Playing to Heal

Noah Jones '19 aims to channel his musical skills to restore speech

By Chris Calabrese '20

Noah Jones

Noah Jones '19 is an accomplished musician — chosen as principal percussionist for both the Nazareth Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra and one of three winners in Nazareth's 2018 Concerto/Aria competition. But rather than pursue a career onstage, he is using his musical skills to help clients regain their verbal abilities after experiencing brain injuries.

"Many patients had an ability to speak at one point in their life and now they have lost it. It pains me because none of these people are fully aware of what they lost until it's completely gone, and it's my job to help them get it back," said Jones, a music therapy major.

Is it true that patients with traumatic brain injuries can sing before they can speak?

Often, yes. Last semester I was working with a client who had aphasia, a type of language disorder from a stroke that he had experienced a few years ago. He knew exactly what he wanted to say, but he couldn't easily communicate those thoughts verbally. The words would usually come out sounding like jargon or unintelligible speech. In the therapy, we focused on certain target words that could be used in everyday speech. First, we would sing the words within the context of a song. Then he would attempt to speak the words without any musical context.

It was also a co-treat with a speech therapist and essentially we were using the music as a medium to help bring old brain functions back such as speech patterns and reading comprehension. We were building new neural pathways to teach him how to speak again.

Were there specific songs or genres that he connected with?

He really liked Cake, The Chili Peppers and even some Dean Martin. There was one song in particular that he really loved: 'Short Skirt, Long Jacket.' He always held out the notes at the very end of the song for an unusually long time. By using a ball during the sessions, we could visually represent the length of certain notes.

How did you co-treat with a speech therapy student?

We met and planned each session ahead of time. Sometimes the plan would be to repeat treatments and other times we would try to pinpoint different phrases to work on. We got along really well and our professors said we were a model cotreat pair.

How do you as a music therapist prepare for a session?

Practice, trial and error, and looking at old reports if you have them available. Knowing what music a client already knows and/or what he likes can be very helpful when trying to regain speech patterns back.

Sounds like pretty good advice. Why did you choose Nazareth for music therapy over other colleges that you applied to?

I auditioned at Naz and Fredonia. At first, I was leaning more towards Fredonia because it was cheaper and a little bit farther away from home. When I came here and saw the percussion equipment, it changed my mind completely. We have a lot of beautiful instruments compared to other colleges in the area. The second thing that changed my mind was the York Wellness and Rehab Center. The facilities here are fabulous to work in and they do a lot of good for both students and patients.

Noah Jones with client

Noah Jones (left), music therapy major, and Taylor Barrett '14, '18G, speech-language pathology grad student, work with a client in a music therapy and speech therapy co-treatment clinic on campus.

Timpani Concerto

    Noah Jones performs Rosauro Timpani Concerto Movement I in 2017