Memories of Carolyn Kenny, My Colleague and Friend

I have decided to write about my personal relationship with Carolyn, as this is how I most value Carolyn and her memory. I know that she has had a tremendous influence on thinking about music therapy—I am particularly influenced by her work on theory—and know that others are writing about these areas. I had a unique personal relationship with Carolyn and would like to share some aspects of this relationship.

I believe the first time that I met (or connected with) Carolyn was at a symposium organized by William Sears and Charles Eagle at Southern Methodist University in 1979, following the NAMT conference that was held in Dallas. The symposium was aimed at developing a theory of music therapy. I think it was one of the first times that music therapists tried to do that as a group. I have since realized that it is probably not possible to have one theory of music therapy that would encompass everything, but this was the goal of the symposium. We shared a lot of ideas and many wonderful discussions ensued. Of course, the most important thing that came from the symposium was the relationships that grew over the years. I recall driving with Bill Sears in his big van and loving listening to him talk. I think that many of Carolyn’s later important insights from Bill—and follow-up discussions—began at this symposium.

And then I was fortunate to spend time with Carolyn and many other wonderful music therapists from around the world when we attended the Symposium, “Music and the Life of Man,” which Barbara Hesser organized at NYU in 1982. This was an important time for music therapists, who came from around the world to consider the topic. Many relationships were formed at this time and new ideas emerged. I have one picture of Carolyn from this symposium, with Danish philosopher Hans Siggaard Jensen. (Photo 1)

Photo 1.

Carolyn Kenny and Hans Siggard Jensenat the symposium Music and the Life of Man, New York, 1982. Photo: Private


I had a few intervening contacts with Carolyn, first at a symposium that Mechtild Langenberg organized in Dusseldorf in 1994. I have only pictures taken after the symposium ended, at the train station – with Ken Aigen, Benedikte Scheiby, and Even Ruud, (Photo 2, 3) and at the World Congress of Music Therapy in Hamburg in 1996. (Photo 4, 5)

Photo 2.

Carolyn Kenny, Even Ruud, Benedikte Scheiby, and Barbara Wheeler at Düsseldorf train station. Photo: private.

Photo 3.

Even Ruud, Ken Aigen, Benedikte Scheiby, Carolyn Kenny, Barbara Wheeler at Düsseldorf train station. Photo: private.

Photo 4.

Carolyn Kenny at the world congress in Hamburg, 1996. Photo: private.

Photo 5.

Alan Turry, Dorit Amir and Carolyn Kenny at the world congress in Hamburg, 1996. Photo: private.


Later, we had several meetings together as part of the Qualitative Research Study Groups that Mechtild Langenberg arranged at the University of the Arts in Berlin. These groups were very important for me in developing my understanding of qualitative research, a rich opportunity to explore aspects of our research and receive input from trusted colleagues. The format of the gatherings and some of those who were invited varied—and I believe that Carolyn did not attend one or two of them—but we were part of a small planning group so had continuous involvement through that role. Many of our meeting were in Sauen, a small village outside of Berlin that allowed for more intimate discussions and get-togethers and were a great way to get to know one another. During one of these meetings (the ending of it, in Berlin), my wallet was stolen while I was riding the U-Bahn. It was turned in (emptied of cash and credit cards) to one of the transit stations. Carolyn went with me to get it. This was a challenge since all of the stations were closed for the night, the staff didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak German. But we got it! I have found pictures from some of these gatherings at Sauen, from 1998 (Photo 6, 7) and 2003 (Photo 8, 9, 10).

Photo 6.

Carlyn Kenny and Mechtild Lichtenberg in Sauen, 1998. Photo: private.

Photo 7.

Dorit Amir, Colin Lee , Carolyn Kenny, Ken Aigen, Michele Forinash and Brynjulf Stige in Sauen, 1998. Photo: private.

Photo 8.

Carlyn Kenny in Sauen, 2003. Photo: private.

Photo 9.

Carlyn Kenny and Diane Austin in Sauen, 2003. Photo: private.

Photo 10.

Sauen, 2004. Photo: private.


Early in my time of knowing Carolyn and her work, I had trouble understanding what she meant when she spoke and wrote of things. She was quite philosophical in her approach and much less concrete than I was. As our relationship progressed, and especially when we coauthored a chapter (on Qualitative Research) for Music Therapy Research, 2nd Edition, I learned to challenge her to say what she meant more concretely—and, of course, she challenged me to think about the difficult concepts more abstractly. We worked together well, and I think we both grew from this. I certainly value this part of our relationship.

Beginning in 2001, I was privileged to be part of the early years of Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, which Carolyn and Brynjulf Stige launched. The impact of Voices has been enormous, and I am grateful for Carolyn’s influence on its direction.

Carolyn and I also did some traveling together—my pictures give me some memories of these. We spent time together in Bergen in 2003 and included a visit to Grieg’s home in Norway. I am including a few pictures from this trip, including one from the conference that preceded the social part of the time. (Photo 11, 12, 13)

Photo 11.

Barbara Wheeler and Carolyn Kenny at the 4th NordicMusic Therapy Conference , Bergen, 2003. Photo: private.

Photo 12.

Barbara Wheeler, Carolyn Kenny by the seaside in Bergen, 2003. Photo: private.

Photo 13.

Carolyn Kenny on her way to visit Grieg’s home in Bergen, 2003.


