Silvia Chiesa '11 Heals with Music

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 3:47pm

"I have gained self-confidence, patience, and passion," said Silvia Chiesa '11 of her internship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston this past summer.

Getting the internship, however, was no easy feat. Chiesa, a music major, found out about the DFCI internship program through a family member who works in the Boston hospital system. Unfortunately, DFCI had a precedent of only offering internships to students at Berklee College of Music. Anxious for real-world experience in the field of music therapy, Chiesa offered to do part-time volunteer work as a compromise. Instead, she ended up one of the first non-Berklee students ever to be offered the position of intern at DFCI.

Chiesa's responsibilities consisted of shadowing her supervisor, music therapist Brian Jantz, in what she referred to as the "delicate environment" of DFCI. Her internship explored how music therapy can be applied to children coping with cancer.

"For these children, music therapy can be a way to not talk about cancer," Chiesa noted. "Music can be distraction, entertainment, relaxation, or even pain relief."

At first, Chiesa functioned primarily as an observer. As her internship experience went on, however, she began assisting patients in the Zakim Center's Pediatric Resource Room alongside alum Martha Young '04, a patient and family education specialist.

In these sessions, Chiesa used her instruments--voice and drums--to connect with patients. She also taught children about specific musical instruments, songwriting, and theory.

"Basically, we covered anything that a kid would want to do," she said.

"I was worried going into it because I had recently experienced cancer in my family, and I was nervous that my personal experience would affect my performance," Chiesa added. After a few weeks on the job, however, she realized that she could use those fears in a productive way.

"Helping people also helped me heal myself," she said.

Her first three years at Mount Holyoke prepared Chiesa for the challenges of her internship and enabled her to draw a number of parallels between the two environments. She spoke of both DFCI and Mount Holyoke as warm environments that feel like one big family.

"Both DFCI and MHC foster the spirit of inquiry, promoting collaboration and innovation across traditional boundaries, while celebrating individual creativity," she said.

Chiesa has long been interested in music therapy. She is currently in her second year as a music therapy volunteer at the Berkshire Hills Music Academy, located in South Hadley. This post-secondary school helps students with special learning needs explore their passion for music.

"Music therapy as a profession is pretty much nonexistent in Europe," said Chiesa, who hails from Italy. After attending graduate school for music therapy, she hopes to become a pioneer in the field and be able to advance the study of music therapy back home.