Claire McGlew: Making music therapy harmony in Perth

“Listening to music lights up the brain and releases endorphins to make you feel good. It’s a great way of communicating with others when words are not enough.”

That’s the reason why Claire McGlew is a music therapist. These are her words. The 31-year-old is legally blind and is a music therapist with her own private practice. She also works part-time at St John of God Hospitals, working out of Subiaco and Mount Lawley.

“Music positively affects the brain and has the power to reduce agitation and anxiety. I love connecting with people, their lives and experiences and providing support when they are feeling low and going through tough times.”

Claire with her black labrador, Guide Dog, Willow

There is plenty of research to show how music therapy helps with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Listening to music and singing songs provides emotional benefits. Scientists say that there are areas of the brain linked to musical memory that can remain functional, despite the progression of the disease. Music therapy can also aid cognitive function and aid depression.

“That’s where I feel I can help. I have clients whose lives are impacted by ill-health and who are adapting to a new life. It has been mentally tough for them, and they have benefitted from music therapy sessions.”

Born into a musical family

Claire has always known she wanted to be a music therapist.

“I was born into a musical house. My mum is especially musical. She would sing us to sleep every night – we have a special bond. We inherited my grandfather’s piano, and we had it in our house growing up. I had music lessons from an early age along with my older brother and sister.”

Claire grew up in regional WA on a farm at Dandaragan in the Wheatbelt area of WA. At 13, she went to boarding school, attending St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls.

“I was that child who loved boarding school. I went on a scholarship to learn viola, but of course, I played every instrument – piano, violin, and of course enjoyed singing and orchestra.”

While at school, there was one thing that came between Claire and her teachers.

“They were pushing me academically, but I wanted to follow my passion – music. My parents were supportive. I do believe you have to follow your heart in what you want to do in life.”

She went to her first-ever National Braille Music Camp as a youngster in her early teens.

“My friend Kylie, now an accomplished sailor and also blind, encouraged me to go. It was over in the Eastern states and I made a lot of new friends and I am in still contact with them today.”

Five years of music therapy study

Claire was the first person to graduate as a blind music teacher from UWA. She attended lectures and seminars with her Guide Dog – never once doubting that her vision impairment would stand in the way of her dream of teaching music.

Claire at the piano with Willow by her feet
Claire grew up with a piano in the family home

She decided to diversify from teaching into music therapy and took a master of Music therapy at Melbourne University. Her graduation was in 2019.

For her master’s degree, she had to complete a clinical placement in Perth at St John of God in Mount Lawley. It led to more work at that hospital and also at St John of God in Subiaco.

“I work with lots of different people. Some may be having mental health problems. I work with older clients who have dementia and people who need physical rehabilitation. Then there are the new parents who find music empowers or relaxes them while giving birth.”

While Claire has faced prejudices, she believes having only minimal vision has helped her as a music therapist because she relies on her other senses, especially hearing.

“My clients know I am blind because of my dog, but they don’t ask many questions, although they usually want to say hello to Willow. A dog attracts a lot of favourable comments.”

Building her music therapy business

Claire is now looking to grow her own practice alongside her work in hospitals.

“Music therapy has been around for a long time, but we are only just realising the huge benefits it brings. Singing and music can trigger emotional memories and release endorphins.”

Now busy expanding her music therapy practice, Claire’s also become a homeowner for the first time.

“I have moved into the suburb of Subiaco and am busy making my house a home. My priority was to have a room big enough to accommodate a piano and I found my ideal house that’s close to the city and other amenities.”

That’s music to our ears, Claire, and enjoy the experience of fine-tuning your new place.

If you’d like to learn more about Claire’s musical therapy services contact:

Claire has received support and service provision from VisAbility. We offer a range of therapies to help you face the future with confidence. Our Community Activity Centre organises group sessions including a weekly music appreciation group.

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