Martha Summa-Chadwick recalls working with a nonverbal, 10-year-old boy with autism. The only words he said were, "Hi," and "Bye." He was trapped in his mind, able to understand but unable to express himself without his communicator.
Through music therapy, the boy became verbal. Music guided his tapping, humming and singing, which eventually led to him being able to speak. After a year of therapy, he was able to say, "I want cookie."
Summa-Chadwick, executive director of Music Therapy Gateway in Communication, wants to give other neurotypical people that same chance.
Summa-Chadwick will be playing piano at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Feb. 2 at a free concert, which was organized to educate the public on the possibilities of music as a means of therapy.
She hopes that it will highlight all the areas where music can help give independence back to a person.
Summa-Chadwick, who holds a doctorate in musical arts, first saw the therapeutic benefits of music in 1994 while working with a 4-year-old girl with severe autism who was also nonverbal. The girl first learned how to read music on a computer, something she was comfortable with. She started playing on the keyboard and singing, and when they moved her to the piano her singing continued.
"Seeing a nonverbal kid speak? Incredible. You think this is such a little thing, but this changes lives," said Summa-Chadwick.
She stressed that music therapy can also be a powerful tool for people who have suffered a stroke or have Parkinson's disease, two instances where stride is affected. When the brain hears music it picks up on the beat and tempo, Summa-Chadwick said. The muscles subconsciously react to that music, match the tempo and normalize stride.
"People [think], 'Music therapy is when people go around and play [piano] in the hospitals,'" said Summa-Chadwick. "That's using music as a therapeutic initiative ... but it's not music therapy per se. Music therapy is specifically individualized towards goals of what you want to accomplish with that particular person."
The free music event will begin at 7 p.m. at Roland Hayes Concert Hall on UTC's campus, with a brief lecture informing the audience about the brain's response to music and its health benefits followed by a concert of upbeat rhythms.
Through the combined lecture and concert, attendees can not only learn about how their brain and bodies are connected to music, but physically experience it as well.
"Music has the power to help your brain, your body move or think or feel differently," said Summa-Chadwick.
The Roland Hayes Concert Hall is located in the Fine Arts Center on the corner of Vine and Palmetto streets on UTC's campus.