Cascade School of Music Introduces New Music Therapy Program

(Emily Ross | Photos courtesy of Cascade School of Music)

Beginning this fall, the Cascade School of Music (CSM) will enrich its already robust curriculum of youth classes, adult classes and private lessons by introducing a music therapy program under the guidance of Emily Ross, MA, MT-BC (Master of Arts, Music Therapy – Board Certified). Expanding its programming to include music therapy furthers the nonprofit music school’s mission of serving the community “by providing exceptional music education and experiences for all Central Oregonians, making music Fun, Engaging, Safe & Social.” In the case of music therapy, however, learning an instrument isn’t the primary objective. As music therapist Kalani Das explains, “Music Therapy is the delivery of music based services, music based experiences, by a board certified music therapist within a client / therapist relationship to a person who has therapeutic goals and objectives” ( Such goals may include increasing expressive communication, increasing coping skills, decreasing stress and increasing skills in social interaction. Approximately 80 music therapists practice in the state of Oregon, and Oregon itself is one of only nine states that require a license to practice music therapy, which increases access to safe, high-quality services. Among these therapists, Emily stands out as exceptional; an incredible addition to CSM’s talented faculty and a true gift to the Central Oregon community. The basic requirements for a practicing music therapist are a bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy along with Board Certification, and Emily exceeds these requirements by also holding a masters in Counseling Psychology / Music Therapy from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Following this advanced degree, she taught music therapy courses from 2003 to 2015, and served as clinical coordinator and assistant professor of music therapy at Marylhurst University from 2015 to 2018, while also maintaining a private practice for 13 years. These many years of experience make Emily a seasoned veteran in this up and coming profession.

“I am very excited to join the Central Oregon community” says Emily, who has lived in Portland since 2003. “I am passionate about working with participants struggling with anxiety, depression, learning differences such as Autism, or growing pains such as how to set boundaries or improve communication.”

She continues, “I also really hope to serve folks who aren’t ready for lessons, those who love music but can’t yet ‘play in the band,’ so to speak, whether for emotional reasons or due to learning challenges.” Emily’s passion for the profession is rooted in her early experiences as a general music, choir and band teacher to K-12 students where, with 30 kids in the classroom, she felt she couldn’t meet their individual needs. Additionally, a 27-month assignment teaching English as a Foreign Language in Kyrgyzstan as a Peace Corps Volunteer showed her firsthand how difficult basic and effective communication can be, especially when the language and culture are not one’s own. Having developed a deep compassion for the frustrations of limited communication skills, Emily became moved to find a way to address those emotional and cognitive needs by pursuing music therapy as a career.

When asked to describe what music therapy looks like in practice, Emily emphasizes that each session is individually designed to meet the participant’s specific needs and therapeutic objectives, which are determined through an initial assessment. Once the assessment is complete, the music therapist writes a Treatment Plan that includes an assessment summary, the non-musical goals for the participant and the musical experiences that will be used to work toward those goals. Once the plan is formulated, regular music therapy sessions follow, whether short or long term. An example of a session with a young child hesitant to use language might include Emily presenting a choice of a drum or a stuffed animal. If the participant chooses the stuffed animal, the two may rewrite lyrics to a familiar song using the particular animal as the new subject. If the drum is chosen, the two may sing songs about drumming or Emily will support the participant’s drum lead, all the while working toward improved communication. The key to such sessions, Emily reveals, is a participant-centered approach, one where decisions are generated based on the participant’s interests and comfort level.

Cascade School of Music Executive Director, Robert Lambeth, couldn’t be more excited about the addition of Music Therapy to the school’s curriculum, particularly because it is a program available to the entire community, not just to CSM students. Lambeth’s commitment to bring music therapy to the Central Oregon community derives from personal experience. As a hyperactive child with learning challenges and health issues, music therapy (not named as such at the time) was an early and beneficial healing modality for the youngster. Considering the challenges of this past year and a half, Robert recognizes the positive impact such a modality could have on our community, specifically with respect to increases in anxiety, depression and behavioral challenges amongst students. And with such an experienced, intuitive and empathic therapist as Emily at the helm of this program, Robert is confident that CSM students and the larger community will respond most favorably to her holistic approach.

In addition to the enthusiasm Robert and Emily share for this new program, CSM faculty are also keen to embrace it. In fact, half the faculty have already attended a music therapy workshop that Emily held. One aspect of the workshop focused on adaptive music lessons that serve to develop musical skills (rather than address therapeutic objectives) and are adjusted to accommodate the developmental level of the student. “Our faculty have huge hearts and immense passion for teaching, and everyone wants to provide each student with the best possible learning experience,” Lambeth states. “So providing what Emily can provide to the teachers is going to be huge for them, if for no other reason than to say, ‘Ah, here’s where my knowledge as a teacher stops and needs to stop, and here’s who I can send the student to, in house, right now.’ It’s a commitment I have for the continuing education of the faculty.”

Where practical matters are concerned, music therapy will function as a completely different track within CSM’s offering. The school will act as the facilitator, collecting some basic information from the client and then connecting that person to Emily for an initial, free consultation. The therapeutic sessions that follow will initially take place on Thursdays and Fridays.

Support for the program will come from a variety of sources, one of which is the Starview Foundation, who sponsored the music therapy room and the various amenities needed for a well-equipped studio. “It’s a very particular environment we’re creating,” Lambeth shares; “everything from the kind of chairs and pillows to the specific colors in the room, and down to the kind of instruments that we’ll use, all are carefully chosen to create a safe and welcoming space for the participant.”

To learn more about the Cascade School of Music’s music therapy program please visit their website at

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