Alumni Profile: Sandi Curtis

In culmination of her 30-year career, Sandi Curtis (BMus ’78) has released an interactive eBook designed to help women survivors of male violence.

As a music therapy practitioner, educator, and researcher, Sandi Curtis’ career has included working with survivors of violence, people with disabilities, and people in palliative care. She is involved in several research projects, one of which includes a $2.5 million SSHRC project addressing sexual violence against women on university campuses.* Sandi Curtis has a BMus from McGill University, a MA in music therapy from Florida State University, and a PhD in music therapy and feminist therapy from Concordia University. She is now a Professor Emeritus at Concordia University.

Last month Sandi Curtis wrapped up her 30-year career with the release of Music for Women (Survivors of Violence): A Feminist Music Therapy Interactive eBook. Distributed by Barcelona Publishers, this book delves into pop culture, challenges its history of suppressing women, and explores how it can be used as a vehicle to challenge the status quo. The eBook is intended for music therapists, health care professionals, and the women survivors of violence with whom they work.

Contents include:

Introduction: “Wings”/ “Unwritten”
Chapter 1: “If I Were a Boy”: The Meaning of Gender
Chapter 2: “A Woman’s Worth”: Self-Esteem, Confidence, Resistance, and Resilience
Chapter 3: “Bitch”: Women, Power, and Empowerment
Chapter 4: “What’s All This Talk About Love?”: Women, Power, and Love
Chapter 5: “Every Woman”: Women and Diversity
Chapter 6: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”: Male Violence Against Women
Chapter 7: “Can’t Hold Us Down”: Feminist Music Therapy for Women
Chapter 8: “Stronger”: A Music Therapy Program for Women Survivors of Violence
Chapter 9: “This One’s for the Girls”: Women’s Songs
Chapter 10: “Rise Up”: Conclusion

A long-time believer of the importance of listening and creating music as a source of empowerment, Sandi Curtis views this resource as a celebration of music as a therapeutic tool.

In conjunction with her eBook release, we asked Sandi a few questions:

What encouraged you to write this eBook?

As I was working with women survivors of violence in my practice, I became profoundly aware of how truly effective music therapy could be. The work was of necessity behind closed doors for the safety of these women, but I began to realize how important it would be to share this with other women so that many more could benefit from the incredibly healing powers of music - both within and outside of therapy. This became the impetus for my book. And the timing couldn't have been better with the #MeToo movement making it evident how many women are impacted by violence. 

Your eBook has several goals for survivors of male violence, one of which is encouraging them to write songs to give voice to their experiences. What would you say to someone who believes they do not have the musical knowledge or skill to do this?

For those without the necessary music skills, I highly recommend consulting a qualified music therapist. Music therapists have the ability and training to make all forms of music making, including song writing and recording, accessible to all regardless of musical background. They also have the necessary therapeutic skills to support individuals in delving deeper in recovering from the harm of abuse. My eBook provides a wealth of music and related readings for those wanting to explore issues on their own in pursuit of personal self growth, along with guidelines about when and how to follow up with professional music therapy services.

Your resource features a comprehensive collection of songs from female singer-songwriters (as well as links to audio and music videos) that can be used in therapy. What criteria did you use while selecting these songs and how has this list evolved during your career?

In selecting these songs, I was guided by my many years in clinical music therapy practice, including input from my clients themselves. Research indicates that the most important determinant for music’s effectiveness is individual preference. For my book to reach as many readers as possible, it was important for me to have the greatest diversity possible – music of women singer-songwriters from all walks of life, spanning 4 decades (1980’s to 2019), including everything from pop and rock to indie, country, and rap.

The songs I chose initially focused on women’s experiences of male violence. This was critical in effectively supporting women survivors, many of whom are isolated by their abusers and by a culture that blames and shames women. In listening to women singer/songwriters, women survivors are able to break their isolation, recognize that other women do not deserve this violence, and then come to realize that they do not deserve it either. It is also important to understand that male violence against women is supported by deeply embedded sociopolitical underpinnings such as the objectification of women, trivialization and minimalization of women’s issues, and overarching gender inequality. As a result, my collection of music expanded to include songs touching on a variety of these issues – from the meaning of gender, body image, beauty, dating and intimacy, to self-esteem, resiliency, anger, and social activism.

This eBook encompasses over 30 years of experience. How has your field expanded over the past 30 years and what do you hope to see evolve in the next 30?

The field of music therapy has progressed incredibly over the past 30 years, with a significant growth in research and practice. Public awareness, particularly in Canada, has been a little slow in keeping up with this. I believe in Canada we are on the cusp of a sudden and dramatic increase of public awareness – and this would be great news since music therapy has much to offer in improving the lives of so many. The same can be said of public awareness of the nature of male violence against women. We are hearing more about it recently in the news, but the phenomenon is not new. I look forward to seeing an increased public awareness and understanding of this violence that results in genuine and substantive change. While we work to eliminate this violence, I look forward to increased access to music therapy to support those in recovering from the harm of abuse.

Learn more about Music for Women (Survivors of Violence): A Feminist Music Therapy Interactive eBook.

* This project was completed under the direction of Sandra Curtis, PhD, Co-Investigator, Creative Arts Therapies Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University and supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, IMPACTS: Collaborations to Address Sexual Violence on Campus; SSHRC Partnership Grant Number 895-2016-1026, Project Director, Shaheen Shariff, PhD, McGill University.

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