Meet Victoria McNeil, MTA: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Updated: Jul 15
I’m a relatively new music therapist but have been making music for over three decades. During those three decades, my relationship with music became complicated. My training had always brought me so much joy, but as the pressures of adulthood mounted my livelihood began to depend on my musicianship and I became a very bitter and unhappy performer. The reality of being a full-time professional horn player appeared bleak to me, and I realized I did not possess the discipline required to maintain a career as a professional musician.
I knew something needed to change in my life, but was not sure where to pick things up. What could I do? What were my strengths? What else did I even like to do? Did I have the patience and commitment to educate a classroom full of children? Had I missed my chance at my childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist? Should I explore the business side of the music industry? What other strengths and interests did I have?
I had investigated the field of music therapy years before but had not considered what the life of a music therapist could look like. As I started asking more questions, I found a former classmate of mine who was studying music therapy at Concordia University in Montreal.
As I learned more, I began to feel that music therapy was something I could see myself doing. It called on all of my previous musical skills, encounters and experiences. It would allow me to be a part of a team and to have a voice. This was ticking so many boxes for me, so I jumped in.
I applied to Concordia’s graduate certificate program and headed down a path that has been rich and fulfilling for me in ways I could not have imagined. It felt scary at the start, but what I found was a community of well educated, highly committed individuals who were asking questions about music that made so much sense to me. I found professionals thinking about how music affects our world and the people in it. I found professionals looking deep into our medical field and questioning how we treat pain, stress, anxiety, and illness. I found people truly ready to collaborate and find answers to these questions in order to serve a broader community.
I feel that I am now doing the work I had been looking for throughout my adult life. My current job places me in a seniors’ community centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where I serve people living with conditions that will affect them for the rest of their lives - mental illness, neurological conditions, dementia, and brain injuries. I offer group and private sessions to members and am building community through music making. Having a place to express yourself fully is what drew me to music making as a child. A place where you can share joy, grief, fear, excitement, and life’s everyday ups and downs; where you can grow and shape yourself for the better. This is why so many people are fascinated by the work we do. Music is a force in our lives whether we realize it or not and it is up to us as music therapists to guide people to use music constructively in their lives. It has taken me a long time to come back to this and to realize that even when I felt angry and scared music was what I needed to sort things out.
I am proud of the work I do and am so lucky to have a group of colleagues who are curious about my work and support me. This dynamic and varied work excites me, and while it does come with its challenges, I am motivated by them. I am motivated by the work that I read about other music therapists doing around the world, by their commitment to advancing the field through research, collaboration, and by the many differences that exist between how each of us works. There is a momentum in this work that I have not known before.
It is such an exciting time to be a music therapist, and to anyone already on this path or to people setting down this road for the first time, keep your mind and hearts open to possibilities.
We are dynamic and strong professionals with skills that stand out – use that to help you make your mark on this field and the people you work with.