Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Return to music feeds the soul

Janna Frelich ’78Janna Frelich ’78 started singing when she was 2 years old, took up piano at 7, and joined her first chorus at 9. It was the beginning of a life steeped in music.

Second actsFrelich earned two degrees in music. She sang in adult choruses, wrote songs, learned to play the harp and worked as a church soloist. But as much as she loved music, it remained a part-time pursuit, until recently. In 2010, after working in health research positions for 26 years, Frelich quit her job as a statistical programmer and enrolled in graduate school to become a music therapist and mental health counselor.

“I rediscovered the joys of my true vocation and decided to embark on a new path to help others heal and stay well,” she says.

Frelich majored in music at Wheaton, with a minor in studio art. At a medieval festival on campus, she got her first taste of early music and “was hooked.” She and classmate Rose Larrabee Fox founded a chamber singing group and hosted a music festival during their senior year.

Frelich went on to earn a master’s degree in early music from Sarah Lawrence College, then moved to Boston to be with her boyfriend, whom she later married. Unable to find the right job in music, Frelich took an administrative position at Harvard University that morphed into a job in computer programming. Understanding computers, she says, came naturally to her.

She found that the job offered a decent living, but, especially toward the end, it didn’t feed her soul.

“In the last several years at the university, I was not as fulfilled by my projects. For me, it was a job, not a career,” she says. Though she didn’t know what to call it at the time, she was also suffering from depression.

“I never felt that my work was contributing to making a difference in the world,” she adds.

After leaving her job, she pondered what to do next.

“The turning point came in January 2012, when I heard a news report about the use of Melodic Intonation Therapy (singing therapy) for stroke or brain injury victims,” she says. “The report was about Representative Gabby Giffords’s treatment with that therapy, to learn how to speak again. I said to myself, ‘That sounds awesome. I want to do that!’”

Frelich is now in her first year of grad school at Lesley University. She will come out of the program with both a certificate in music therapy and a license in mental health counseling. Her first-year internship is at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester, which serves families of homicide victims.

Recently certified as a postpartum doula, a specialist who cares for new mothers at home, she believes that music therapy will blend well into this practice.

“Music therapy techniques can help women mentally prepare for becoming a parent, physically cope with pain in childbirth, and bond with and breastfeed the baby,” she says. “Research supports the use of music therapy for those goals.”

Frelich has emerged from depression and says her creativity has been “reborn” now that she has more time to devote to music. An active performer, she writes a blog on creativity (jannamariahappy.wordpress.com) and is writing songs again.

In fact, much of her homework takes the form of reflection papers and artistic responses, so “often, an assignment means I get to write another song and create another melody,” she says. “To me, that is homework from heaven.”