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20th Anniversary of Senate Hearing

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of "Forever Young: Music and Aging"

AMTALogoSmallOn August 1, 1991, the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT)--one of the two music therapy organizations that merged in 1997 to form the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)--had the opportunity to provide testimony at a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. This hearing was of monumental historical significance for our profession and provided both the foundation for and launch of future recognition and advocacy efforts at the state and federal level.

The hearing included testimony by music therapists, musicians, physicians, legislators, and clients in support of music therapy. In addition, NAMT organized a public relations and marketing campaign, responded to press inquiries, and coordinated the development of information packets and submission of witness testimony.

On a short-term basis, the 1991 Senate Hearings resulted in Senate Bill S. 1723, The Music Therapy for Older Americans Act, introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) with bipartisan sponsorship from Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), Senator William Cohen (R-ME), Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD), Senator Richard Shelby (D-AL), and Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ). This landmark federal legislation was introduced in September 18, 1991--merely six weeks after the Senate hearing--and passed the U.S. Senate in mid-November of that year.

In the long-term, the 1991 Senate hearing launched governmental recognition of music therapy on the federal level, most notably through inclusion in Medicare reimbursement for Partial Hospitalization Programs. Through the advocacy efforts of AMTA, this accomplishment has led to further recognition of music therapy by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in other treatment settings. This progress has impacted advocacy success on the state level as well, with the implementation of the collaborative AMTA and CBMT State Recognition Operational Plan.

We invite you to watch highlights from the hearing in the video above and to read the thoughts from some of those who participated in Forever Young, the 1991 Senate hearing on music and aging.

Barbara Crowe, music therapist:

"The 1991 Senate Hearing on Music for Older Adults was an amazing boost to the profession of music therapy. We received some outstanding attention to the uses of music therapy and received a real professional boost in the process.

The 1991 Senate Hearing led to work to put wording about music therapy in the Older Americans Act. This was one of the first federal opportunities for recognition of music therapy as a valuable profession in work with older adults."

Cathy Knoll, music therapist:

"(D)uring the process of working with our own National Office staff, visiting with music therapists around the country, meeting with Senators and their staffs, and meeting with other national professional organizations similar to ours, I learned two valuable lessons:

  1. No matter their positions, background, training, or political affiliation, every single person I talked to had a genuine, heartfelt concern for older people and their families wrestling with challenges related to dementia, daily living, physical/emotional health, and quality of life issues. Although there were differences of opinions about how to best tackle those challenges, everyone was on the same page about the actuality of issues faced by some older people in America. And all were supportive of including the term music therapy in key language in the Older American's Act.
  2. Our contacts and meetings with some of the very large national associations of professions related to music therapy helped me recognize the dedication, expertise, loyalty, and positive attitudes of our small but mighty AMTA National Office staff and Executive Director. We can rest assured that we don't have any 'fat' in our organizations. Our AMTA team stood ready in 1991--and still stands ready today--to provide the expertise and organizational plans to rally music therapists around the country to get the job done even in the face of very short deadlines and limited funds. It was a pleasure to work with Andi Farbman,Al Bumanis, Judy Kaplan, Jane Creagan, and acting executive director Bryan Hunter in 1991 and 1992, and we all benefit from their continued dedication and hard work 20 years later."
Dr. Bryan Hunter, music therapist:

"1991 marked the single biggest public relations event in the history of the music therapy profession. Nothing before this had met this level of attention. I considered it to be 'music therapy coming of age' in terms of the national arena."

Dr. Alicia Clair, music therapist:

"The hearing was an extremely exciting opportunity for music therapists to have recognition for their professional work. It happened on a very tight time line and preparation was urgent. The concern was to communicate a clearly articulated message to the American public through written and verbal testimonies. I was asked to deliver the verbal testimony for the NAMT in no more than four minutes, and I have never been more terrified by professional responsibility. The four minutes included a video that demonstrated the effects of music therapy with a man who was in late stage dementia and the video made a stronger impression than anything I could have said. The video bore out what all music therapists know, outcomes provide the best evidence of viability and efficacy. The objective of the hearing for NAMT was to raise awareness of the value of music therapy with older adults. It was hoped that the raised awareness could then lead to more opportunities to educate the public about the profession. Through the tenacious work of many who facilitated the success of the hearing and all the publicity that went with it, the doors to the American public were very clearly opened."

Bruce Fried, then Vice-President of the Wexler Group of Hill and Knowlton, who provided technical and legislative assistance to NAMT (in a letter to then-NAMT President Barbara Crowe):

"Congratulations to you and all the members of NAMT on your incredible success with the Senate Special Committee on Aging's recent hearing: Forever Young: Music and Aging. The success of Forever Young is a terrific beginning. Now the real work starts. NAMT has gotten the attention of many in the Senate and the media. With more hard work NAMT can turn that into legislation which will advance the understanding of music's therapeutic power, inform more care givers of the benefits of music therapy, and extend music therapy to many more who could gain from it."


For a transcript of the hearing, we invite you to read Forever Young: Music and Aging published in the first 1992 issue of Music Therapy Perspectives, v. 10 (1), pages 45-75. 

Special thanks to Dr. Andi Farbman, Al Bumanis, Cathy Knoll, Dr. Bryan Hunter, Dr. Alicia Clair, and Barbara Crowe for their help with this summary.