Jodi Winnwalker, Oregon Music Therapist Pioneer, in Conversation with Tamara Gilbert (republished from Oct. 2011)
CATA: Portland has a reputation for Indy music and seems to be a place where music therapists can find work. What first brought you to Oregon?
Jodi: The green trees, flowing rivers, and fresh air of Oregon said: “Jodi, this is your home. This is where you belong.” I didn’t come to Oregon in 1981 for the Indy music. But I did choose to walk the path of the independent music therapist as jobs for music therapists were few and far between. I had grown up in the South — I’m talking Louisiana South and Texas South. Oregon was a completely new frontier for me, and I absolutely loved it.
I moved to Salem, OR to complete my six-month music therapy internship at Fairview Training Center. It was the only internship site in Oregon at the time. Afterward, I graduated with a BA in Music Therapy from West Texas State University. The Certification Board for Music Therapists had just been established. Therefore, unlike my many professional peers and students, I was “grandmothered in” and have never actually taken the test!
CATA: How did the field of music therapy become your life’s calling?
Jodi: Music Therapy truly was a calling because I did not seek it out. It found me “when I was a little drink of water,” as they say in the South. Music and service have always been a part of my life, my being. When we were small, my mother sang to us all the time. I have very fond memories of the Burl Ives records. To this day I can hear “Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings in that Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
My older brother, David, was born with Down syndrome and profound mental retardation. Now 53 years old, David is a very sweet man with a gentle disposition, a love for music. He is also a great teacher. He taught me that those who have access to resources (body, mind, spirit) have a responsibility to share those resources with others. David and I connected (and still do) through the magic of music.
CATA: Where is David now?
Jodi: Last year my mom and I visited David at his group home in Alexandria, Louisiana. I took advantage of this special time to videotape my mom telling the story of David’s birth: her response of fear, sadness, and deep love. (Keep in mind that this was the 1950’s and there was minimal information and a severe lack of support.) Despite all odds, Mom was able to keep David at home with her four other children until he turned nine. It was during this time that I (a year younger than
David) bonded deeply with my brother, assisting Mom with his care and participating in family activities such as music. One of David’s favorite songs (to this day) is “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It was delightful to capture the precious connection my mom, David, and I have through singing this simple song together.
As a sister, I say: “David literally lights up with music.” As a music therapist, I state: “David demonstrates a positive response to music presented as evidenced by increased eye contact, attention span, alertness, vocal and physical responses.” No matter how you say it, David loves music, and it is through music that he is able to share the depth of who he is. So, David is the one who pointed the way and shaped my future.
CATA: What educational experiences helped shape your career?
Jodi: My personal love for music continued throughout my school years. Through school choir I was introduced to the aesthetics of great music and had opportunities for collaboration and leadership. I learned about the power of music — that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
So, when my high school choir director suggested music therapy as a profession, I was primed. The power of love combined with the power of music. How can you beat that?
CATA: Not only are you a music therapist, but you’re also a savvy business woman. How has your company, Earthtones, grown and changed since you first founded it in 1992?
Jodi: I can’t help but chuckle to hear the terms “savvy business woman.” I am still growing into that position. I see myself as a music therapist who seeks to collaborate with others in order to provide services that one woman could not do alone. Thus, I have developed business skills in an organic manner by consulting and collaborating with the amazing individuals and organizations in our community. The Portland Creative Arts Therapies Association (CATA) is an example.
As for Earthtones … after seven years of working as a board certified music therapist at Fairview Training Center, Oregon State Hospital, and Portland Adventist Medical Center, I decided that I was ready to spread my wings and go into private practice. To prepare myself, I went back to school and obtained my Master of Social Work degree from Portland State University.
After I graduated in 1992, the seed of Earthtones took root. My partner, Tom Winn, and I started with one contract, no specific business plan, no budget, and no marketing — just striving to provide the best service possible and listening for needs in the community. The name “Earthtones” came to Tom when he was camping out on the Alvord Desert. We grew by responding to requests from the community and referrals made through word-of-mouth.
CATA: So that’s the beginnings of Earthtones, how does Earthtones function today?
