This past Saturday, I passed the board certification exam for music therapists — the final step in becoming a board certified music therapist. Looking back, it has been quite a journey with many bumps and road blocks along the way.

Nevertheless, I am so thankful to share this journey with you! In fact, I had never even heard about music therapy until I was preparing to apply for college, and even then, I dismissed it as something that was too eccentric. So, what changed and how did I end up where I am today?

In this blog post, I want to share some moments in my life that have caused me to do much soul-searching and the people in my life who have supported me every step of the way.

Part I. Life as an Illini

I began my college experience as a french horn performance major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I did not have a lot of prior performance experience, but what I loved was finding a community to fine tune and develop my skills as a musician.

As time went on, however, I struggled with mastering technique and increasingly felt more trapped in a degree that felt unreachable. By the end of my sophomore year, my horn professor sensed a lot of internal conflict and had a pivotal conversation with me that not only validated the fact that it was completely okay to not pursue performance, but also opened the door for me to explore other careers that would be more meaningful to me. I was so thankful that my horn professor fully supported me, and it didn’t hurt that his wife was also a music therapist!  

Part II. Switching Majors and Finding a Direction to Follow

After that conversation with my horn professor, I felt like I had been given a second chance to pursue a field in music that gave me joy and meaning. After doing some research, I found music therapy to be this unique field where performance was not the main goal, but rather, the goal was to help other people!

That spring break of my sophomore year, I told my parents that I wanted to change my major and pursue music therapy. It was hard telling them, but I knew it was the right thing for me. They fully supported me granted I find out more about what a career in music therapy looked like. Thus began my dream of becoming a music therapist.

I started googling music therapy and contacting local music therapists to ask them all the questions I had: What classes should I take to prepare for a music therapy degree? Should I transfer to another school or stay and finish my undergraduate degree? What does a typical music therapist do every day?

One of the best conversations that I had was with none other than Rachel Rambach, who took the time to Skype with me, answer my questions, and share her own experiences, which happened to be quite similar to mine. Who knew that Rachel would not only help solidify my desire to pursue music therapy, but also become my very first employer as a music therapist five years down the line?

Part III. Pressing on Towards the Goal

While I knew music therapy was what I wanted to do, it was important to me to finish my music degree at the University of Illinois (I planned to apply to graduate school to earn an equivalency Master’s degree in music therapy in the future).

During this time, I immersed myself in classes focused on psychology, human development and speech and language disorders. I became a camp counselor at Bay Cliff Health Camp that provided music therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy for children with physical disabilities. I also continued to keep up with Rachel’s Listen & Learn blog and listen to her podcasts.

As I entered my graduate music therapy studies at Illinois State University and finished out my degree and internship at Helping Hand Center in Countryside, IL, I developed skills in working with various types of clients, grew in knowledge, and grew in my capacity to be teachable and give my best.

Since graduating with my Master’s in music therapy, I have had the privilege of joining Music Therapy Connections as a music therapist, alongside my mentors Rachel, Katey, and Alisabeth.

Visiting Rachel at Music Therapy Connections as a first year graduate student. It was the first time meeting her in person and observing her Listen and Learn Class

Recently I was asked to share how I feel now that I’ve passed my certification. As I reflect on the myriad ways in which important life moments, people, and my own growth have shaped my journey, I can only say that I am thankful.

This certification is a reflection of the blessings in my life thus far, but it is not in itself my greatest prize; it is only a vehicle for many amazing things to come and a means for others to be impacted meaningfully through music.

Thanks for reading! I am SO thankful, relieved, and excited for the future as I enter the workforce as Laura Tam, MM, MT-BC.