West Music: Transforming Lives Through Music Therapy

Elizabeth Dale

West Music staffed its first board-certified music therapist in 1994 and has continued to grow for 26 years. This success led to West Music's Music Therapy Department, a stand-alone business that employs nine full-time music therapists. Last month, the retailer and its Music Therapy Department were honored at Summer NAMM at the Top 100 Dealer Awards by taking home the awards for “Dealer of the Year” and the “Music Makes a Difference” award, which recognizes those who use the power of music to create positive and lasting changes in service to their community and beyond.

The NAMM Member offers its music therapy services in western Illinois and central and eastern Iowa, providing client-centered care that embraces an “eclectic approach to music therapy that pulls from various philosophies and protocols” and operates with a vision to “provide high quality, consistent, creative, and effective music therapy services to a wide variety of individuals as efficiently as possible.” The company also works to advocate and educate for music therapy within its community and nationwide.

A shining star of the music therapy program is Payton, a vibrant seven-year-old who, since 2015, has worked alongside a West Music board-certified music therapist. Payton has a condition that affects her psychomotor development and movement, resulting in little control over her motor movements and making any movement a challenge. Payton, at times, struggles with swallowing and breathing and has a tracheostomy and ventilator assisting her with these tasks. The condition requires her to communicate via facial expressions and small movements of her hands and arms.

Brenda, Payton’s mother, reported that when they first started, she and her husband, Chad, didn’t know what to expect as they had not had much exposure to music therapy and its offerings. However, the reputation of West Music’s music therapy program convinced them to give it a try. “Payton’s therapist is extremely knowledgeable in the field and flexible, which is important for anyone with multiple medical needs. Our experience with West Music has served as an important resource for Payton’s development,” she said.

Payton, who started receiving services at two years old, was already an avid music lover at this early age. Her mother shared, “Once we realized how positively Payton seemed to respond to music in general, we sought out the knowledgeable music therapists at West Music to guide Payton’s love of music and to use music to motivate her cognitive and motor development.” For the past six years, the music therapy program offered by West Music has not only provided the young musician with an outlet for creative expression but has helped her medically. Brenda noted, “When she is stressed or having a hard time because of her medical issues, her therapist uses music to calm her, which has acutely improved some of her respiratory symptoms.”

Ever determined to hone her craft, Payton also focuses on improving her communication skills in her therapy sessions, utilizing her smile, and incorporating the sign for “more” into her communication repertoire. Additionally, Payton uses the immense amount of instrument choices offered by West Music to make significant strides in the skill of “choice” (the ability to make selections within a defined set) and highly improve her quality of life through this practiced skill.

Rachael, Payton’s Music Therapist, has been working with Payton since she started her services with West Music. Rachael says, “In music therapy, we can adapt to what is most appropriate for Payton at any given time. At one point, Payton was making choices with her eye gaze, but her vision changed. The team felt it was no longer a reliable communication plan. So we adjusted our plan and now make choices via arm movements and her use of her smile and have recently incorporated a communication switch. The device hosts pre-recorded phrases that Payton activates at appropriate times.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country in 2020, West Music’s therapy programs came to an immediate halt. For participants with a medically fragile status like Payton, her health and safety took priority like never before. Payton's parents, knowing the benefits of the sessions, were eager to have her try remote therapy sessions, and she became one of West Music’s first telehealth clients. Brenda shared, “We are so grateful that remote music therapy sessions were an option, and West Music got them up and running for us so quickly. I can’t imagine how much regression we would have seen in Payton’s skills without being able to have music therapy during this time.” The telehealth appointments have become a family affair, incorporating Payton’s parents and even her grandparents into the sessions.

2021 Top 100 Dealer Awards - Music Makes a Difference

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After West Music was honored at NAMM’s Top 100 Dealer Awards, Rachael reflected on her time with Payton, “Payton is a wonderful kid. Her enthusiasm for what we do together is a highlight of my week. She works so very hard in our sessions that it pushes me to be better as well. Payton’s parents also serve as inspiration. Their knowledge, dedication, perseverance, and love are wonderful to experience each week.”

Rachael also expressed her love of the music therapy field and its ability to help others while doing something you love. “My advice to someone considering a career in music therapy is to talk to a music therapist in your area and spend time with folks that might receive services, like neurodivergent or disabled adults and children, nursing home residents, and special education programs.”

For more information on West Music’s Music Therapy programs and West Music, please visit https://musictherapy.westmusic.com/ and https://www.westmusic.com/.