Story and Video by Terran R. Smith
Student Cole Eisenmenger, 22, wore a sports a graphic art, baseball tee, cargo shorts, and Birkenstocks. He flips shoulder-length, hazel hair from his face, that reveal dark brown eyes and a sincere look.
“Some people may look at my long hair and judge me or call me a hippie,” he said with a chuckle. “Which is totally fine, because I’m doing something I see as positive for the world. And that’s what really matters, in my opinion.”
Recently, he mixed music therapy with missionary work. Eisenmenger is a senior majoring in Music Therapy in KU’s School of Music. The first week of June, Eisenmenger travelled to Kingston, Jamaica with the Sacred Heart Church Parish from his hometown, Norfolk, Neb. This was the church’s 13th annual trip to the Mustard Seed Communities.
“These communities take in children whose parents can’t take care of them, or even just pick them up off of the street and take them in. It’s an orphanage, essentially,” Eisenmenger said. “But they do so much despite how little they may have. Some of the communities are 100 percent self-sustaining. It’s incredibly inspiring.”
Although this was not his first mission trip, it was his first based on spiritual and musical connection, both with the children and with himself.
He also says learning music is an important part of understanding and implementing music therapy properly.
Students in music therapy are trained to learn and research how music and its elements, such as: pitch, harmony, melody and dynamics. These elements are used to change people’s behaviors for the better.
“My other goal, other than helping the overall state of the communities, was to use music to bring the children joy,” Eisenmenger said.
Eisenmenger described music therapy as “manipulation of different aspects of musical elements” including pitch, harmony, melody, dynamics.
“These aspects are used towards a non-musical goal, be it social, emotional, academic, or, such as this case, spiritual,” Eisenmenger said.
As he began to play the guitar, Eisenmenger says, a group of 15 or so kids stormed into the room because they heard music.
Eisenmenger brought egg shakers, drum sticks, buckets, and gathered other instruments so the children could join. Children crowded the room, played along, and began to sing with him.
“I started playing a lot of Bob Marley, which they all knew by heart. It was really powerful. For 20 or 30 minutes, we all became one,” Eisenmenger said. “And, it was all because of the power of music.”
Eisenmenger said he achieved both main goals for the trip. He helped improve construction for the orphanage, and created a connection with the children. What’s more, it inspired him to return after he receives his diploma next May.
“I absolutely want to return to make at least a short-term career there with music therapy,” he said.