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When they walked across the stage at Marietta College’s 2021 Commencement Ceremony in May, Hannah Miller ’21, Lauren Eakle ’21 and Sadie Johnson ’21 became the first cohort of students to graduate with Marietta College’s Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy degree. To fully complete the program, each of them will be working an internship over the summer.

“They are an extremely strong graduating class and a wonderful first cohort,” says Director of Music Therapy Raquel Ravaglioli, who has been actively developing the program since she arrived on campus in August 2018. “I’m so proud of the work they put in and all they’ve accomplished.”

Miller describes her experience as a member of the first cohort as “equally rewarding and exhausting.”

“We were students of the program, but also partners in building the program from the ground up,” she says. “Brent (Beeson) and Raquel really poured their hearts and souls into giving us a personalized experience, and I really appreciate the time and effort they invested in us.”

Eakle agrees.

“We really had to embrace the ideology of the Pioneer,” she says. “We continually gave our input as the program grew. It was a lot of work, but really rewarding.”

Music therapy is an allied health profession that uses music interventions during therapeutic treatment for a patient’s physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. There is an increased demand for these types of therapists in hospitals, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, hospice care and schools.

“We basically use music to accomplish non-musical goals,” says Miller, who has already put her skills to use working with children at Marietta’s Ewing School. “My kids at the Ewing School were practicing social skills like healthy communication, sharing and turn-taking, and we used stories and musical games to positively reinforce these behaviors.”

Johnson says music is an incredible connector and a powerful tool for healing.

“While people have widely varied styles and abilities, music as a means of expression and a process for creating is universal to everyone,” she says. “Music therapy takes it one step deeper into the hows and whys of the psychology of human development.”

In love with music since early childhood, Miller says the Music Therapy degree is perfect for musicians who worry about making a living plying their trade. This summer she will be interning with Bridgeway Academy in Columbus, working with children who have autism spectrum disorders. She hopes to return to Marietta to work for a school or a hospital.

“Music has always been a big part of my family, but I originally pursued a science degree because I didn’t see playing music professionally as a realistic option,” she says. “When I heard that the Music Therapy program got funded, I was thrilled. I am so happy and grateful to be making a living doing what I love.”

Eakle has always wanted to be a counselor, and she first found out about music therapy as a profession in high school, when she felt its effects firsthand.

“I lost a music teacher I was close to in high school,” she says. “The school brought in an interim band director who helped us to orchestrate a memorial concert. At the concert, I experienced a powerful moment of social healing. It was this moment that taught me the healing power of music in grief.”

Eakle will complete her internship at Four Seasons Hospice in Flat Rock, North Carolina, this summer. While she is considering pursuing a master’s degree next, it is not a requirement for practicing in this field, and she feels that Marietta has prepared her to jump right in and start working.

“Therapeutic treatments can be incredibly unique from client to client, so you have to be ready to adapt in a real-world setting,” Eakle says. “The training at Marietta is quite rigorous, and our professors were relentless in preparing us for real work with clients.”

The road to Marietta was distinctive for Johnson, who wasn’t even considering college when she was in high school.

“I just wanted to be a touring musician,” she says. “And I was already doing that and having success.”

Bringing Music Therapy to Marietta was the brainchild of her good friends, Donald G. ’81 and Leslie Straub Ritter ’85. They helped get the program off the ground when they made a transformational gift in December 2016 and continued to provide financial and professional help as the College renovated the McKinney Building to include music therapy rooms and a recording studio.

Johnson met the Ritters while on tour and found they had a shared friend in John Catt, founder of Blue Star Connection, a charity that provides instruments to seriously ill children and young adults, hospitals and music therapy programs.

“John was one of my biggest mentors and he was Don’s best friend,” Johnson says. “I was working as the music therapy outreach chair, and Don really saw the passion and spark I had for music and its outreach aspect.”

Ritter told Johnson that he was starting a Music Therapy program at Marietta and that he wanted her to be its first graduate. She fought it at first, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and soon she was the program’s biggest advocate.

“I was basically the student who yelled loud enough,” she says. “I even had a meeting with Dr. (Bill) Ruud my sophomore year to push the agenda. Don felt passionately, and I did too, that Marietta needed to focus more on mental health and the humanities. We felt we needed this to happen for the overall health and well-being of the Mid-Ohio Valley.”

Johnson will be interning in her home state of Indiana at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

“This is phenomenal opportunity,” she says. “They have four full-time music therapists on staff that I will be shadowing and learning with, and I am happy to be working and helping in my home state.”

Johnson is open to many possibilities in the future — including touring and therapeutic practice — and is committed to honoring the vision and mission of her mentor, Catt, who passed away of cancer in 2017.

“John had this incredible vision of every kid with cancer having an electric guitar and rocking out,” she says. “These kiddos are going through a traumatic experience, but music can help to normalize their environment. They can get through the cancer treatment because they have a way to express themselves and create. It’s really amazing to see the therapy at work.”

- Chris Rynd