More than music: Music Therapy Student Association raise money for Ukraine relief

Max Marcello | Staff Writer | Music Therapy Student Association members concluded the benefit concert with "Build Me Up Buttercup."

Max Marcello | Staff Writer

Feb. 2, 2023

The Music Therapy Student Association (MTSA), a professional, undergraduate student association, put on its annual Benefit Winter Wonderland Fundraiser on Sunday, Jan. 29, to support the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

Since 2012, the MTSA has partnered with charitable organizations to raise money for various causes.

This year, student musician performances were accompanied by a raffle and donations in an effort to raise money for Music in World Cultures, an international, faith-based organization that is “at the forefront of a growing movement using music as a strategic tool in missions,” according to the national Music in World Cultures (MIWC) website.

Music in World Cultures seeks to bring music and music education to countries in need. Sunday’s benefit focused on the organization’s efforts to bring humanitarian relief to Ukraine, in addition to its music-centered objectives.

Sunday’s concert raised $100 for Ukraine and the ongoing mission to help provide relief to the Ukrainian people.

About 25 students in total performed for an audience of 40 at the benefit concert, and student performances ranged from acoustic covers to comedic duets.

One such performer was Anna Hladio, a freshman music therapy major in the MTSA. Hladio has been performing since childhood, and she remarked how she was able to combine her passion for music with leadership as a member of the student-led MTSA.

“The meetings are all student-led. It is organized by students. We work in high school outreach to promote music therapy,” Hladio said.

Promoting music therapy has been a central goal of the MTSA and faculty mentor Elaine Abbott.

Abbott is a licensed music therapist, an associate professor of music therapy at Duquesne and the chairwoman of the department of music therapy and music education.

In addition to her roles at the department, Abbott also counsels the MTSA and aids its mission to spread awareness about the benefits of music therapy.

Music therapy, despite seeing growing utilization in recent years, is still something misunderstood by the public, in large part due to its large scope and specialization.

One of the most common and most familiar forms of music therapy is music psychotherapy, she said.

Abbott explained how music psychotherapy works by breaking it down into its basic components.

“In music psychotherapy there are four methods that we use, and they are related to how people interact with music,” Abbott said. “We could compose music, improvise music, recreate music and listen to music.”

Music, particularly listening to music within the confines of psychotherapy, makes the experience a far more active one.

“I’m trained in a method of guided imagery in music. I help people listen to music for what it can tell them about themselves,” Abbott said.

Over the past 11 years, the Winter Wonderland Benefit Concert series has been in a constant state of change and growth.

Sunday’s concert saw the series reach another milestone.

For the first time, the opportunity to perform in the concert was now offered to those outside the Mary Pappert School of Music and MTSA members.

MTSA president Shelly Schlabach, senior, noted the growth and evolution of the concerts during her time with MTSA.

“The concerts started out as really small with just the parents of the MTSA students coming. Now we’ve opened it up to all of the music school and all of Duquesne,” Schlabach said. “[The MTSA] allows students to learn about music therapy, have friendships with people of all grades and advocate for music therapy.”

The audience reacted positively to the performances. Freshman friends of Morgan Sanzemeyer came to support Morgan’s performance of “Part of Your World” with Hladio. They said they enjoyed the performances but did note the overabundance of “sappy love songs” on the concert’s program.

A few of the songs performed were “Man or Muppet,” performed by Reese McCracken, Amelia Lau and Christian Sullivan and an original composition, “Apple Pie/Olive Garden,” by Olivia Bigler, Isabel Barton, Catherine Startup and Carly King – a song about finding love at an Italian restaurant.

No matter the song genre, the central focus of Sunday’s concert of student performances was to raise funds for Music in World Cultures, whose mission is to make music and music education more accessible.

Helping countries receive needed supplies and music education has been the central focus of the organization since its founding in 1989 by John Benham.

Music in World Cultures has conducted music outreach all around the world. The organization has provided remote villages in Indonesia with musical instruments and organized music education initiatives in Ecuador, according to their website.

Music is something of a family business for the Benhams as John Benham’s son, Steven Benham, a professor of music education and chair of performance at Duquesne’s school of music, is now serving as the organization’s president.

Benham said that his approach to teaching in higher education has been greatly impacted by his service through Music in World Cultures.

“My wife and I got involved with Music in World Cultures because we knew what was happening behind the Iron Curtain. I started studying with a cello teacher who escaped Russia in the 1980s,” Benham said.

His cello teacher began telling stories of how the state controlled all aspects of music and held the final say as to who advanced in their career. Being “politically unreliable” meant that any artist regardless of ability would be blacklisted in their ability to perform and any career aspirations would be dashed.

Although Music in World Cultures operates globally, Eastern Europe has always held a special place in the heart of the organization’s leadership, Benham said.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, free musical expression became more widespread, and a demand for music followed. Music in World Cultures has operated in Ukraine since 1997, and it attempts to satisfy this newfound demand for music.

The Ukrainian outreach continued to focus on music primarily until tensions between Ukraine and Russia erupted into a full-scale conflict.

Since 2022, the organization has adapted and is currently moving in aid, in addition to using music to give Ukrainians to give a sense of normalcy amidst the war.