The healing powers of music

Beth demonstrates elements of music therapy during her presentation at the Homecoming Weekend Performing Arts Showcase.

Performance was Beth (Kaufman) ’06 Eriksen’s specialty as a Hesston College student. As a soprano with Bel Canto Singers, performing the role of Aysha, one of Noah’s daughter-in-laws, in the musical Children of Eden and Katie Brubacher in Quiet in the Land and a flutist in the Bethel College (North Newton, Kan.) orchestra before the advent of the Hesston College Concert Band, Beth was familiar with the stage.

Even though performance was central to her collegiate performing arts experience, Beth knew she had other options and channeled her love for music into a career in music therapy.

“One summer I had the opportunity to job shadow a music therapist,” said Beth. “I saw the benefits of music therapy first-hand. It was then I decided music therapy would be a good fit for me.”

After finishing the coursework for her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-Purdue University of Fort Wayne, she and her husband, Steve Eriksen ’06, moved to Virginia where she completed a six-month internship at Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, then took a full-time job with the hospice, where she has been working for the last three years.

“My job is so rewarding because I get to use music to bring comfort to patients and families,” said Beth.

Music has always played a significant role in Beth’s life. Her high school, Freeman (S.D.) Academy, continually boasts strong performing arts programs, which prepared her for success at Hesston and to participate in Canta in Italia, an opera program based in Florence, Italy, with the encouragement of Hesston voice instructor Matt Schloneger ’92.

Just like her voice touched and inspired audience members at Hesston College, Beth now uses her musical training to inspire and comfort people in the end stages of illnesses and life.

“I focus on helping my patients feel more comfortable since end-stage illnesses are often painful or debilitating,” she said. “I use patient-preferred music to create a peaceful and relaxing environment, and to help them find meaningful ways to connect with family.”

Beth’s patients don’t need to have a strong background in music to experience its healing and calming effects. Rather, it’s the natural properties of music that are able to comfort and provide reflection on the past and preparation for the future.

“One patient in particular left a lasting impression on me,” recalled Beth. “She loved music and had a large collection of sheet music and instruments in her home. Her last request was to put together a Christmas concert for her family, friends and the hospice staff. We spent hours rehearsing until she felt it was ready. I’ll never forget how much joy the process of preparing and the performance itself meant to her.”

Beth is sure that it is not necessary to be on stage every day in order to enjoy the benefits music can bring, but she is grateful for the impact performance at Hesston had on her life and career.

“There were so many ways for me to be involved at Hesston right from the start,” she said. “I was able to build up a variety of music experiences that influenced my decision to use the healing powers of music.”