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  • Writer's pictureJudith Pinkerton

The Morning After

UPLEVEL: What do Aflac, Academy of Country Music Lifting Lives, Dick Clark Productions, Billboard Magazine, James, Marlee and Giggles have in common? ME!!!

I woke up at 3:30am (4/14/18) with words spilling out of me, wanting to know more, connect more, with the moms and James and Marlee. One session was not enough, just an introduction to what music therapy could be. And the craziness of dozens of onlookers, the director constantly requesting a different sitting placement, cameras, instrument use, interaction, bright lights, so many distractions with the real duck, the angst of taking the mallet correctly from Giggles (I don’t know maybe it wasn’t Giggles as they kept rotating ducks to minimize their stress – where were the other music therapists that could rotate in to minimize our stress?!), engaging Marlee, a very hyper 4-year old who craves socialization, and James, a more mature 10-year old who just wanted to make music. Both children experiencing life challenges that cancer brings.

Country star Chris Young just wanted to play the guitar with us. A guitar that needed strings replaced but was used because the color worked well with the set. The outfit I really wanted to wear was not desired because the colors didn’t go as well with the set. The newly created setting was very interesting and desirable for a kids room, but possibly not in a music therapy session where distractions are minimized. I couldn’t use all the instruments I brought for options to engage the kiddos because logos were not pre-approved in writing so they had to be avoided or masked – sorry REMO and HAPI. Wanting to show the myriad of methods and instruments used to engage during a typical music therapy session (and the interactions were very real), I thought a musical jam with Chris on guitar would be groovy, which was derailed with Marlee insisting on playing my 1867 Gilkes violin and bow or using a mallet to see what wood would sound like. Oh my!! Should’ve had the electric violin with no amp since no sound was recorded, just visual b-roll! As usual, music therapists constantly think about what-to-do for next time.

My first sighting of the Honor’s statue I would receive was post-session next to the set in Four Season’s Ballroom with the screen and duck in place. I don’t know which was more delightful – holding Giggles or my Honor statue (I don’t know what to call it as it is not an “award” and is very heavy!).

Then, Billboard Magazine decided my pre-session interview went so well they wanted to capture my emotion on video with all the correct wording. I’m sure I did not produce exactly what they wanted as my tears had dried up and all emotions were exhausted by then!

Then the prep to receive the Honor statue during the ACM Pre-Party Bash with quick clothes change, pre-approved to match Chris’ colors (not the expensive dress I bought!) followed by my make-up artist Etienne (who followed me everywhere – I love her – every music therapist should have one!) who touched me up yet again.

The thanksgiving speech I prepared to share was not allowed as Chris Young and I repeated over and over for the cameras and growing crowd, his deliverance, and my acceptance of, the first time ever Aflac ACM Lifting Lives Honor. Teetering on the edge of a tall cement stage, with water and beach below at Mandalay Bay Beach, I was only allowed to say “Thank you, Chris!”

I wanted to say:

“I am so grateful for Aflac and the Academy of Country Music Lifting Lives honoring the music therapy profession. I am humbled to be the first chosen to represent 8000 music therapists across the country who serve pediatric cancer to addiction treatment and every population and work setting imaginable. It is with great pride that I acknowledge significant others who have notably contributed to our success: first God working through my husband Dennis Burkhardt, American Music Therapy Association, Certification Board for Music Therapists, Nevada State Board of Health, Music 4 Life, American Addiction Centers, Remo, and all country singers and songwriters who are lifting lives with their voice and heart. Thank you Aflac! Thank you ACM! Thank you Chris!”

I was exhausted by 9pm. A long day had just transpired on Friday 13th that was truly exciting and unprecedented. Friday 13th will forever be my lucky day.

This experience was so unique in music therapy. Who would have thought that the Aflac duck and the Academy of Country Music would come together to celebrate a music therapist. And, ACM Awards® Male Vocalist of the Year nominee Chris Young would desire to honor not just excellence in music, but realize more profoundly the healing power of music. Chris

believes, “Music is a powerful thing. As a singer and someone who gets to experience the power of music everyday, I’m honored to join Aflac and ACM Lifting Lives to recognize an outstanding music therapist who has helped bring the healing power of music to so many.”

