Cincinnatus High graduate Darci Prentice Paul says her journey to become a music therapist started in kindergarten. Maybe before that.
“I fell in love with music, probably the day I was born. I love Shania Twain. My mom loves to joke I came out of the womb signing Shania Twain,” Paul said. “From a very early age, I was drawn to music. I love music. I love to sing, to perform.”
The Silver Creek woman provides music therapy at the Pioneer Central School District, while a graduate student at SUNY Fredonia, where she’s getting her master’s degree in music therapy.
Music has helped her get through tough times, has helped her in her faith journey and has helped her learn tough subjects in school, she said.
“I know the power of music in my own life. How can I recreate this for other people?” she asked.
Music therapy was the answer.
Now a board-certified music therapist, she has a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from SUNY Fredonia. She works with special education students through Buffalo’s Southtowns Music Therapy, which contracts therapists to work in schools. She also works with clients privately. And she’s trained to use music therapy on the neonatal intensive care unit in hospitals.
Paul said her Cincinnatus Central School music teacher, Lynn Koch of Freetown, was there every step of the way in school.
“He helped me to understand the gift that music is,” Paul said.
Koch said he watched Paul grow from a kindergartner, “enthusiastically participating in singing and playing classroom instruments … to becoming the proud recipient of a perfect score in New York State School Music Association’s All State Conference Music Group.”
He watched Paul learn to play the flute, sing in chorus, do solos in NYSSMA spring evaluation festivals, participate in all-county chorus festivals and all-state festivals. Koch was invited to her senior recital at SUNY Fredonia, which was an honor, he said.
Music therapy is a broad field, Paul said. “Trying to fit music therapy into one small box is like trying to write a symphony using only one instrument.”
“Music provides structure, organization, consistency, and predictability through non-verbal communication,” she said. It can help with depression, anxiety, chemical dependency, grief, trauma, as well as neurological, developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Therapeutic approaches are tailored to individual needs, whether emotional, psychological or communicative.
With children, she observes how they learn in a non-musical setting, eyeing the child’s developmental level, and comes up with goals, using music to increase their skills. She supplements what teachers and therapists do — to enrich the kids through music.
A silver lining to using music to assist with learning is simply that it’s more fun. A fun activity tends to hold a child’s attention longer.
Paul has helped students learn to read by matching the syllables of a word to the rhythm on a drum. Music is also used to aid reading comprehension by using musical cadence to prompt the child to fill in the blank.
The pandemic has certainly added to some students’ stress. Paul has written songs with students who feel overwhelmed by the lack of socialization.
Sometimes, when children are stressed, she will simply play music until they have calmed down. “Music allows them to return to homeostasis so they can get back to their school work,” she said.
Paul’s professor, Heeyoun Cho, said, “During the pandemic, Darci continued to engage her clients through a variety of unconventional routes and then shared her experience with her (undergrad) students in detail.”
“Darci has the natural ability to earn the trust of others,” said Corie Barkey, owner of Southtowns Music Therapy. That’s critical in the relationship between the therapist and the client.
Paul also trained to use music therapy with patients in the neo-native intensive care unit — using voice, guitar and even a pacifier-activated lullaby to support the babies.
Some of the babies are born at just 24 weeks, and are still developing hearing, lungs, brain and auditory abilities.
“A door shutting may cause high stress responses and overstimulation,” Paul said. “Sound levels should be closely monitored in the NICU because a premature baby might have difficulty managing these stress responses while also maintaining healthy vitals.” Now Paul has her own private practice. It’s a very small group. But she’s plugging away at it, she said. “It’s really fun having my own practice.”
Lori Eaton of Willet is a freelance writer. Katie Keyser, living and leisure editor, contributed to this report.