For Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes BMT ‘95, marrying her love of music with her desire to help others has provided the basis for an incredibly fulfilling career.
The alumna has used her artistic gifts to assist the very old and the very young, and is teaching a new generation just how beneficial a tool music can be.
Clements-Cortes calls music therapy “my dream career”.
“The performing arts were a very big part of my life,” she explains. “I took dance lessons for many years as a child and teen, and participated in musicals, choirs, folk groups and voice lessons.”
In Grade 12, a co-operative education placement with a music therapist inspired her to pursue it for her vocation. “I saw the impact music was having on the clients.”
Born in Kitchener, Ont., she chose to attend the University of Windsor because its music therapy program allowed students to enter the honours bachelor degree in first year. “I was passionate about the degree when I chose it, and wanted to get started right (away).”
Her professors and peers made the experience enjoyable. “We were a small class. The people who graduated alongside me are still some of my closest friends. They were all genuine persons inspired to make a difference.
“The professors were amazing,” she adds. “I fondly remember my time in that program, the concerts I participated in, and the Wind Jammers ensemble.”
Post-graduation, she completed the required 1,000 clinical internship in Toronto to become certified as a music therapist, and then opened her own studio “Notes by Amy”.
“It began as a vocal and performing arts teaching studio, and evolved into a music therapy, registered psychotherapy and consulting/research business,” she says.
Her extensive clinical experience includes working with persons across the lifespan in geriatrics, mental health , palliative care, developmental delays, cognitive impairment, trauma, Parkinson's, and stroke. She has worked in such settings as hospitals and nursing homes.
Clements-Cortes later earned her master’s and doctoral degrees to advance her skills, and also to conduct research and eventually teach.
In 2007, she received her first sessional teaching contract at UWindsor in the School of Music, teaching there from 2007 until 2015, when the program closed and graduated its last students.
“I was and have always been committed to UWindsor,” she says. “I commuted from Toronto each week from 2007-2015 to teach at UWindsor. I was very dedicated to my students and the music therapy program.”
Currently, the alumna is an instructor in music therapy, gerontology, music and health and research methodology at three universities, and works one day a week as a certified music therapist and registered psychotherapist.
She also supervises music therapy undergraduate and graduate students in their clinical placements.
Clements-Cortes performs a great deal of unpaid service work. “I love my profession and believe in giving back,” she says. She’s currently the past-president of the World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT), and the managing editor for Music and Medicine. She also serves on the review boards for nine international journals, and on committees for the Canadian and American Associations for Music Therapists. She also has numerous publications and presented her research in countries around the globe.
Her clinical specialty focuses on older adults who have dementia, mental health issues or are in need of palliative care. Her doctoral research specifically examined the role of music therapy in relationship completion in palliative care.
Through her research, Clements-Cortes learned a great deal about the effectiveness of a variety of music therapy techniques to help clients in expressing important sentiments to their loved ones in their last days.
“We wrote songs and created legacy gifts for family members. It is an honour that, at such a challenging time, people have welcomed me into their lives to support them in navigating their terminal illness.”
One particularly memorable clinical moment occurred with a client, “Jackie”, who was suffering from terminal brain cancer. “Her husband and I created nine songs from the poetry and letters he had written his wife during their marriage.”
Clements-Cortes recorded the songs and created an album which the husband gave to those who attended his wife’s memorial service. The music therapist also performed the songs at the service, accompanied by a UWindsor student.
By continuing to conduct research and continuing to advance her education, Clements-Cortes says she’s able to put best practices into action for the benefit of her clients.
“I love working with older adults and seeing the impact that music therapy and psychotherapy can have in a number of health and wellness domains.”
Her professional activities don’t leave her much time, but she says she manages to spare some for spending time with her family, cooking, running—and, of course, music. “I do enjoy going to concerts, theatre and opera.”