Bachelor of Music in music therapy senior La Tasha Butler has been awarded the prestigious 2023–24 Presser Undergraduate Scholar Award.
The monetary award encourages and supports the education of a music student who has achieved a high level of musical and academic excellence, leadership and citizenship. The recipient, selected by music faculty, is known as a Presser Scholar.
Butler began playing violin in the fourth grade, learned the cello in junior high and performed on both instruments in her school orchestras. She also joined the school choir and continued performing in all three ensembles in high school until her family moved to a small town that only had a choir.
“I left home after we moved and dropped out of high school,” said Butler. “I became a young adult in survival mode, facing several challenges like poverty, early parenthood and a life-altering health diagnosis. I felt bound by these things that were out of my control and was grasping for more out of life. I finished high school online at 20 and began looking for a ‘practical’ career.”
Butler said she often felt that her life circumstances were the cause of many missed opportunities, but later realized her early years provided her with a solid musical foundation that she could lean on when re-learning how to play the violin to audition for ASU.
“Each challenge provided me with knowledge and growth as a person, and my health challenges gave me the strength and endurance to see the value in tough experiences,” said Butler. “I didn’t ‘miss’ anything. I seized every growing opportunity that brought me to who I am today — an aspiring music therapist.”
Question: When did you first become interested in music therapy as a career?
Answer: A friend suggested health care as a career, so I enrolled in school to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). During my clinicals, I found my love for health care and began working at a hospital while continuing my education to become a certified patient care technician II (PCTII). As I prepared for nursing school, I realized how much I missed music and wished there was a way to bring health care and music together and discovered the incredible world of music therapy.
Q: If you had to select music therapy or violin as your favorite, which would you select and why?
A: My emphasis is violin. I have spent my time at ASU developing my sound and technical skill, in addition to working to create a place for the violin in the music therapy field. With the generational interests in music constantly evolving, I am excited about using conventional instruments in nonconventional ways to engage with younger clients. I also perform in the ASU Philharmonia and am learning piano, guitar, ukulele and voice.
As part of my program, I participate in local community organizations that provide music therapy and have already experienced two “aha” moments. The first was witnessing a client experience growth toward goals I created for them using instruments. The second was witnessing a client that was originally closed off to the group experience joy and laughter throughout the music therapy session. Moments like these are my drive to continue to use music in health care.
Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I have learned that self-reflection is vital. In my studies, I was taught the importance of self-reflection and how to practice this often. I learned that therapists are continually growing and reflecting just like those they are helping. This completely changed my perspective educationally and in everyday life.
When I came to ASU, I felt pressured to get everything perfect the first time and that showing any faults was shameful. As I practiced self-reflection, I learned how to change my perspective on failure and use it to motivate growth. I was less afraid of being wrong/not good enough and became more eager and excited about what I could learn in that moment. I started applying this to multiple areas in my life and found myself feeling more confident, making more friends, and achieving more in school and work. My internal voice was providing more helpful feedback and less hurtful thoughts. I have learned so much about myself in this process.
Q: Which professor or faculty member taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Melita Belgrave provided a learning environment that felt like a safe space for students to share individual perspectives, beliefs and experiences. She taught us how to self-reflect while building awareness of different cultures and beliefs. While all the professors do a great job scaffolding these skill-building lessons with the way they lay out their classes, my biggest “aha” happened in that space that Dr. Belgrave provided in her classroom when teaching us about self-reflection.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: It will be nice to spend quality time with my family who have been so extremely patient and supportive throughout my educational journey with my schedule being seven days a week for four years.
After I complete my internship, I will have more insight into which area of music therapy I would like to pursue. I am currently exploring different focus areas such as neurorehabilitation or mental health resources in schools. I also plan to experiment with different instruments in new and engaging ways for various clients/patients, further developing my musicianship and music therapy skills. I am excited for all of it.
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