Music has long had a hold on Caryn Widrick’s life: she started playing violin at an early age, and continued with it through high school. She eventually picked up the French horn, and after completing an undergraduate degree in music education, received a master’s in French horn performance as well. “It was a great experience, and I became a much better musician as a result,” she says.
The impact of music on people with special needs has been with her nearly as long, though. “I grew up around people with special needs, and I did volunteer work with children in special programs,” she says. Instead of pursuing French horn auditions, she went into teaching instead, teaching general music and assembling and leading ensembles of all kinds. “Working as a teacher, I saw the benefits of music as a therapeutic means,” she says.
After several years of teaching, she had built up many of the guitar, keyboard and voice skills that she now uses in her therapy sessions. “I knew there was something more I wanted to do,” she says. She entered Drexel University’s arts therapy program, which provided a strong basis both in music and in psychotherapy; her thesis focused on working with children with cystic fibrosis, and through her experiences interning at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and working at both Moss Rehabiliation Hospital and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, she’s worked with infants to some over 100 years old.
Since the establishment of the Kardon Center for Arts Therapy in July 2014, her clients at the Kardon-Northeast Branch have ranged in age from 4 to over 70. She uses all sorts of instruments – mainly guitar and percussion, plus her voice, with occasional French horn – in helping clients to reach goals in socialization, confidence, impulse control, and a range of other needs.
She also coordinates a rock band composed of four of her individual clients. Though she plays guitar, she admits not having a background in rock-and-roll music. “I started it because I saw a need and I wanted to do it,” she says. “They all had social needs, and they don’t often have outside experiences meeting other people.” The band, called the Timeless Brotherhood, has played together for almost five years, with weekly rehearsals and regular performances, and Widrick has been proud to see each band member learn, grow and showcase their creativity and personality through the band.
Having worked at the former Kardon Institute since 2002, Widrick now has a new set of colleagues to whom she can go with questions – everything from instructional approaches to “how do I play this chord?” “Your skills grow as you work, and I continue to work on my musical skills,” she says. “All clients are different and have unique needs, so having other therapists around to bounce ideas off of is a gift.”