Pitch Perfect

A lilting little song penetrates the intense hush of the hospital’s NICU where the sickest babies are cared for.

“Hel-lo, Lena, hel-lo,” sings Emily Herzog, the full-time board-certified music therapist at the University of Missouri’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She strums a ukulele as she greets Lena, a quadruplet who has spent her first 10 months of life in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Lena recognizes the sound of the instrument her dad played to her while still in her mother’s womb, and she begins to tap her feet and wave her arms.

Lena tracks the tambourine’s movement before reaching out to tap the jangling instrument herself. She fingers the steel beads around the cabasa and studies Herzog’s face intently as the therapist sings.

“Amazing how far she’s come since you’ve started working with her!” Lena’s mom, Emily Beydler, observes. After six or seven months of music therapy, Lena’s meeting developmental goals that Herzog set for the infant.

This therapeutic health care discipline helps patients of all ages manage pain and relax before challenging procedures. It provides needed distraction and stimulates physical activity and creative and emotional expression. Whatever the setting, music therapy can also help patients, students or clients meet physical, emotional, cognitive and social benchmarks that may be affected or delayed due to disease, disability or the confinement of a long hospital stay.

Herzog’s friend and fellow board-certified music therapist, Kristin Veteto and three other therapists with her company, Giving Song, serve schools’ special education programs and private clients. In her first clinical rotation, Veteto recalls how she worked for six months to teach a child with autism to ring a bell at the right time.

“She was just ringing a bell, but it totally changed my life,” Veteto says.

“Life-changing” describes the power of music to soothe or energize, comfort or uplift, and encourage clients’ and patients’ progress and growth, the therapists say. Veteto’s own passion for music stems from childhood memories of her father singing to her during her frequent hospitalizations for severe asthma.

In the NICU setting especially, Herzog uses music to help babies develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills. For patients who have been confined to bed for several days, Herzog encourages them to move through music. She may use music to help patients express their fear or anger or to refocus attention from chronic pain.

Eleven-year-old Linda Metz, for instance, was hospitalized for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome — a chronic condition most often affecting one of the limbs. When Herzog first met Linda, an accidental nudge of the bed would trigger searing leg pain.

Herzog excels at assessing pain levels and guiding children through relaxation and pain management methods, says Corinne Joplin, a Women’s and Children’s Hospital child life specialist. “Patients respond so well to it. They remember her, and they ask for her,” she says.

At Linda’s request, the two sing a song Linda heard while walking home from school one day with her sister — Lukas Graham’s “7 Years.” Herzog strums the guitar; Linda plays the keyboard as they sing, “Once I was seven years old my momma told me/Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely/Once I was seven years old…”

“I get to see kids be kids,” Herzog says. “It’s really great to see kids let go of their environment, be who they are, and be expressive. Not only does music bring peace and positivity to the children, but to their families, as well. “When I see the whole family bond over what I’m doing with the patient, that’s a really powerful experience.”


Find more information about:

Mizzou’s Child Life & Music Therapy Program — Here

The field of music therapy — American Music Therapy Association — Here