Jodi: Moving forward 15 years, Earthtones is still family owned, but it is also a community of incredible, passionate, highly skilled professionals. Earthtones’ staff consists of me as CEO, my husband Greg as IT expert, Program Director Emily Murer, MS, MT-BC, Clinical Training Director Alexis Barker, MT-BC, an accountant, an office assistant, legal consultant, 18 independent contractors, and three to six music therapy interns.
Earthtones provides services to persons with special needs along the Vancouver, Portland and Salem corridor. Earthtones also provides consultation, assessments, program development, ongoing evaluation, education and training, presentations for conferences, support groups, and retreats for caregivers. As a university-affiliated internship site for graduating music therapy students. I’m proud that Earthtones has trained 33 interns from Marylhurst University, Willamette University, Utah State University, and Michigan State University since 2003. Many of these former interns have chosen to remain in the Portland, develop their own businesses and contract with Earthtones. I love witnessing and being a part of deepening relationships with my friends and professional peers. The Oregon Association for Music Therapy exemplifies how a group of professionals can work together to promote an important mission and serve the community.
CATA: So what’s your business philosophy at this point?
Jodi: Earthtones’ mission it to provide quality music therapy services to our community. It takes a village to do so. I have always felt a part of something greater than myself and experienced the interconnectedness of everything. Earthtones is deeply rooted in this philosophy. I have never done anything alone.
Earthtones has been a gathering of extraordinary people who have shared their time, passion, and expertise — some as employees, some as independent contractors, some as family — all as friends.
I now realize that Earthtones is its own entity. Meaning, it is made up of all the people who work collaboratively on meeting its mission. Therefore, Earthtones could still be serving the community 50 years from now — with or without me. I fantasize that when I’m 102 I’ll have an Earthtones music therapist to sing with me and adapt a marimba for me to play.
I am a “Yes person.” I will always strive to find a way to say yes. This keeps my plate very full and sometimes I get in trouble with over-commitment. But I have been this way for 52 years, and it keeps me very happy.
CATA: How does this approach play out with Earthtones?
Jodi: I am a big believer in collaborations. I thrive and believe Earthtones thrives when engaging in collaborative community service. Four wonderful projects that exemplify Earthones’ collaborations include:
- Tremble Clefs of Portland, co-sponsored by Earthtones, Marylhurst University and Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon. is a choir program specifically developed for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones to enjoy the beauty of music, social benefits of a choir, and physical benefits of exercising the voice through singing.
- Sing Here Now, co-sponsored by Earthtones and the Alzheimer’s Association is Portland’s first choir for people with early memory loss.
- Both EarthSong Chant Circle & EarthBeat Drum Circle, offered monthly, are co-sponsored by Earthtones and TaborSpace as ways for anyone to participate in music making through chanting or drumming.
CATA: As the owner of a for profit company, executive director of a nonprofit , an activist in creative arts therapies organizations, and a musician, what do you do to recharge your own batteries?
Jodi: I am actually a “socialized introvert.” I am re-charged by spending quality time alone and with others. I love to sleep a minimum of seven to eight hours. I set aside quiet, meditative time first thing in the morning. I enjoy reading poetry and books that focus me inward, connect me with my spiritual center and expand my perspective. I design days for “doing exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it.” I treasure the special times with family and dear friends — those one-on-one talks, hiking out in nature, taking in the vitality of our beautiful world. More dynamic charges come from musical gatherings, chant circles, drum circles and playing marimba with ZIMBA! and singing with Daughters of Harriett.
CATA: As a mentor to many music therapists over the years, what do you recommend to those who are just starting out in the field here in Oregon?
Jodi: Do what you feel passionate about. Listen deeply. Follow your heart. No matter how afraid you feel or how much doubt you may have in yourself, simply find a way to say “Yes,” show up, and do it. Spend more time wondering how you can serve others than you do wondering what they can do for you. See everyone as your teacher and mentor. Call upon the support of those who have come before you, including our amazing professional organizations, American Music Therapy Assocation and the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Be familiar with and contribute to the growing body of research and evidence-based practice. Maintain a collaborative spirit. Reach out to your community. Serve them. Make music with them. People will recognize your integrity and skill. They will look to you to show them the magic power of music. Music therapy is on the rise. We need you.