Interview – Jennifer Buchanan

Canadian music therapist Jennifer Buchanan knows that music and a mindfully-made playlist can soothe and improve heath and well-being. She shares both how (and why) in her new book, Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power of a Playlist.

“Just like our physical health, our mental health requires attention — perhaps now more than ever,” Buchanan says. “When you are in transition or feeling lost, music can be the lifeline you need to get you through to the next step. Even during the most challenging of times, it can reassure us that everything is going to be okay.”

Diving deep to transform absent-minded playlist-making into an artful form of self-care, Buchanan is a lighthouse in the endless sea of songs across Spotify, SoundCloud, and the like. Cover to cover, the Calgary-based author, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker wastes no time harnessing her leading expertise as a Certified Music Therapist (MTA) to guide readers through building their own thoughtfully compiled playlists — and why they should.

“Music can transport us to a different place; it can help us remember, or forget,” she explains. “And in theory, putting together a playlist is incredibly simple, but that does not make it easy.

“Wellness, Wellplayed helps you discover all the ways playlists can impact our memory, mood, and motivation,” she continues. “It shows how to use playlists with purpose as a bridge to something deeper within ourselves, and demonstrates how music and playlists can be a way to address our human need to feel, create, and connect.”

It’s a sentiment that resonates: Starting with a forward from The Awesome Music Project’s Rob Carli and Terry Stuart, a Canadian fundraising initiative designed to further research relating to music’s profound impact on mental health, the book also features ringing endorsements from the Eagles’ Don Felder, Toyota North America’s head of Business Transformation Douglas Moore, Live Nation’s Central Region Vice-President Harvey Cohen, Guitars for Vets’ Steve Gilliss, and more.

“There is so much scientific, clinical, and personal evidence that proves music improves health and well-being,” she says. “Music can be a sure friend, and I believe there is no better way to give our mental health the care it needs than through the right music, at the right time, and in the right way.”

Find out more about Jennifer, and her new book below, and be sure to stay up to date with her via her socials.

 

Care to introduce yourself to our readers.

I am the founder of JB Music Therapy a music therapy company that has been instrumental in the implementation of hundreds of music therapy programs throughout Canada for 30 years. We employ a diverse team of 18 Certified Music Therapists (MTAs) who serve a variety of settings from the classroom to corrections, from palliative care to ICU. It has been exciting work with many incredible opportunities to partner with complex organizations on the mission to improve the lives of infants through to those over 100 years old.

I am also the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Music Therapists where I have an opportunity to work within the bigger music therapy landscape and help ensure MTAs across the country and MTAs-to-be have the resources and information they need to succeed in our profession.

Where are you from and where are you currently located?

I was born in New Westminister, British Columbia, grew up in Langley (shout out to Belmont Elementary and Brookswood High School) and went to Capilano University in North Vancouver – – so essentially, I am a BC’ite who moved to Calgary, Alberta at the age of 21 to start my private practice as a music therapist.

Tell us about your new book.

Soon after re-releasing Tune In in 2015, I knew I wanted to give more attention to one of my favorite concepts in the book: designing purposeful playlists. In my thirty years as a music therapist, it has been hands down the best piece of home-health-care-work I have assigned for my clients to do between therapy sessions (similar to the a physiotherapist giving personalized exercises in-between therapy sessions).

Tune In was all about using music intentionally to reduce stress and boost mood. Wellness, Wellplayed is about one specific technique, broken down into several different exercises scattered throughout the book. Each one is designed to give you a process and a product that will benefit your emotional health and wellbeing. Playlists can be a bridge to something deeper within ourselves, and a way to address our human need to feel, create, and connect.

The book also blends education with fun – something I feel we all need right now. So in addition to the experiential exercises, you will also have many opportunities to reflect on the past and feel inspired (or at least find some mild optimism) for your future. The book delves into the history of the mixtape, as well as how music is processed in the brain. You will also read many inspirational stories on how others are connecting to their music that I hope encourages the reader to do the same.

What are the main themes in the book you’d love for people to know.

That when we use the right music in the right way (and I help guide you through a variety of different processes) music can strengthen your health and well-being. Just like our physical health, our mental health requires attention, perhaps now more than ever. I believe there is no better way to give it the care it needs than through the right music, at the right time, and in the right way.

The way in which we order our music is not as important as why we do so. Curating our collections is more than just an exercise — it’s also a form of exploration and self-expression. It is an opportunity to reflect upon, and connect to, our internal values and feelings. The echoes of these values and feelings are discernible in the music itself. A playlist opens an opportunity for us to connect more deeply to something within us — and to share with our family, friends, or, even further, the wider community, if we choose to do so.

Music has the capacity to help you with whatever you are going through. It can truly be your sure friend. Every playlist you develop will bring you into a deep-seeded creative process that will ease your mind and guide you to see your world through a different lens. If you reflect on the past, stay open in the moment, and are willing to embrace the new, your memories, moods, and motivations will continue to grow and change — bringing you a life that is fuller, and more fulfilling, than the life you otherwise would have had.

In the book, I call this ‘a life that is truly wellness, wellplayed’.

I don’t have to share my playlist with the world, right?

You don’t. Although many people love to share playlists. I remember doing that when they were called mixtapes and we had a dual cassette player that we made copies of our favourite mixtape of the moment for our friends.

But I encourage people to remember that music is extremely personal and making music, like a playlist, for yourself is a beneficial form of self-care. If I could make one suggestion here it would be to think about a feeling you would want to strengthen – comfort, happiness, zest in your life – and create a playlist all around that feeling. This adds in the intention behind the playlist.

Is it true listening to sad songs when we’re sad can make us feel better? Why?

One-hundred percent. It is because sad music validates us. And if you think about what you need when you are sad it is often a sense of validation, of understanding. You certainly don’t need someone really optimistic around you at that time 🙂 – what you need is someone or in this case something that understands where you are at in the moment. Music has the capacity to meet you where you are at.

With that said – I do recommend that if you don’t feel validated or even a little better after listening to music, especially if you typically do, then it is really important you reach out and get some professional support. Consider reaching out to certified music therapist (MTA) (musictherapy.ca). There are also many other mental health professionals that would be interested in supporting you.

What songs consistently come up on YOUR playlist, and why?

I love groove. Songs that have a strong and interesting bass to them. They don’t have to be too fast – but they can be.

I love Nina Simone, Keb’Mo, Tracy Chapman, Evanescence, Ruthie Foster and a whole host of pop, hip hop, country, rhythm and blues, reggae, gospel and rock – new and old school.

As a music therapist, there is so much music we pay attention to and learn through our clients.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

Serena Ryder is currently my absolute favourite – she was the last concert I saw prior to the pandemic, and I am sure glad it was her music that got stuck in my head last.

The first concert I saw when we had a little reprieve from COVID last fall was “The Last Waltz” a reprisal tribute to ‘the Band.’ Speaking of groove, my colleague and music therapist Lisa Jacobs rocked her bass with Jimmy Rankin, Barney and Dustin Bentall, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, Colin Linde, and Russell Broom. It was some serious Canadian talent.

I can’t help but love Justin Bieber – It feels like we have been watching him forever and today he is only 27 – how is that even possible?? I find myself rooting for him and loving to watch him find his purposeful path.

Shad’s new album Tao is really speaking to me because of the diversity of styles and influences that are layered behind his thought provoking words and beats.

It is really tough to stop…as soon as someone asks me about my favourite music I quickly begin to feel guilty about all the greats that have meant so much to me throughout the years – the Good Lovelies, Alanis, Shania, Sarah, and Anne Murray just to name a few – generations of artists that are deeply rooted in my own personal soundtrack.

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