Q&A With Music Therapist Tom Biglin (‘85)

A Q&A with music therapist Tom Biglin (‘85) about his career and how his time at Stuyvesant informed his path later in life.

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Name: Tom Biglin

Age: 56

Date of Birth: August 24, 1967

Graduation Year: 1985

Occupation: Music Therapist

Bio: Tom Biglin attended Stuyvesant from 1981 to 1985 and was involved in theatrical productions like SING!, as well as musically-focused student-run clubs. He received his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Theatre at the University of Pennsylvania but was later introduced to the field of music therapy—he received his master’s degree in the field from New York University. After working as a music therapist at various medical facilities throughout New York for over a decade, he is currently attending and co-teaching at Temple University, where he will receive his PhD in music therapy.  

1. Did you take any music classes at Stuyvesant?

I was in the Renaissance choir [which performed choral music from the Renaissance period]. I wound up directing it my senior year. I took it as a freshman all the way through [senior year], and that was [done] on our own. That was all zero period [a period of time designated for student-run clubs before first period] stuff. [...] We [also] had a music theory class that was taught by a student who went to Juilliard, but I don’t remember if I had any [of those] music classes. [...] I was involved in the concert choir as well as the stuff that I did on my own.

2. How did you learn about music therapy?

I had to learn to play guitar for a show. I auditioned and they said, “Can you play guitar?” I didn't know how to play the guitar, so they hired me and I’m like, “Uh-oh.” I went out, bought a guitar the next day, and taught myself to play in six weeks. I would go to music stores and I came across an ad in the back of the guitar magazine. It was a thing for performance wellness and I was like, “Oh, what's this about?” So, I called the person: she’s a doctor, talking about ways to help performers deal with their anxieties. I thought, “This is interesting, let me check this out.” She was connected to NYU, and she had a private class. She said, “Well, if you’re interested, you should really check out music [therapy] at NYU.” I’m like, “Music therapy, what’s that?” Music we know about, therapy we know about, but you put it together and you go: “Is that a thing?”

3. What is music therapy?

Music therapy was founded in New York around the turn of World War II. A lot of the returning soldiers would come back, and they called [their trauma] shellshock in those days—a lot of anxiety, a lot of trauma. [Doctors] discovered that music helped relax them. So they thought, “Well, let’s just do more research into this.” [Music Therapy] slowly built up and around 1950; I think they [established] the first program out in the Midwest. I was able to do the things I wanted to do at Stuy, and it took a long time, but they [became connected]. The arts and the sciences met up.

4. Can you tell me about your job as a music therapist?

I work remotely because now I’ve moved. I’ve worked with a lot of older people privately and I had been working at Lenox Hill Hospital for about seven years. [I] was there during COVID working with the palliative medicine team. I was part of palliative medicine, so it was me, a couple of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, chaplaincy, social workers, and I had music. We’re facing serious illnesses, oftentimes life-threatening illnesses, and using music to kind of bring a chance to experience the outside world. [This allows patients] to have some beauty, to have some expression, and the therapy part kicks in for people who maybe don’t believe in therapy but will listen to some music. I’ll sing something, and all of a sudden, people who are having memory issues can remember the songs from when they were younger. Having a chance to use creative arts modality in a therapeutic way has a lot of research benefits.