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Murray Journal

The art of musical healing

Jul 26, 2017 04:55PM ● By Alisha Soeken

Madison Barker joins the fun in Music Time with Katie Johnson. (Julie Barker)

Words are only one dimensional when trying to describe music. To be fully understood, music must enter the ears, sink to the soul and be felt. 

Katie Johnson is a musical therapist, musician and mother of two who understands that statement.

“Music has a way with people that reaches over boundaries and touches the soul. It has the ability to tell a story in three and a half minutes that brings everyone to the same emotional page,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s love of music began before memory marked its date. At age 8, she started taking piano lessons. 

“I remember sitting at the dinner table and my dad asked if any of my seven brothers and sisters wanted to take piano lessons. I was the only one who raised my hand, and I’m so thankful that I did. This is one of the best gifts my parents have given me,” Johnson said. 

Johnson’s skill at the piano was not only enjoyable, it was healing.

“Playing the piano has been my therapy since I was a teenager. I remember sitting at my parent’s piano banging away Beethoven and Chopin pieces. Even though the house was full of chaotic kids running around, I was totally alone and enveloped in the 200-year-old sound that I was creating,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s love of music drove her education. She graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in music. But soon after graduating she took an accounting job. 

“I soon discovered that you can do nothing with a B.A. in music. I absolutely loved my degree, but it didn’t get me a job,” Johnson said.

Two years later Johnson heard about music therapy.

“I had absolutely no idea what music therapy was, but they got paid to make music with people and I wanted in on it,” Johnson said.

Johnson moved to Logan, attended Utah State University and received a B.S. in music therapy. Upon completion, she and her husband moved to Oregon for a 6-month internship, this time working at something she loved.

“Working at Earthtones Music Therapy Services was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Johnson said.

At Earthtones, Johnson helped people with Parkinson’s disease project and vocalize. She also worked with adults with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. 

“I would use music to help people achieve their goals. For example, we would start off the session by singing a ‘Hello Song’ where we would greet each other and make eye contact. Making eye contact sounds like such a small and simple goal, but for some of my clients it was like asking them to jump over a mountain,” Johnson said.

And for Johnson many times they jumped, but it was the simple triumphs that pleased her.

“One of the best things about being a music therapist was that I made people happy. I had the awesome job of bringing joy, laughter and smiles to a person who may not have smiled in quite a long time,” Johnson said.

Johnson still makes people smile but today her clients are her two children and their friends. Johnson started a group called Music Time that meets once a week in a local church to sing, play and make music together. 

“I like the sense of community that having Music Time creates. I get to make music with neighbors, friends and my kids and watch them laugh and have a great time together,” Johnson said. 

Parents of those who attend are thrilled with Johnson and her class.

“Katie is very friendly, kind, acceptable and affectionate. Her voice is very soft, clear and beautiful and makes me feel good and calm. She makes us all comfortable,” said Tomomi Hirose.

Julie Barker brings her two daughters Maddie and Allison to Music Time.

“We love Music Time because it gives us uninterrupted time to play, bond and just be silly with each other. Maddie loves being able to experience new songs and instruments. We look forward to music class every single week, even my 10-month-old baby enjoys it,” Julie Barker said.

Whether it’s clinically, in her home or in a community classroom, Johnson will continue to beautify and make better the world with the art of musical healing.