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Aug 31, 2011 | Luke Blount

True Calling Segues to Pitch Perfect Ministry

In 1992, Martha Lewis had a good job as a supervisor for regulatory affairs at a natural gas pipeline company in Houston, but after some soul searching, she left her stable job behind to follow what she considered to be a calling to the performing arts.


“I left the corporate world to follow my heart,” Lewis said. “I came to realize that what I really enjoyed was music and dancing and all the arts, but I’m not a performer. I never thought I could do anything with all of this.”


Then Lewis found expressive arts therapy. The discovery would send her down an unexpected path, leading her to co-create the Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP) and later to a Master’s degree in Theology. MHTP is a training program for musicians, teaching them to “provide live therapeutic music, which creates healing environments for the ill and/or dying and all who may benefit.”


“We are not music therapists; we are therapeutic musicians, interactive with the patients,” Lewis said. “Music therapists are also interactive, but with a prescriptive outcome, working towards a cure. For us, we create a healing environment and the music itself is the medicine. There are hundreds of studies showing the effects of music on the body like lowering blood pressure and heart rate.”


When Lewis first discovered therapeutic music, the concept was still new, and there were few training programs in the country. One of the only trainers in the country was Laurie Riley, a professional musician located in Washington who began therapeutic bedside music in 1991. Lewis and Riley teamed up to create MHTP in 1994.


At the time, Lewis knew that combining her love of music with her passion for helping others was her next vocation.


“It was a true calling,” she said. “You really connect with people one on one with your heart. It’s not a matter of expertise like in performance arts, but just connecting and coming from the heart.”


Prior to starting MHTP, Lewis earned her Master’s degree in expressive arts therapy from Vermont College. She did her research project at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, measuring the effects of healing music on the patients in four intensive care units. In two units, the hospital played music for a month, and in the other two they didn’t. According to Lewis, the vitals of those in the two units using music were significantly better.


“Any time you use the arts, the arts bypass the brain and go straight to the heart,” Lewis said. “You can work through a lot of psychological things.”


She emphasized that MHTP discourages recorded music because every therapeutic music session should be crafted for an individual. What works for one patient may not work for another. MHTP was also one of the first programs to encourage the use of many instruments, including vocals. Other organizations existed specifically for the harp, but Riley and Lewis believed all music had healing power.


MHTP now boasts more than 600 Certified Music Practitioners. Lewis served as executive director for the program until she started pursuing her Masters of Theology from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, which she received in January of 2000. A former Roman Catholic, Lewis moved back to Texas to take a job at St. Paul’s, Waco, in Christian formation and has since taken several part-time jobs while still lecturing around the country for MHTP. She currently runs the Special Needs Program at Christ Church Cathedral.


“Ever since I left the corporate world, I haven’t had to look for a job,” she said. “I have always rested in between jobs when other people say I should be putting out resumes every day. To me, I’m resting and I want to listen to the direction that God is going to give me. If I’m busy doing all that stuff, I’m not going to be able to listen. And that has worked for me every time.”