Music therapy program helping heal premature infants

Oshane Downes Jr. was born at 30 weeks and a few days. He's been in the NICU at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center for about two weeks now.

His parents want to do everything possible to connect with their newborn son and liked the idea of working with a music therapist when it was suggested to them.

"They brought it up because they said it could soothe him, with his heartbeat, and help him with his feeding," explained Keisha Downes, the baby’s mother.

Andrea Colliton, the hospital's director of Child Life Services, said even the most fragile patients can benefit for being exposed to music. "The research is showing that playing music for individuals such as neonates can really impact their growth and development."

Susan Bakouros is a licensed music therapist and just received her master’s degree from the Berklee College of Music.

"We use music to keep these infants going, just like we use music to exercise and it keeps us going a bit.  Same thing for these infants," said Bakouros.

Bakouros is a shining example of Berklee’s music therapy program. It’s the largest in the country, according to program chair Joy Allen.

"There is wanting to help others with your craft.  All music therapists are musicians and so we are using the power and influence of music," said Allen.

Being able to use music as therapy isn't as simple as it might look. Therapists are certified, highly trained, and the class work is demanding.

"Intro to psychology, developmental psychology, human anatomy, and physiology are required.  Then you have your music therapy core,” explained Allen as she described the curriculum.

Bakouros understands why the educational requirements are so thorough. “Because these babies are fragile, you need to know what you’re doing and do live music in the moment.”

When Bakourous was younger, she always dreamed of performing on Broadway. Now, he realizes her calling was to play for a much smaller audience, but for a much larger reward.  And in the end, there is nothing more satisfying that the scene when a baby finally gets to go home.

"We’re all teary-eyed, all the nurses, the parents, the doctors, and me, to be part of their journey.”