About a journey of a music teacher to American music therapy

Published: Magazine Hudební výchova, Volume 14, No.4, 2006.

When I came to New York half a year ago I felt totally lost. Giant skyscrapers gave me the creeps and the huge anonymous city multiplied my feelings of loneliness. In the course of the first few weeks I asked myself perhaps a thousands times what kind of reason I had to be here. The reason was my husband. I followed him to New York and I decided not to give up because of him.

I began to look for a job. I am a music teacher by education so my first steps went to a school. The interview was a complete disaster. With my very basic English and negligible knowledge of American songs I was very fast on the street again. What was I thinking? Due to my interest of working with music and my extraordinary knowledge of English already mentioned I got the idea to offer my power as volunteer instead of position as a teacher.

I probably visited about twenty schools of all types. Unfortunately I could not compare in a competition with American students who needed to volunteer in schools as part of their education. I was miserable and disappointed. Here in America people say that New York (the big apple) offers to everyone what he deserves. In my first months in New York I had a feeling that apparently I don’t deserve anything. Well, they did not want to give it to me for free! But I told myself not to worry. Eventually someone will appear who will give me a helping hand. I started to send dozens of emails every day in all directions. After a few days first answers came. Hah! My former professor of psychology from Prague! And he knows a professor from NYU! I was so pleased to hear from him.

To get ready to meet the American professor I checked on-line what he is like. Honestly, I almost fainted. He was a very prominent professor of psychology at the best university in New York! He wrote probably hundreds of books and encyclopedias. I can’t possibly go there and ask him for a favor to help kids with singing! And with my pitiful English! The consequence of my incredible nervousness was that everything I wanted to tell him I learned by heart. Surprisingly, when I met him face to face, I forgot everything I learned including my name. I was staring at him and the only thing I could remember was his face on all these books I had seen on the Internet. But his reaction was wonderful. He gave me a big smile, shook my hand and invited me into his office. I followed him. I would have never thought that at the highest positions are the nicest people. From the professor I got the contact of a woman in his college who might know someone who can help me to find a volunteer position.

After another long period of time of calling and emailing (from when I kept many sheets of paper with learned sentences that needs to be said), I received a contact at the Psychiatric clinic in Bronx. When I saw the place, department of creative arts, particularly music therapy, it was too incredible to believe that they could accept me there. Believe it or not I started to work there; I was accepted as a volunteer in the music therapy program. Gillian Langdon, the head of the department for creative arts and extraordinary music therapist (my good fairy in America) let me observe how she worked with her clients and also be part of the sessions. In exchange, I was trying to help her to organize her papers, water her flowers and help her with everything I could. It was amazing! I was more than happy!

After I worked in the clinic for about two months, one day Gillian didn’t come to work. I was waiting for her on the bench in front of her office when I saw Lance (a colleague of Gillian and art therapist) running toward me. Already from afar he was waving at me shouting: “Jana, Gillian called, she is late for about 40 minutes, she said you should replace her in her session!” I turned pale in shock … seriously! What? Me? How? How about my extraordinary English? I can’t survive this! Lance, who in the mean time came closer was looking at me and waiting for my answer. The next few seconds seemed to last forever. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? What do I risk? The thoughts in my mind seemed to go crazy. “I am going to try it!” I stumbled. Lance took me to the music room. A few patients were sitting around a table with several percussion instruments on it. I had seen some of the patients before, but I had no idea what their diagnoses or problems were. I had the feeling that I did not know anything in that moment! Lance looked at me, as if he would like to make himself sure that I am not going to pass out. He asked me one last time how I was and … then left. The room got quiet … and I felt still close to black out. The patients were staring at me and I was staring at them. I did not know what to say. It crossed my mind: “…my God, first you should introduce yourself!” So I started. I told them where I am from, what my job is and that I am replacing Gillian for this day. For a moment they looked at me in disbelief, but then someone asked: “And what’s your language?” “Czech” I answered. “So, sing something Czech for us!” Honestly, I was relieved. This I could make happen. I took a guitar and started to sing a song U stánků na levnou krásu postávaj a ze slov … it was the first song that came to my mind. When I started to sing the second verse someone took the wood sticks and begun to play with me. Then other patients one after another took instruments and played along. I began to feel good, actually very good. I felt some connection between me and the patients … it was beautiful. I felt it despite our language barrier. I played many Czech songs: by Nohavica, Brontosauři, Kryl, Černé oči jděte spát…basically everything that came to my mind. This moment I will never forget in whole my life! Patients, most of them from Latin backgrounds were smiling at me and I was smiling at them. Somehow we understood each other through music, rhythm, dynamic…I don’t know … a connection was just there even though it was music from the other side of the world.

When Gillian entered the music room I was in the midst of playing “Ja keď sa Janoško“. She carefully and quietly took a place in the circle between the patients and was listening to us. When I finished the song and gave back the leadership to her it was almost the end of the session. She looked at me and this moment will always remain in my heart. I saw in her friendly eyes recognition, hope for my dreams, the beginning of something special for me … something that was still waiting for me … here in New York.


Jana Weber
Weiherstrasse 5
CH - 4800 Zofingen

Tel: +41793237734