Probably the most notable trip was to Japan in 2007, where we both presented at a conference in Sapporo, hosted (as I recall) by Satomi Kondo. We started out with a wonderful visit in Tokyo with Kana Okazaki-Sakaue and her husband, Masami, including a dinner with Rika Ikuno. On our way to the conference, we traveled through parts of Japan. Carolyn insisted that we do some traditional Japanese things such as an onsen bath and very traditional meals served in our (traditional) room, one course at a time, things that I would not have done on my own—another way that I benefited from her perspective. I am sharing a few pictures from the time in Tokyo, our travel in Japan, and the conference. (Photo 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Photo 14.

Rika Ikuno, Barbara Wheeler, Carolyn Kenny, and Kana Okazaki-Sakaue, Tokyo, 2007. Photo: private.

Photo 15.

Rika Ikuno, Masami Sakaue, Carolyn Kenny, and Kana Okazaki-Sakaue, Tokyo, 2007. Photo: private.

Photo 16.

A view from the travel to japan, 2007. Photo: private.

Photo 17.

Carolyn Kenny, japan, 2007. Photo: private.

Photo 18.

Carolyn Kenny presenting at a conference in Sapporo. Photo: private.


Carolyn participated in an AMTA conference in 2005, when I was AMTA Vice President and thus in charge of the program for the conference. We encouraged international guests, and Carolyn was an active participant with them.

We also spent time together in Quebec during and after a conference in 2008 and also in 2012. I found pictures only from the 2008 visit. (Photo 19, 20)

Photo 19.

Gabriele Wagner, Connie Isenberg-Grzeda, Carolyn Kenny, Randi Rolvsjord, Barbara Wheeler, and Guylaine Vaillencourt, Quebec, 2008. Photo: private.

Photo 20.

Guylaine Vaillencourt, Carolyn Kenny, Randi Rolvsjord, and Barbara Wheeler, Quebec, 2008. Photo: private.


I visited Carolyn at her home twice. The first was in Santa Barbara in 2006, the second in Vancouver in February of 2017. During the visit to Santa Barbara, I was so impressed with her generosity. She gave up her bed for me (she wouldn’t have it any other way), and I felt so very nurtured by so many things that she did. I still remember the omelets that she made with avocado and cheese—delicious! I took the second trip after we knew that Carolyn was ill and am grateful to have had a fabulous time with her on that visit. I have pictures of both visits, the first two from 2006, the others from 2017. (Photo 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27)

Photo 21.

Carolyn Kenny, Vancouver, 2006. Photo: private.

Photo 22.

Carolyn Kenny surrounded by family, Vancouver, 2006. Photo: private.

Photo 23.

Barbara Wheeler and Carolyn Kenny, Vancouver, 2017. Photo: private.

Photo 24.

Carolyn Kenny and Barbara Wheeler, Vancouver, 2017. Photo: private.

Photo 25.

Barbara Wheeler and Carolyn Kenny, Vancouver, 2017. Photo: private.

Photo 26.

View from the Gondola, Vancouver, 2017. Photo: private.

Photo 27.

A view from Vancouver, 2017. Photo: private.


Carolyn presented a workshop at the University of Louisville in 2011 (Photo 28, 29). The students chose her over some other possible presenters and were so pleased with (and changed by) the workshop. We were joined by students who were visiting from the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, Poland. I have asked two of the UofL students who were instrumental in inviting Carolyn and organizing the workshop, both of whom have gone on to earn master’s degrees in music therapy, for their thoughts on it and will share them here. These two have expressed themselves very differently, and I am pleased to present what they wrote in their own words in slightly edited form:

Leah Whitmire wrote:

I have many memories from the workshop we did with Carolyn Kenny when I was a student at the University of Louisville. When I spoke with Carolyn prior to the workshop about what it would include, I was so impressed by the way she listened to me. I had ideas for things that would be beneficial to include in the workshop, such as a painting experience, and she was more than willing to incorporate my ideas into her workshop. She said “if that’s what you need.” I can see now, looking back, that these are qualities of a great leader—to listen and provide what is needed. I felt very empowered from this experience, and had a great sense of ownership in the workshop.

Melanie Wisehart wrote:

What I remember more than anything was the lasting impression of the sense of "being" that Carolyn brought into a room. This was when I was first beginning to really wrap my mind around the concept of therapeutic presence, and she embodied it in a way that spoke volumes to me, though I don't recall her ever even talking about it. She exemplified it in the way she carried herself. When I talked with her, it was evident that her spirit was as present in our conversation as her mind and body were. Later in my graduate studies when we discussed the concept of "being with" in therapy, my mind and heart immediately traveled back to when I met Carolyn. Her embodiment of "being with" others profoundly impacted me and will stay with me for years to come.

Photo 28.

Carolyn Kenny presenting at a workshop at the University of Louisville in 2011. Photo: private.

Photo 29.

Some of the results from a workshop at the University of Louisville in 2011. Photo: private.


One of the impressive things about Carolyn was the integration of who she was personally with how she thought professionally and what she wrote about. Her Native American heritage was an example of this; it influenced everything that she did and how she was. The way she integrated The Field of Play, the theoretical work that underpinned most of her music therapy, was another example. And I was always in awe of how her understanding of philosophy laid the groundwork for so much of what she knew.

I am different because I knew Carolyn Kenny—personally and professionally—and will always be grateful for her presence in my life.