to go the “Informance” route during the school day and was pleased that all 13 families attended.


The other interesting news that goes along with these recent events, is that my husband and I decided to search for a breeder who offered Golden Retrievers. We just brought home our new puppy “Murphy” on April 6th. We are hoping to investigate what is necessary for Murphy to become a therapy dog when he is older. Music therapy and pet therapy were wonderful complements to each other during this work, and I hope others will consider the possibility of a program like this in their future clinical work.


Wow, Lisa – you’ve been busy! Keep up the great work and we are so honored and pleased to have you as an author here at

Want to be an author, too?  Click here!