Music Therapy Fosters Connections at NW Works

Walking through the thick, cinderblock halls of NW Works, it can be easy to miss the strumming of a guitar and the tapping of a tambourine. But the laughter flowing out of the Music Therapy room is impossible to ignore.  

Two days a week, Allison Terrell of Attune Music Therapy provides music therapy services to day program participants. With nearly 35 clients participating across five groups, Terrell stays busy, whether she’s preparing for a session, running it or compiling progress notes afterwards.  

“We are a clinical therapy, meaning that we set goals and objectives and we track progress on those every single session.” she said. “I’m trained in psychology, I’m trained in music and I’m trained in Music Therapy, which is a marriage of the two to know how to affect change, how to respond, how to support within the music medium.” 

NW Works has offered Music Therapy since late 2021. Through 45-minute sessions, Terrell leads individuals through several activities that incorporate playing instruments, singing, dancing and even discussion. Sessions focus on promoting pro-social behaviors, emotional awareness and autonomy.  

“The trend has been upward!” she said. “We’re showing progress on all three goals.” 

While the groups often practice playing and engaging together, it’s not uncommon for people to be going to the beat of their own drum either. Literally.  

“We have some awesome floor drums,” Terrell explained, such as djembes and tubanos. Individuals can choose from all types of instruments, such as ukuleles, tone chimes, bells, maracas and even an ocean drum, thanks to generous grants from the American Woodmark Foundation, the McNichols Family Foundation, the Newton B. Shingleton Trust, and the Truist Foundation to purchase instruments. 

“People have been tremendously forthcoming with support for the Music Therapy Program at NW Works,” said Carly Stoliker, the Director of Development at NW Works. “From individual donors, to events, to family and private foundations, supporting music as a means of development, healing and personal growth checks the boxes for most people wanting to make a positive impact in their community. Gifts to the program fund the purchasing of instruments and partnering with Allison, but they also support each individual participant’s journey towards improved self-expression, personal autonomy and joy. Without community support, the program wouldn’t have reached as many lives as it has.” 


During one session in late January, participants explored the theme of teamwork through music. After pairing up to play drums to the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”, the group swapped to dancing to the “Electric Slide.” Individuals practiced the steps together, reminding each other of the directional changes throughout the song.  

“Movement is always a hit,” Terrell said. “And it fluctuates. I might plan a day, and everyone comes in and there’s high energy. So, we’ll do like movement every other experience to keep everyone engaged. Or it’s a really low energy day so we’ll do listening and discussion or more instrument playing.”  

Following the line dancing, the group returned to their seats to discuss the song “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.  

“What does this song mean in terms of teamwork?” Terrell asked.  

“Everybody has their good days and bad days, and we should all be there for each other,” said Carol, one of the participants.  


Although the program is separate from the NW Works Chimers group, both serve as partnerships with Shenandoah University. Music therapy students from the college participate in the bi-weekly sessions at the facility. Initially they start shadowing Terrell and as the semester continues, they progress into facilitating experiences and ultimately, entire sessions. 

“The groups loved them!” she said of former students Casey and Grace, who worked with clients to write an original song in November. “It’s all about community and connection.” 

One of Terrell’s favorite parts of the program is the ability to see different personalities shine during sessions. 

“Anthony comes to mind; he is so expressive and so moved by music and that flourishes here. Sue is so supportive and she’s going around high fiving everyone and handing out instruments,” she said. “I think everyone has their personality and role just in life, and it’s supported in here and flourishes in a positive way.”  

You don’t need to have musical experience to participate in the program. Terrell says music therapy provides a level playing field for everyone to meet. 

“We all have the capacity to hear and/or feel music. It doesn’t matter what your ability is, it doesn’t matter what your disability is, you have a connection to music,” said Terrell. “It’s always been part of us as humans.”