Roberta S. Kagin, Judith Jellison, and David Wolfe are our founding members! Earlier pioneers also included Forest Slaughter in Lino Lakes and Lu Roger Schroeder at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Louise Whitebeck Fraser was also an early advocate of using music as therapy (Fraser – Minnesota was founded on music as a basis for learning). However, Mrs. Fraser was not a Registered Music Therapist (our initial credential), because there was no such designation back in 1935 when she started her home school program! Margaret Schmitt was a friend and contemporary of these early advocates.

Minnesota was the first state in the Great Lakes Region of AMTA (GLR) to organize; however, Wisconsin was the first state recognized by the GLR as they submitted the first official state constitution for our region. There was no Certification Board for Music Therapists at this time and no competency-based criteria.

In 1958, a national Rotary conference in Minneapolis featured founders in the field of music therapy, including E. Thayer Gaston. Schmitt Music offered to house our national office in Minneapolis at that time, but it ended up housed in Lawrence, Kansas, due to Dr. Gaston’s prominence at The University of Kansas.

Although the Schmitt family gave a land grant to the U of M in the 1960s to start the first program in music therapy, our state’s educational programs both officially started in the 1970s. Roberta taught the first course at the University of Minnesota (“Introduction to Music Therapy”) in 1973 before starting the Augsburg College Music TherapyProgram in 1974. Judith was then hired to develop the program at the U of M. They only had one textbook (“Music in Therapy” edited by E. Thayer Gaston in 1968), and they actually helped him review this foundational monograph before it was officially published!

These music therapy programs were originally geared towards band instruments and classical music, along with harmonicas and rhythm instruments. Drum and bugle corps were also popular! While guitar was an important instrument of the 1960s and 1970s, it was primarily used when students gathered to sing protest songs – it was not actually studied as part of the music therapy programs! The importance of guitar and the proliferation of materials and books are just a couple of the changes these pioneers in our field have seen over the years!

Dr. Roberta Kagin was the President of the GLR when Minneapolis hosted the GLR Music Therapy Conference in 1975. Robert Schmitt was at the head table along with her – and Garrison Keillor was the keynote speaker.