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Portrait of Charlene Delaney and Eileen Garwood

UnSung Project helps those in recovery through music

By Blake Sebring

September 28, 2023

After two years of organizing, creating a website, and developing the process, two Purdue University Fort Wayne music therapy faculty members have started the UnSung Project. In collaboration with the YWCA of Northeast Indiana, the project recognizes and honors women’s journeys through addiction recovery as they express their narrative through music.

“It’s working with the women on how they use music in their lives with a goal of helping them reach their own individual music—their essence of how they are in music—while engaging and supporting them in sharing their journey,” said Charlene Delaney, B.S. ’22, a limited term lecturer and a PFW graduate student in music therapy. “Then it’s about using their stories to work in tandem to reach others who have an addiction in their lives.”

The program started with an Amplified Arts Grant through Arts United. After meeting with individuals in the music therapy clinic at PFW’s Dolnick Learning Center on its north campus, Eileen Garwood, clinical instructor of music therapy, and Delaney created compositions based on the narratives. The recordings are posted on the project’s website.

In the powerful, haunting song “Hum,” a woman narrates her journey from a teenager to becoming an alcoholic:

That was the music, the first music
All the women in my family still hum that way
Simple, ancient music. 
Even when I couldn’t hear it, it was there
Like that force keeping me alive
Like God, like hope. 

Eventually, after describing participation in a treatment program, the woman’s story turns:

Today I resemble that girl very little.
I ask each day
For the strength, wisdom, and courage
To be of service.
And each day so far
That prayer has been answered. 

Three songs are on the website, and work continues on a fourth. The goal is to encourage others to take advantage of the site’s treatment resources by sharing these relatable stories, encouraging others with similar experiences to seek help.

The women take ownership of their stories as they engage in music experiences with Garwood and Delaney. The final compositions are written and performed by Delaney, Garwood, and music therapy graduate students Madison Boyden, B.S. ‘21, and Ali Dencklau, as well as volunteers from the local theatre community who provide their voices to protect the women’s confidentiality. 

“The goal is to promote community awareness of women’s journeys through substance use and provide encouragement and resources for those in need,” Garwood said. 

Some participants have previous music experience in choirs or bands and have been invited to sing with PFW’s Choral Union.

The PFW music therapy program has partnered with the YWCA for five years, providing clinical practicum training opportunities for music therapy students. 

“I’ve learned so much from individual women and their music experiences,” Delaney said. “I think of the potency of music and how it opens experiences for not only the women to open new ways of looking at their journey, new ways of feeling their journey through music. It’s been humbling to witness how music can move into these cracks and move to the heart and see a story completely transform through music.”

The music therapists’ next goal is to market the website and bring awareness and resources to the community, while also expanding into other areas such as helping victims of domestic violence. The program debuted recently at the 4th annual Recovery Rocks event.

“Every part of this process is a `Wow’ moment, enlightening, inspiring,” Garwood said. “To be a witness each woman’s process is a privilege.”

“Hum” concludes:

When others have shown me acceptance
And accept my alcoholism as a part of me
And not what defines me
My heart grows and gives me hope
That I can live freely in this world.
I want to share that hope with others.