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May 28, 2023

Healing Notes: Releasing trauma with music therapy

Today we have a guest blog from Erik Darosa, reflecting on his Music Therapy of the Rockies retreat experience. He is a ski instructor in Aspen/Snowmass and hosts a podcast called “From Survivor to Thriver.” He recently attended one of our retreats in Nashville, TN with Thistle Farms participants.

Nashville in May. Mack and I had been chatting for a couple of months about volunteering at a music therapy retreat and, here I was, arriving in Nashville for the first time ever.

As we opened the doors of Amy Grant and Vince Gill’s beautiful barn, a steady rain fell, while all around us, an emerald-green landscape enveloped us. And there, just 20 feet away, stood an incredibly courageous and eager group of women ready to embark on their life-changing weekend.

Saturday morning began with the music circle. As Mack sat at the head of the circle and began playing the song that saved his life, I glanced around and saw not a dry eye among the group. I knew instantly that this would be a very special gathering. What followed was a morning of breathing exercises and active listening activities designed to soothe the nervous system, bring focus and quiet the mind. The morning ended with each participant receiving a brand-new Breedlove guitar, on which they began fretting and plucking strings – something they had never done before. These were the weekend’s initial notes of healing. I watched in awe as each participant beamed with pride.

The afternoon began with the introduction of the participants to their songwriters. I had the incredible privilege of sitting in with singer-songwriter Mark Elliott and his participant “Nola.” I was immediately struck by his gentle demeanor and ability to deeply connect to her and her story. He listened as Nola spoke openly and honestly about her personal journey. After about an hour, the songwriting began, filling the air with tears at times and with laughter at other times. Before long, a song of hope and healing emerged and an emotional partnership had been struck.

While sitting among the creativity, I realized that the power of music therapy resides both in the sound of the instrument and, more importantly, the way in which a participant can find her voice and share a story in a judgment-free setting.

Sunday came and, after a bit more guitar playing and song rehearsing, we all gathered upstairs in the barn for the afternoon concert. Here was a chance for each participant, along with her songwriter, to tell her story strongly and confidently to fellow participants, friends from Thistle Farms and others from the around community.

As each song was performed, I could see decades of trauma being released from deep within each woman’s soul.

I naturally found myself singing along and rhythmically clapping as Mark and Nola performed a song with a hook that is a welcome earworm to this day. 

Music Therapy of the Rockies is changing lives. I cannot wait for my next volunteer experience this fall with another amazing group of women.



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