Music enriches. It entertains, empowers and enlightens. And music’s restorative power enables people to heal, both physically and mentally. The benefits of music therapy — using music to improve a client or patient’s well-being through singing, playing an instrument, composing music or movement to music — are tangible and well documented.
CSUN is the only public university in California to offer an undergraduate music therapy program, which was recently ranked the No. 2 best music therapy program in the nation by BestValueSchools.org. The program is competitive, admitting fewer than 20 students each year, and it demands a high caliber of musicianship and aptitude as a therapist. Launched in 1984 by professor Ron Borczon, who remains its director, the program has grown in scope to include the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic.
CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication supports the clinic’s operations, including music therapy services for individual clients and outreach programs to a variety of schools and hospitals. This community focus also has flourished thanks to the generous support of The Music Man Foundation, with three gifts to the clinic totaling $225,000.
“CSUN is extremely grateful for the foundation’s generosity,” said CSUN President Erika D. Beck. “This support of CSUN’s Music Therapy Wellness Clinic provides our talented students with specialized, real-world experiences and the opportunity to serve individuals from our greater community.”
A core principle of The Music Man Foundation — named for Meredith Willson’s 1957 hit Broadway musical, which won six Tony Awards — is “to fund activities that would not be advanced without the interest and support of the foundation.” Willson was a giant talent whose life was steeped in music. He died in 1984. His widow, Rosemary, created the Meredith and Rosemary Willson Charitable Foundation (now The Music Man Foundation) in 1998 to honor her late husband’s musical legacy and support programs that use music to improve children’s lives. In 2017, the foundation established a music therapy grant program.
In researching nonprofit, child-centered organizations as potential grant recipients, CSUN’s Music Therapy Wellness Clinic was an obvious fit, said Sarah Lyding, executive director of The Music Man Foundation.
“Ron Borczon tops every list, in terms of his expertise and the quality of the CSUN program,” said Lyding, who noted the clinic’s all-around excellence. “The things that continue to impress me are the high-quality music therapy services made available to any community member, the breadth of field experience offered to music therapy students, the focus on research, and the team’s tenacity in creating meaningful partnerships in the community.”
Borczon, a classical guitarist and music therapist, has worked for more than 40 years with clients with a range of physical, psychological and emotional challenges.
“My whole career has been built around music therapy, and I believe in it,” Borczon said. “I’ve seen so many people — those, for example, who have autism or Down syndrome — for whom music therapy just changed everything. I’ve even worked with people who had strokes and regained speech through music.”
Initially, The Music Man Foundation supported the campus-based clinic and two outreach programs: one at Lokrantz Special Education Center, a Los Angeles Unified School District/Head Start PK-5 school for children with developmental and physical disabilities, and one at the Northridge Hospital Pediatric Medical Center, where critically ill children receive comprehensive, holistic intensive care.
At Lokrantz, all students (about 90 children) received free music therapy services for about three hours a week, and board-certified therapists consulted with teachers to plan music programs that optimized opportunities for involvement and addressed different developmental needs. At Northridge Hospital, therapists met with a range of caregivers to offer services to pediatric patients, prioritizing those in isolation and their families. In all cases, several CSUN music therapy students accompanied the board-certified therapist. This field work, along with semester-long practicums at CSUN’s clinic, gave students the opportunity for hands-on learning.
The first gift from The Music Man Foundation proved so successful that the partnership continued, with an expansion of services in 2020 at Lokrantz and Northridge Hospital. The expansion of services helped add music therapy services for CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School, a K-8 charter school that emphasizes inclusive, integrated education for children with special needs, and Simi Valley Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“Underlying the sustained support from The Music Man Foundation is a belief in the goals of the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic, the kind of commitment that truly makes an impact,” said Robert D. Gunsalus, vice president for University Relations and Advancement and president of the CSUN Foundation. “Music is a medium for communicating, connecting and even curing, and the foundation’s support has made it possible for CSUN students to serve individuals from the greater community and help hundreds of children in the region.”
The pandemic has changed the scope of the clinic’s programs, with all music therapy currently conducted as telehealth sessions. However, the outreach programs have continued, including a five-week virtual summer music camp at Lokrantz, which offered programming such as “Canta Conmigo” to promote verbalization and social skills for Spanish-speaking children, and critical support to families during pandemic isolation. The MTWC’s mission to use music as mender and the generosity of The Music Man Foundation continue.