Chelsea Mabes walks into the Tristolini Art Gallery and, as instructed, sits before a large charcoal and white painting, a traveling work of a university faculty member to the Ohio University Art Department.
“So… where do we start?” She asks.
She nervously fidgets her fingers over her water bottle and takes a sip.
“Relax. We’re here to talk about whatever you want to tell me today.”
Her hair is a vibrant, unnatural and strawberry red. She shakes it over her shoulders and sets her bottle on the floor, hands now in her lap.
“Well, the music therapy program brought me to Ohio University. Hands down… hands down,” she says. Her eyes gradually glow as she continues to explain the qualifications of the faculty in the program, the depth behind her oncoming education.
It is clear that music therapy is more to Mabes than just a college major and future career prospect. It’s more than a field of practice and method of healing. To her, music therapy is the untapped, throbbing, universal life source; the key to a vast number of medical conditions. It has been and will forever be the font of Mabes’ strength, her mental and emotional well-being.
Mabes is a musician, “My mom told me that I sang before I even spoke,” she said. “At one point in my life I wanted to do musical theater but I just felt something different with music therapy; being able to help others with what I know and even help myself.” She refers to music as being a “cycle,” and that it should be shared effectively. She has begun her involvement in the OU music program by joining the auditioned University Singers and the American Music Therapy Association for Students. She is also a member of one of the campus’ women’s fraternities, Alpha Omicron Pi.
“I didn’t think sorority life would be for me, with all of its stereotypes,” Mabes said. “But I found a home away
from home, sisters I could rely on, friends that will be there for me when I feel like everyone else has walked out.” She says that it is the number one aspect of college, which has made her feel a sense of foundation and community.
Other than a solid music therapy education, comradeship was specifically what Mabes had been searching for;
though she had found comfort in her relationship with music, she had previously otherwise gone without.
“I did not have friends in high school. I was homecoming queen, valedictorian and lead in the musical for two years in a row,” Mabes said. “But high school was probably the time in my life where I felt the most empty and the most alone.”
According to Mabes, while her peers were concerned with getting a date to prom or muddling over gossip, she felt no one cared about anything tangible and important. She felt misunderstood and every day felt stale. When Mabes was 18-years-old she moved out of her parent’s house where she lived in an apartment alone for six months before attending Ohio University.
“While some girls were worried about being late for curfew and getting their keys taken away, I was worried
about paying for the electric bill,” Mabes said.
Mabes left because she had been a victim of domestic violence for three years before her graduation. Her brother, an abuser of multiple substances and victim of life-consuming anger, could not be controlled by her parents; who are adoptive, supportive and due to her brothers’ instability, exhausted.
She moves on from this thought, though, because it’s not the focus of her story. She’s more focused on the importance of the maturity it took to make adult changes in her life at the age of eighteen. In mere weeks she pulled together what many can hardly accomplish in years: self-sustainability.
She chuckles as she admits that she worked at Bob Evans to cover rent, “I did what I had to do and in the real world being a server would not have been able to pay the bills,” Mabes Said.
In the most stressful of times, music continued to carry with her and her commitment to it did not cease. At the time of transitioning out of her house she was in the high school musical. Her involvement in theater was therapeutic, and when it wasn’t a Jason Mraz Pandora station did the trick. According to Mabes, the director of the show had a big house and an even bigger heart, frequently offering his help to his students in the most professional sense. At the moment of her request, he was helping her in the search for an affordable living space.
“He knew of a very kind lady who was on the city council and owned rental space downtown,” Mabes said. “She was more than willing to help me and said I could pay her however I could until I got out of school.”
Mabes explained that she is so grateful for the renter and her director’s kindness. For a few months she only paid gas, electric and water, then later covered the cost of rent when she could get a full-time job over the summer as a lifeguard. Now, Mabes is paying for the majority of her tuition to attend OU and covering the costs of her sorority.
“I’m doing fine. I’m making it,” Mabes says.
She had saved money throughout the summer and over winter break in order to pull through. With the help of loans and scholarships, like many other students on campus, attending the Music Therapy School has been possible. She also works at the Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium for 20 hours per week, while taking 19 academic credits and pulling a 3.8 grade point average.
As music is Mabes’ greatest passion, her schedule and responsibilities are, to her, bearable and worth it. She’s glad and satisfied because she can enjoy music as part of her spare time and her academics.
“It’s nice to go to just go to Glidden [Music Hall], sit down at the piano and just play,” Mabes says. “It’s one of the only things in my life that makes sense. I can read what’s on the paper, play it and it’s whatever I want it to be. Soothing? Angry? It’s whatever I’m going to make it. Music is therapy to me, personally.”
Chelsea goes on to discuss the idea of music being a release for all people, especially stressed out college students. She believes it to be all-powerful and she obtains very specific goals: to study with Colorado State’s Michael Thaut and become a Neurological Music Therapist and help those with brain injury, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, children with autism or even those in rehabilitation for drug abuse. It brings tears to Mabes’ eyes knowing the untapped validity of music therapy to treat those who suffer most and she can’t wait to put her love for music into practice.
Regardless of her suffering, Mabes’ greatest future intention is to bring curative music into the lives of others.