Summer Centered: Alex Bernas ’19 Fosters Healing Through Music at the HMS School for Children With Cerebral Palsy
The music major is volunteering in the music therapy program at the Philadelphia private school this summer.
For Alex Bernas ’19, music has always been about skill and finesse. But this summer, she's learned that it can also be about healing.
With the Gertrude Albert Heller Memorial Grant from the Center for Career and Professional Advising (CCPA), the music major from Makati, Philippines, is volunteering at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. Although the HMS School began in 1882 with the small altruistic acts of Helen Innes and her husband, who was a Christian minister, it later evolved into a private school that provides education and care services for children with cerebral palsy in Pennsylvania. One of those services, arts therapy, incorporates art, dance, and theater into the children's care. Bernas is directly involved in their music therapy program.
Her responsibilities include contributing keyboard accompaniment to classes, encouraging student participation, and planning songs before class. Bernas also helps her supervisor, music therapist Brad Biederman, document the progress of the students.
“Since HMS is a small institution, all the staff members are tightly knit,” she says. “Though I work with the music therapist, I also had the opportunity to sit in on department meetings and have pleasant exchanges with the other HMS therapists.”
Even though she used to be focused on “working towards technical perfection and comprehensive understanding of my repertoire,” after a Chamber Singers trip to Berlin, during which she sang with choirs that included Syrian refugees and German natives, she realized that music “was more than just notes on a paper.”
Bernas discovered the HMS School while searching for music therapy opportunities in the Philadelphia area. For a music major who is also on a pre-med track, music therapy as treatment for mental illness or disabilities “was the best combination of my interests.”
“The most exciting thing for me is seeing just how wrong the [stigma towards disability] is,” the Philippines local said. “Working with the HMS students made me realize that there is a lot of cognitive and motor behind-the-scenes work for making music.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.