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MusicHelps Master of Music Therapy Award recipient Kate Owen

Story Published Thursday 21 March 2024

In 2023 MusicHelps in collaboration with Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust and The Kate Edgar Educational Charitable Trust announced the MusicHelps Music Therapy Award. The recipient is announced as Kate Owen – a songwriter and APRA member based in Christchurch.

The MusicHelps Music Therapy Award is a special award for wāhine identifying students who have been accepted into the Master of Music Therapy Programme at Victoria University. The recipient of the award will receive an $8,000 scholarship for one year of study, and if they are in their second year of study, the Award will include a supported student placement with the Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust.

Kate Owen has been songwriting for 20 years. After a decade of live performances, the Christchurch based artist released her debut album Not A Proper Girl in 2020, recorded with Ben Edwards (Marlon Williams, Delaney Davidson, Aldous Harding). Kate Owen was born Kate Anastasiou into a Greek/Romanian community in Wellington, New Zealand. Her father was a refugee from Romania, and her mother was Barbara Owen, a teacher from Nae Nae.

Owen started playing music at the age of ten and studied music at high school and University.

MusicHelps caught up with Kate Owen to talk about her studies and career as a songwriter. Learn more about Kate Owen below:

What excites you the most about studying Music Therapy at Victoria University?

I am most excited about learning how to apply my musicianship in a therapeutic way. I believe that music is a universal language and a fundamental human need. In western society participation in music, more often than not, is split between performer and audience. So all the things that I have access to as a musician, people who don’t consider themselves musicians, don’t have access to.

For example, if people don’t think they can sing, they don’t sing. Singing regulates breathing, fires up different parts of our brain, and then there are all the emotional, communication and connection aspects of singing. So, when people are in a therapeutic context which is not ‘performative’, they don’t have to get singing ‘right’. Instead, they do get to sing in a private, supported context, and consequently reap all the benefits that singing brings.

What inspired you to want to become a Music Therapist?

My very dear friends Asho Gevorgyan and Jimi Dale have a wonderful daughter Ishkalla. I have known Ishkalla since she was born, and she is now a young woman. Ishkalla is my inspiration!

Music is a central feature of Jimi and Asho’s life and home, especially through West African Drum and dance which they have taught in Auckland for decades. So, no surprises Ishkalla has become an amazing musician herself. I had sat in before with Ishkalla’s music therapy sessions, but on a visit to Auckland in 2023 Ishkalla’s latest music therapist, Chris O’Connor (The Phoenix Foundation) arrived for a session and encouraged me to explore becoming a music therapist. I knew through Ishkalla how important music and music therapy was to her, but not until I spoke to Chris did I fully understand that my skills as a musician could be a pathway to becoming a music therapist. I think this is because I mainly write music and perform, so I had not seen my skills through this lens until that conversation with Chris.

What role does Music Therapy play in our community? Why is it important?

I think Music Therapy gives our community access to the gifts music offers without people necessarily having to be a musician or delivering a performative or other output. Most people can feel how music can affect and help process their emotions, or how connecting playing or watching music together is. This extends into, for example, the more physical and neurological benefits that music can offer us. I never feel calmer than when I have sung at a long gig. I’m quite sure that is the breath regulation that would come from singing for three hours!

Music therapy gives people and communities access to these musical benefits that they may not otherwise have been accessible in their daily life. I think this is important because despite not usually being described as medicine or healing in western society, I believe that musical elements extracted and applied in a therapeutic setting can, in some instances, be more effective for some people than other modalities.

How do you think becoming a Music Therapist might impact on you as a songwriter and artist?

I think working as a Music Therapist will challenge me musically when it comes to improvisation, and I am excited about this. While music therapists do work with songs that provide a form (a key, a chord progression, a song structure), often they don’t. Then it becomes all about responding and interacting with music led by the person we are working with. That randomness excites me and challenges me as a musician. I will need to pick up more instruments, improve my improvisation and learn to listen better.

From a song writing perspective this is unchartered territory. But I am sure that many of my experiences through music therapy, in the first instance the training, will inform my song writing. I’m excited to see how!

About MusicHelps:

MusicHelps supports hundreds of projects across New Zealand, each using the power of music to change the lives of thousands of New Zealanders in need.

We also provide emergency assistance to thousands of music people experiencing hardship and illness through our suite of music support services, including a world first, professional online, on-the-phone and face-to-face counselling service tailored to people who make music possible.

About Raukatauri:

The Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre was founded in March 2004 by singer Hinewehi Mohi, her husband George Bradfield, and music industry executive and promoter, Campbell Smith, to provide music therapy services to individuals with special needs. The Centre receives its name from Hinewehi’s daughter, Hineraukatauri. Hineraukatauri has severe cerebral palsy and received music therapy for the first time while on a family trip to London in 1999. During these sessions, she was able to engage and communicate in ways not previously thought possible, making her family determined to bring the life changing benefits of music therapy home to Aotearoa-New Zealand.

About The Kate Edgar Charitable Trust:

The Trust’s main purpose is to help others achieve in furthering their education and is named in recognition of Kate Milligan Edger (1857-1935), the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in New Zealand, and the second in the British Empire.