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How Music Therapy Led Me to Meet Vance Joy

As our group made our way to our seats, we just kept getting closer and closer to the stage. I couldn't believe that this night was really happening, let alone that we were going to MEET Vance Joy in just a few short hours.

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Let me back up.

It all started a little over a month ago when I was in a music therapy group session with my patients teaching them ukulele. This is something we do once every 4 to 6 weeks (the typical time frame a patient stays in treatment). Our ukuleles are given to our patients from Ukulele Kids Club*.

I love teaching ukulele to my patients because there are so many benefits to learning an instrument — especially in an eating disorder treatment center. My goal in teaching ukulele is to help provide patients with an outlet for expression, anxiety, depression, control, and to feel the freedom of no boundaries.

Learning a new instrument can be intimidating. So, when I start teaching my patients ukulele, we start with four basic chords that most pop songs consist of. After learning these chords and feeling like we have them down consistently, I always ask the patients if they would like to learn a particular song.

I noticed that one song was being requested much more than others: the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy.

After a year of having this song being requested once a month, I began to wonder why there was such a pull to this song. Do they want to learn the song:

  • Because it's catchy?

  • Because it was popular?

  • Because they have some deep connection to the song?

Honestly, I think the answer is “yes” to all three of those questions. This got the wheels turning in my head that we should do a lyric analysis of the song to see what our own interpretations were.

A lyric analysis is a very useful tool in music therapy. It is where you either perform or listen to a song, with the lyrics printed in front of you, and then you break down what you think the artist is trying to convey or how you relate to the song. Music is its own language and I love doing this activity because it is intriguing to see just how different the meaning of a song is to each person.

After completing the lyric analysis to Riptide, our group members came up with some very thought-provoking interpretations. I had everything from, “He is in love with a girl and is following her” to “The girl isn’t real. This is his manifestation of depression and the life change he is going through.” The truth is, there is no wrong answer. There is not a “clear cut” definition to any song and this one song definitely can be twisted differently to follow several story lines.

After processing why we came to the individual interpretations that we did, one of the patients asked me, “So what does this song really mean?” The truth was, I didn’t know! I hadn’t been able to find a breakdown online although I did have my own ideas on what Vance Joy was singing about.

The patients suggested that I reach out to him and ask. I sat on that idea for a few days and then thought, “Well, what is the worst thing that could happen?” So I took a leap of faith and emailed his team explaining who I was, the story about music therapy with patients with eating disorders — and the ukuleles — and asking if they could share Vance’s interpretation.

I was not prepared for the response I received. His manager emailed me back and thought our story was lovely. She told me that Vance Joy was going to be in Dallas in two weeks — and wanted to know IF WE WANTED TO GO TO THE CONCERT TO MEET HIM!

I couldn’t believe our good fortune and quickly got to planning. Fortunately, the local Eating Recovery Center team and I jumped on the ball quickly to give these patients a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After just two short weeks of waiting, the date was here! That evening, we all met up at the concert and truly had no idea what was in store for us. As our group made our way to our seats, we just kept getting closer and closer to the stage. Our seats were only a few rows back from the stage. I couldn’t believe that this night was really happening, let alone that we were going to MEET Vance Joy in just a few short hours.

The rest of the night seemed to go by so quickly. When Vance finally took the stage, it felt like we were right up there with him. He gave an amazing performance and is such a talented musician. It seemed every other song he was switching the instruments that he was playing, and I kept thinking to myself, “How many instruments can this dude play?!”

The thing that I enjoyed the most about his performance was how personal it was. At the end of the concert, you felt like you had been friends with him all along because of his personal stories and explanations before each song. You could tell that he was grateful to his audience and was just a very down-to-earth guy. His show production mirrored this as well. The stage set up was simple and while there were lights and graphics, nothing was over-the-top or flashy. It was simply wonderful!

After the show, it came time for the most exciting part of the night...


We remained sitting in the theatre as everyone else cleared out. We were instructed to wait by a certain door and then we would be escorted backstage. After our group was led into the back room, the rest happened so quickly (maybe it was the adrenaline of it all?). He came in and spoke to each of the patients individually. He took time to hear what they had to say and why he had such an influence on them. He then asked what item they would like signed and gave them each a personalized message with their name. Lastly, he took a picture with them as a group and thanked them all for being here.

As I made my way up to him to thank him for this opportunity, he said to me, “As soon as I saw your email, I knew we had to have you guys here.” This shocked me as I had just assumed his team had put the evening together, but he actually had his hand in making this night happen! That speaks volumes about his character and dedication to his fans. I then explained how big of an impact his song has had during our music therapy sessions. He told me that he thought the music therapy profession was wonderful and that we are “LEGENDS”. He explained that, in Australia, if you are really cool or a good person, they call you a legend. This is what he wrote on my ticket under my name, even asking how to correctly spell it, which just further proves his character.

The night was not one that any of us there will forget. It was a truly amazing performance and he is truly an amazing guy.

And if you are still wondering what the song “Riptide” is about, this is what his team said:

"Riptide isn’t really about anything in particular. Vance wrote parts of it as a stream of consciousness mainly. Riptide Motel is a motel in Australia he frequently visited when he was a child. He met a magician’s assistant one night when he was out. It took him many years to write, but all the ideas came from different streams."

Ukulele Kids Club is a non-profit organization that provides ukuleles to music therapy-based hospitals programs and gifts them to the children so they can have the gift of music for life. Today, Ukulele Kids Club provides ukuleles to more than a 100 hospitals in several different countries across the world. You can check out Ukulele Kids Club here and even donate to their cause.

About Haleigh Beaird, MT-BC: I am a Board-Certified Music Therapist that currently works in the Dallas, Texas area with many different populations. Throughout the week, I meet with a wide variety of clients and use music to create clinical and evidence-based interventions that help address their individualized goals. I have been practicing music therapy for two years and joined the ERC team back in June of 2017. My experience at the center so far has taught me quite a bit and I am hoping to share music strategies with you all periodically that can help aid you through your recovery process.​

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