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The Healing Power of Music

Written by Melissa Dellacato
9/24/2015

Daniela Schmiedlechner 14 works with children in Florida. Photo by Michael Price

The summer before her senior year of college, Daniela Schmiedlechner ’14 started babysitting a three-year-old girl who had autism spectrum disorder and didn’t speak. Sometimes, if the little girl seemed restless or agitated, Schmiedlechner would sing to her, and the girl would calm down. When Schmiedlechner noticed the positive effects of her singing, the music performance major decided to do a vocal exercise where she sang vowels repeatedly to the girl. About an hour afterward, the girl looked at her and started repeating the vowels.  

“She started going, ‘A…E…I…,’ and it was just such a gratifying feeling,” she said, to know that music could have such a positive effect. 

Schmiedlechner decided to research careers that would give her this feeling all the time, which eventually led to her discovery of music therapy. Thanks to her brother, she already knew a little something about the healing power of music.

Surrounded by Music

Schmiedlechner grew up in Ukraine surrounded by music. Her father played the accordion and violin, and her aunt was a piano professor in Italy. Schmiedlechner began taking piano lessons as young as four years old and started vocal lessons at seven. She used to sing to her younger brother who was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination. Despite the difficulties such a disorder poses, Schmiedlechner said her brother is always “happy and determined”—and he loves music. 

“I would love to help other children who are like him and improve their quality of life as much as possible through music,” Schmiedlechner said.

Choosing Ithaca

Schmiedlechner considered music schools in the United States, United Kingdom, and Austria. She heard about Ithaca through a connection in her high school, and she was intrigued by the classes and the opera workshops that were offered—in addition to the impressive voice faculty members. Once she visited campus for her audition, she was hooked.

“It was February, it was covered in snow, and I loved it,” she said. “And then the auditions were so professional. Everything was just really well organized.”

Schmiedlechner majored in music performance and minored in integrated marketing communications, which she hoped would give her a range of employment opportunities. During her junior and senior years, she was also involved in a few performances, including two operas. She described the last opera she performed in, L’étoile, as one of her favorite experiences. 

“The costumes were awesome. We had neon-colored wigs. It was so cool,” she said. “My sophomore and junior recitals were great, but for the senior one I got to sing in Ford [Hall], and my family came, which was really nice.” 

Moving On     

Schmiedlechner is currently a full-time student at the University of Miami studying music therapy. In the three-year music therapy master’s degree equivalency program, she is catching up on undergraduate classes that she hadn’t needed to take as a music performance major, such as psychology and neuroscience courses. Once she completes those course requirements, she will begin taking graduate-level courses required for the master’s degree.

“Even though I didn’t do music therapy [at Ithaca], my degree was still really valuable,” she said. “And I made so many great friends that I’ll have for life and awesome relationships with the professors.” 

Schmiedlechner is currently doing her practicum in the orthopedic unit at Miami Children’s Hospital. She recently attended a music therapy conference where she was elected secretary of the southeastern region of the American Music Therapy Association of Students

“With all the work I’ve done in acting classes and all the performances I’ve done, I’ve definitely continued to develop my ability to empathize with other people, which I feel has helped me a lot with my current program,” she said. 

After completing graduate school, Schmiedlechner hopes to get a job working with children as a music therapist in a hospital. Eventually, she would like to open up a private practice, maybe go back to performing—or help to start a music therapy program at IC if the opportunity presents itself.

“I could just go back to Ithaca and become a professor there because I love it so much,” she said. “It was the first place I lived away from my parents at such a critical age. I feel like it’s a home to me.” 



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