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‘Life Compositions’ program addresses youth challenges, trauma through music therapy

Far Lft, Brian Owens; Middle Lft, Sara Michaelis; Middle Rt, Stanley Johnson; Far Rt, Sonya Murray
Alex Heuer
Far Lft, Brian Owens; Middle Lft, Sara Michaelis; Middle Rt, Stanley Johnson; Far Rt, Sonya Murray

The St. Louis Symphony and Maryville University collaborated to create an 8-week music therapy program called “Life Compositions” to help students at Confluence Academy Old North deal with the challenges and trauma of growing up in urban neighborhoods. Graduate students in Maryville’s music therapy program worked with the youth to write and record songs, which they will highlight in a concert titled “Courage Counts” on June 4.

Brian Owens, a vocalist and Artist-in-Residence/Program Manager of the St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON program, spearheaded the project that caters to mostly seventh and eighth-grade students.

Sonya Murray, principal at Confluence Academy Old North, said that the experience proved to be beneficial for the students.

“Going into the studio and seeing the students performing was amazing,” she said. “And it’s been a life changing experience for them.”

Although the students are speaking from their experience of growing up in urban areas, Owens believes that their music is relatable to people of all demographics. “I think there’s universality to the human condition that they’re touching on in a way that is fitting for their generation,” he said. “That’s what the power is in what these kids are saying.

Music mentor Sara Michaelis, a music therapy graduate student at Maryville, met with a mentee twice a week during the 8-week session. She explained that in addition to writing the songs, students chose their own instrumentation and chord progressions for the music.

“I found that these students have a lot to say,” Michaelis said, “and it’s important that we are there to hear them.”

“Some of the most impactful art that has come out in our lifetime has come out of a person seeing the situation that’s going on around them, and them expressing it.” Owens said.

What is also significant, according to Stanley Johnson, dean of students at Confluence Academy Old North, is the growth of the students as they progressed through the program.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Johnson said. “The struggles they are talking about can be recognized on a global scale, and to have Maryville partner with the school to help them express that in a different format has been huge for them.”

Related Event:

St. Louis Symphony Presents "Courage Counts Student Showcase"

  • When: Thursday, June 4, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Sun Theatre, 3627 Grandel Square
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

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