Music therapist Gayle Cloud uses music to restore health

Gayle Cloud ’14 helps heal the sick, but you won’t find her with a stethoscope or writing a prescription. Instead, armed with a cart full of instruments and her soothing voice, this neurologic music therapist offers patients a musical form of medicine.

From helping parents of premature, fragile babies compose custom lullabies to providing intentional music therapy interventions to critically ill patients, Gayle combines the feel-good nature of music with scientific evidence of its healing power. Music is proven to enhance mood and self-awareness; reduce stress and anxiety; support social connections; and encourage creative expression. It also can reduce pain and medication use; lower heart rate and blood pressure; improve flexibility, mobility, and gait; and enhance cognition.

Gayle is the first and only music therapist at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. She began forging UWMC’s music therapy program four years ago as part of its “Arts in Healing” program, which also includes an art therapist.

Gayle Cloud performs in a hospital “I wanted a meaningful career that would allow me to give back to the community and help people who are living with medical concerns and life challenges,” Gayle said.

Gayle creates music therapy offerings for each patient care area of the hospital, including the intensive care, transplant, cardiac, rehabilitation, antepartum and medical surgery units. She also receives referrals from palliative care, comfort care, and psychiatric consultations hospitalwide. In addition to spending significant time educating clinical staff on the benefits of music therapy, she supervises practicum students from Seattle Pacific’s music therapy program. And she’ll often become an integral part of patients’ physical, speech, occupational, and recreational therapy. Gayle’s work with preemies was featured on the local news.

“The program is comprehensive and in keeping with the rigorous national standards needed to prepare a student to become a board-certified music therapist.”

It’s a deeply satisfying vocation that Gayle didn’t begin until she was in her 50s. Prior to becoming a music therapist, she was the founder and owner of a Seattle-based public relations firm and worked as a singer/songwriter, performer, and recording artist in Paris and New York City. Her musical prowess and her ability to market herself and persuasively communicate about the healing benefits of music have been integral to her success as a music therapist.

Gayle also credits SPU’s music therapy program — the first in the state of Washington — for giving her a strong foundation.

“The program is comprehensive and in keeping with the rigorous national standards needed to prepare a student to become a board-certified music therapist,” she said. “I especially appreciated the intimacy of the program — it was warm, welcoming and supportive. It’s like a family. The connections ran deep and I believe they will continue throughout my life.”

Though Gayle was the oldest student in every class she took, she said her age was a non-issue: “I was always closer in age to my professors than my classmates, so I sometimes walked in the zone between both. [Associate Professor of Music] Carlene Brown, the music therapy director, was a truly wonderful mentor and support. I appreciate that she is still in my life today and that we can collaborate in our efforts to grow the presence of music therapy in the Pacific Northwest. I loved connecting with a group of talented and committed students, and I now have a host of younger friends.”

“Music is such a good way to support individuals in need through their own personal faith.”

Gayle is grateful that her work gives her an opportunity to connect with people of all backgrounds and faiths. “Music is such a good way to support individuals in need through their own personal faith,” she said. “I have been able to sing in Hebrew, share gospel music with entire families, and even had the glorious experience of learning a prayer chant from a Native American couple.”

UWMC is an adult teaching hospital, so Gayle works to align her music therapy program with emerging science. She is currently conducting a research trial in the cardiac units to track the benefits of providing music therapy services to pre- and post-heart transplant patients. She’s also joined some hospital research teams that are pursuing music therapy-related grants.

Outside of work, Gayle invests deeply in her family, spending considerable time with her husband, her two daughters and their spouses, two stepchildren, and four grandchildren.

Someday — perhaps when life slows down just a bit — she’d love to return to the stage: “I intend to get back up there. Performing has always been a wonderful passion for me.”

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