Dimensions of Music Care Part 7: Training

by Various Writers

The Music Care Training (MCT), a three-level program offered by the Room 217 Foundation, is the only baseline program available for caregivers of all backgrounds to learn the fundamentals of music in care. The program supports participants to understand how music can influence and complement their scope of practice as caregivers.

The third cohort of Level 3 Music Care Training students just completed their program in April, culminating with an Intensive Day in Calgary that was inspiring, thought-provoking, and celebratory.

Peter Exner was part of this cohort, and he shares his story, below, about how the MCT program gave him direction and focus in his musical work with seniors. Peter is just one of many folks who was already using music intuitively in care settings, but knew there was something more they could be doing. The training helped Peter better understand the impact of music on the whole person, and refined his approach to how he delivers his music programs.

 It’s a wonderful example of how the training can help people who are already using music, to use it with greater impact.


Roughly three years ago, the nursing home where my grandma lives approached me and asked if I would be interested in preparing an hour of music for their residents. I had already been playing the piano for my grandma, but nothing scheduled or organized. Without much thought, and with my grandma beside me, I said “Yes, of course!”

Little did I know that after crashing and burning through my first hour of music in a noisy, unwelcoming cafeteria, I’d now be filling my days building and delivering music programs to seniors using the Music Care approach as my guiding light.

That first day was rough. To prepare for it, I’d pulled out my Royal Conservatory of Music books grade 1-10, and I started banging out everything I’d learned. My repertoire would have to be near perfect, and I would need to get from one song to the next as efficiently as possible so I wouldn’t look lazy up there in front of my audience. I managed to pull a few random selections together, and off I went to the nursing home.

After a brief introduction, I started playing the piano for the residents. The seat they gave me was so high I had to take my shoes off to get my knees under the keys. Caregivers were walking and rolling people everywhere, and …the oxygen alarms!

It was one of the longest hours of my life. After about 30 minutes people didn’t even bother clapping anymore. At 45 minutes I was out of music. I looked over at grandma, she was furiously waving her hands up at me in circles – “Play that song you played for me the other day”… Teddy Bears Picnic? Really? That’s crazy talk, these are senior citizens, I thought.

But guess what, grandma was right. Oxygen alarms or not, that song brought the house down. People moved. People smiled. People clapped. People SANG!

I felt both humiliated and deeply moved by my 57 minutes of pain followed by 3 minutes of fame. I knew I needed to figure out what had happened. I did some research and attended my first Music Care Conference. Riding the high of meeting other musicians, rec therapists, and music therapists, all interested in how music could support their care, I enrolled in the Music Care Training Program.

Level 1 asked some very basic questions; why music? Why care? Ideas, activities, stories, everything started bubbling to the surface. Why was I trying to program an hour of perfected classical music?

Not only did Level 1 provide me with the framework to understand what I needed to do, but it helped me develop my toolbox for the care context I was in. My Music Care Initiative (MCI) was born and off I went.

The following year was Level 2. I focused on implementing music care programs into my care setting and building my skills as a music care advocate. We looked at the whole person and identified that not only do we have many different needs but many different stories and experiences that have made us who we are today. I built my first playlist for self-care and then got to work on playlists for others. With the help of my local library, I had music coming out of my ears.

Level 2 helped me figure out how to present my programs as musical stories to an audience, rather just playing notes on the piano on autopilot. Stories attached to music allowed me to set the stage so I could safely take a group on a journey outside of their seats and out into the world. This was an important revelation knowing that no two people hear the same song the same way. At the end of Level 2, I made an update to my MCI to better focus where I was headed, and off I went for another year of practice.

The final step, Level 3, was in some ways the finishing touch for my music program, but also the beginning as I push my program out to the community. Two achievements stand out for me today.

First, I tightened up my music program. An hour of music begins with a warm up, a welcome, and then a discussion about the themes of music I will present. More often than not local news usually make its way into a playlist. I’ve even built in time for people to come and go during a session as well as time to debrief and give receive feedback.

Second, Level 3 helped me solidify on paper what I do, how I do it, and what I’m going to do with it. (It’s hard to fluff your way through this level!) Presenting a complete portfolio and plan of action to finish this course gave me a certificate of completion, but more importantly, it gave me a path to follow. A path to build, offer, and deliver my music programs thoughtfully and successfully with the support of the Music Care approach.


Peter Exner is a musician and choir director based in Calgary, AB. He has completed all 3 levels of Music Care Training through the Room 217 Foundation and is a proud Music Care Advocate. Contact Peter at [email protected]