I am so grateful to the Western Region Chapter of the American Music Therapy Association President Kymla Eubanks for nominating me for this honor. Kymla and I shared responsibilities recently when she was President-Elect and I was Past-President of WRAMTA. After ten years of service on the WRAMTA Executive Board I was ready to shift focus in 2017.

Even though my first thoughts about being selected were “Oh, this is convenient, with only nine days notice, I live in Las Vegas so no one needs to be imported. There are so many other deserving music therapists who have contributed so much to our profession.” And then I realized, who better than me for this particular situation. I AM used to working independently and spontaneously with many different constituencies, from legislators, to state leaders, corporate executives, patient populations, media and more. I AM used to public speaking with the most intense experience of the TEDx Talk. I AM willing to carry the torch into new territory for 8,000 of us across the country. I AM willing to completely use my extra time during the past nine days to remember what I used to deliver in music therapy to kiddos, and to access current best practices connecting with music therapist Rachel Gant in San Diego who focuses on pediatric oncology.

Hindsight: although I had to throw Rachel’s suggestions out the window because barriers continued to challenge me, knowing she was there in spirit reminded me that I know what I’m doing, I’ve done it before with limited resources, outside interference, and had to ultimately rely on my finely honed instinct.

And then American Addiction Centers “AAC,” the only publicly-traded company in the addiction industry with 2000 employees, found out about The Honor. I contract full-time with AAC to provide Music Therapy and Music Life Skills at Solutions Recovery and Desert Hope for 150 patients weekly. Joy Sutton, AAC Public Relations Manager, was in town for the April 6 Grand Opening of AAC’s Resolutions Transitional living facility, and was picking up the audio device with appropriate music playlist for the ceremony. My sidebar to her was “BTW, a funny thing just happened – I was just nominated for ….” and Joy went wild. OMG. And then the next day my cell blew up with ACM trying to find me to announce I was selected as the Honoree. Even bigger OMG as I was informed they were throwing in a TV PSA filming SAME DAY as the evening recognition. OMG, now I have to find two different outfits in addition to everything else?”

I was hopeful that the focus would easily be on addiction. But alas, Aflac wanted the focus on their preferred population: pediatric cancer. To support my current focus, AAC asked me to speak at their press conference with founder Michael Cartwright just before the TV PSA was filmed. Yet another honor and speech to write…

What I lived through over the last nine days represents what every music therapist does constantly: access resources, reference evidence-based practices, select appropriate equipment, assess, perform, treat, adapt, evaluate. We have to be flexible to best meet the needs of clients, students and patients. And yet we must follow ethical guidelines and standards of clinical practice. When warning signals immediately arose in my mind about the dynamics of the TV PSA, my first thought was, “Can this be worked out or do I reject the Honor?” I really didn’t want to refuse The Honor. So I continued to consult with colleagues for best responses. Thank you Kymla Eubanks for your support!

On Friday the 13th I was so grateful to have a car and driver “MR BK” who transported all the equipment I desired and delivered me to the American Addiction Centers’ press conference in between staging and filming the TV PSA. I was able to share the microphone with Founder Michael Cartwright featuring Middle Tennessee State University students, the President and staff. American Addiction Centers very generously funded their attendance at ACM events where future opportunities are probable.


* Billboard Magazine interview star date 4/13/18 supersedes star date 6/22/96 when Billboard reviewed my book “The Sound of Healing.” And Billboard staff received complimentary book copies!

* TV Directors discover they desire a music therapist to support kiddos staying focused during filming. Another work setting for music therapists to impact!

* A music therapist developing camaraderie with a country star to instill professional respect both ways, to consider cross-training music styles (i.e., classical violin vs fiddle) to co-deliver the power of healing music in therapeutic settings. This experience opens the door wider for Therapeutic Musicians, such as Musicians on Call (MOC received $150,000 grant from ACM 2018) to partner with music therapists for deeper, profound impact.

* A bigger world will discover more about access to the music therapy profession!


"What a wonderful experience & honor to someone who truly deserves recognition! Congratulations, Judith." --- Mimi Williams

"Atta a Girl! I am so excited for you! You are so deserving of this!!!!!!" --- Corry Tippetts

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