One man's impact on the field of music therapy

McGuire's expertise and dedication propel EMU's program to national prominence

by Geoff Larcom, Published July 12, 2012

YPSILANTI - In nearly thirty years of teaching at Eastern Michigan University, Professor Michael McGuire has touched the lives of thousands of students in the highly interactive and rigorous discipline of music therapy.

For much of that time, he served as a one-person program, elevating music therapy at EMU to national prominence and earning the gratitude of students and respect and love of colleagues around the University.

McGuire's distinguished tenure and the esteem in which he's held recently sparked a special celebration at his home, where he received two awards marking excellence in music therapy.


Michael McGuire

He was given the American Musical Therapy Association's  (AMTA) Presidential Award, for outstanding service as an educator, mentor, innovator and leader. In addition, the Great Lakes Region of the AMTA honored McGuire with its 2012 Service Award, for outstanding service to the region and the field of music therapy.

The event had a special poignancy and power as McGuire, 63, is suffering from Stage 4 terminal lung cancer. Among those attending the event in his honor along with department staff were EMU President Susan Martin, a strong supporter of the music therapy program; professor Theresa Merrill, faculty member Roberta Justice and other colleagues in music therapy at EMU; Kate Mehuron, interim associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences; and Diane Winder, interim head of the Department of Music and Dance.

Together, the group savored the moment as they celebrated McGuire's accomplishments and his vast family tree of successful students.

"It was so much better than having a eulogy," Winder said later.

McGuire's many milestones include serving for 12 years as a founding member and editor of "Music Therapy Perspectives"- a practice-based professional journal and successfully helping establish national certification requirements for music therapists. As the program grew, Justice came on board as part time instructor in 1999 and Merrill in 2010 as a second full-time tenure track faculty.

According to Merrill, McGuire took the EMU major from being a loosely organized training program to one of the finest in the country.  He was extremely active in professional organizations and noted for his contributions to the profession.

Indeed, a sense of urgency spread quickly through the national music therapy community after McGuire's diagnosis in early June. Something had to be done soon to appropriately honor him.

Andrea Farbman, executive director of the AMTA, flew in from Washington D.C to join the EMU group at McGuire's home. Two colleagues brought guitars and the group sang three songs together, including the inspirational and moving classic, "Dona Nobis Pacem."

Winder describes McGuire as fearless, unafraid to speak his mind and a true leader. She cites his high standards in class, along with an  "amazing vulnerability" in modeling therapeutic interventions for his students.

Merrill says, "He demands the best possible performance from (students). Michael pushes them to be the best they can be, musically and therapeutically, in order to serve clients - many of whom have special needs."

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals. Therapy can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, reduce pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.

McGuire studied music therapy at Michigan State University and did his clinical training (internship) at Essex County Hospital Center (Cedar Grove, NJ). He has a Masters in Music degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia.

His areas of expertise are in psychiatric music therapy, and music therapy for older adults, as well as adults who abuse substances. McGuire has taught courses required for the Bachelor of Music Therapy, observed students while they do field work in the community and served as the advisor for all music therapy majors.

Merrill says that some students have visited McGuire at his home during these difficult days - an admittedly wrenching yet invaluable experience.

"They are learning what grief looks like," Merrill says. "About gracefully releasing one's life and work one day at a time. It is a very precious kind of learning. With some support, they are able to be present to that, and it is an invaluable experience.

"By his openness and willingness to be transparent and fully human, Michael continues to teach, even though he's no longer in the classroom."





Geoff Larcom


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