The concept seems so incongruous: music therapy for deaf children. But Sister Mariam Pfeifer, IHM, director and guiding light of Marywood's music therapy program, has never been one to be stopped by incongruities. When the opportunity arose to work with students in the Scranton School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, Marywood's longtime neighbor (now relocated to Clarks Summit), the idea seemed to hit just the right note—an experience that would be enriching, exciting, fun—for children at the school, as well as for Marywood's own music therapy interns.
As happens so often, when one human sense is blocked, others are heightened, and individuals with hearing impairments can feel sound vibrations and "tone" through their bodies in ways that those with hearing cannot. These children, Sister Mariam explained, had a special challenge. They had received cochlear implants—the "bionic ear" development that had given them access to a new world of sound. Sister Mariam and her gifted musician/therapist interns were key in helping the children adapt to it. The joyous sound of music had entered their lives.
"It was wonderful watching our students working with the children!" Sister Mariam said, "It was heartwarming to see how the children responded."
That outcome had been too important not to share. Their music, in fact, would reverberate from Marywood's own neighborhood to Oxford University in London. Ernie Mengoni, Marywood University's coordinator of Broadcast Operations, taped their work with the children and edited it into a video documentary, which Sister Mariam presented to an enthusiastic audience at the World Federation of Music Therapy Congress in England.
Nationally renowned as a music therapist, Sister Mariam has shared her expertise at home, across the country, and around the world. Prior to her presentation at Oxford, she addressed a symposium in Turin, Italy (home of the revered Shroud—which she was thrilled to have a chance to see on the trip).
Ask Sister Mariam to explain her delight in seeing the power of music to make a difference in individual lives and her conviction of the importance of her work. She will quote Schopenhauer who has written: "A single song can encapsulate an entire period of one's life, and hearing it can restore the essence of reality."
Sister Mariam retired this spring, just shy of 30 years of service to her alma mater—and to the profession of music therapy. She was one of the founders of Marywood's music therapy program; helped win national accreditations; assumed the directorship in 1982; and has been leading it ever since. She also has been a leader in the regional and national American Music Therapy Association—which honored her with their Life Membership Award. They have also asked her to appear in a documentary being produced to raise awareness of the healing power, the beauty—and the sheer joy—in the sound of music.
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