The way UTC music therapy consultant Katherine Goforth Elverd sees the new partnership between the college and the Songbirds Foundation, everybody comes out winning.
As part of the collaboration, Songbirds instructors will begin teaching incoming University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students in the music therapy program this fall, marking its first partnership with a college-level, accredited institution.
Elverd said that with Songbirds now focused on teaching students the guitar — which along with voice, piano and percussion make up the basic foundation of music therapy — she can focus more on teaching students how to use what they've learned rather than focusing on technical skills.
Students will spend part of their first year of classes at the Songbirds museum, which boasts the world's largest collection of rare and vintage guitars, learning from instructors there.
"How cool is that?" Elverd said. "It's such a win, win, win for Songbirds, the therapists and UTC."
She said her main instrument is the violin, and that to this point she has been solely responsible for teaching all instruments.
"The Songbirds instructors are way more proficient at teaching our students guitar than I would be, so I can go beyond my skills and knowledge and go beyond the technical," she said. "This will allow [students] to be more clinically based and grow that side of their skills."
Elverd also said students can get private lessons from Songbirds instructors, and that the guitar's portability gives it some advantages over a piano when working with clients.
Getting a music therapy degree at UTC takes 4.5 years, Elverd said, noting that students will learn far more than playing guitar. They will learn about the body and how it moves and operates, and that "music is a driving force to work on other skills," she said.
Songbirds Foundation, which has also implemented a Guitars for Kids for middle and high school students in Chattanooga and the surrounding counties in Tennessee and Georgia, has developed a method of teaching instructors and students that can can be taught virtually or via videotaped sessions.
Since 2016, Songbirds has provided free music lessons, instruments and music therapy in more than 45 schools, 14 partner programs and 2,500 students. It has distributed more than 1,200 guitars throughout the state and into Georgia.
The program at UTC touts music as medicine and is the first of its kind at any Tennessee public university. Last year, the program had eight students, and Elverd said 20 are signed up for the fall.
Students can enroll as freshmen, transfer into the program or enter it after earning another bachelor's degree in disciplines such as nursing, special education, music education, psychology or social work, among others.
Songbirds Executive Director Reed Caldwell said partnering with UTC is a big step forward and proof that the program is on the right path.
"The coolest thing for us is this is the first program we've helped create with an accredited institution," he said. "It shows that what we are doing is not just going out and showing you how to play C, G, and F chords."
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