Musician Wins Cabot Award for Music Therapy Nonprofit
By day he walks around the hospital carrying a Q-chord, a digital guitar-like instrument, spreading happiness to children at All Children’s Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg. By night the Good Samaritan morphs into a grooving saxophonist at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Ted Wagner, founder and CEO of Music Sweet Music, Inc. is making a difference in Tampa Bay helping elevate people’s spirits with every musical note
Founded in 2001, Music Sweet Music conducts music therapy for people of all ages in hospitals across Hillsborough and Pinellas County. Wagner and his team work with children and adults with illnesses, diseases and disorders.Some of his locations where he spreads joy include Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Shriners Hospital for Children and several nursing homes across the community.
Over time, the mission of Music Sweet Music grew taking on other philanthropic activities working in the court system where the music’s therapeutic effects provides a sense of calm to children who may have been abused and neglected. The music’s soothing effect help children to recall difficult or traumatizing incidents, which in turn has demonstrated healing effects. .
Wagner’s road to where he is today began 15 years ago while performing at the St. Pete Yacht Club. It was during a casual conversation with a co-worker when he discovered the music therapy program at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Wagner’s passion to perform and his desire to help others spurred him to put things in motion.
“I love performing and I love playing but I wanted to do more,’ said Wagner. “So I went through orientation and I was assigned to their music therapist.”
Things began a bit bumpy at first. Wagner remembers the awkward silence of his first music therapy session where he sat alone in a large room at the hospital anxiously waiting for his participants to arrive.
“One by one, someone would come in with a wheelchair and then another with an IV pole. They were all very unhappy,” said Wagner, who still visits All Children’s Hospital. “As soon as we started playing music, all of these patients would transform into kids again.”
It was Wagner’s mother who showed him first-hand that music is a powerful tool. While suffering from dementia in a local nursing home, she was able to recall every word to her favorite song. His father’s side also helped to sow the seeds of love for music as Wagner’s father and grandfather were both professional musicians. When they practiced, the youthful Wagner pretended to play alongside them.
While Wagner’s musical passion formed at an early age, his venture into music therapy began after observing the sudden halt in music therapy for children once discharged from the hospital. Seeing a vital need going unfulfilled, Wagner formed Music Sweet Music, Inc. to provide continued free outreach to hospitalized children using music as a form of medicine.
“I realized that there was no outside organization in the Tampa Bay area that provided musical therapy and that later became the catalyst for Music Sweet Music,” said Wagner.
Wagner and his team of music therapists have worked with people across the community. Those who’ve found benefit in music include Queena Vuong, a local survivor of sexual assault who received care for the past year working with Wagner and his board-certified music therapists.
“It’s been wonderful working with these people,” said James Riley, board certified music therapist at Music Sweet Music, Inc. “Ted is always kind and supportive; he uses his talent to work and gives his time to improve the community. All he cares about is the community.”
With his continued success serving the community and as a tribute to his mother who became herself again singing songs despite her dementia, Wagner has expanded his reach to older adults. While previously working exclusively in children’s hospitals, Wagner expanded his reach to include nursing home residents and has worked with older adults for the past few years. Therapy sessions remain the same except they sing Beatles classics rather than nursery rhymes. And according to Wagner, out of every dollar given to Music Sweet Music, Inc., 97 cents is returned to the community
In a recent turn of events, Wagner and his non-profit were chosen among a plethora of nominated individuals for the Create the Good and the Cabot Community Cruise Contest. This partnership was formed to honor volunteers across the country for their good work and in 2016, Wagner was one of 210 nominees to receive this year’s award. The prize includes a seven-night Alaska cruise with Wagner and 60 other volunteers to award them for their service to the community.
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