Moreno recently finished a semester-long internship at Chesterfield’s Healing Sounds, a counseling center specializing in expressive therapies like music and art. It’s the next step on his journey to enter the field of music therapy, which he describes as “using musical techniques to reach non-musical goals.”
Moreno transferred to Randolph-Macon College last fall from another local university after his sister Miriam Moreno Alcala ’24, then a high school senior, put it on his radar while she was researching colleges. He was floored by the campus and how friendly everyone was during his first campus tour.
“I even got to meet [Psychology Department Chair] Dr. Cedar Riener, who eventually became my advisor,” he said. “Right then I knew Randolph-Macon makes every visitor feel like an insider.”
As a high schooler in Venezuela, Moreno expected to go on to study computer science or engineering in college. Then he took an introductory psychology course in which “everything clicked.” Since then, he’s determined to pair his passion for music—he is a practicing musician as well as a former children’s music teacher—with the study of “why we do what we do.”
“I think most of us can relate to the feeling that there’s a song for every emotion we feel. Music can provide a sense of pure calm and relaxation, or it can energize us in ways we didn’t think possible,” Moreno said. “Music therapy is a way to elevate the feelings evoked by music and channel them into positive directions.”
This past semester, he was able to share that positivity with others.
A Peek Behind the Scenes
The opportunity came to him last spring in a developmental psychology class with Psychology Professor Dr. Susan Parker. In it, she encouraged students to share their career interests and goals so that she could keep an eye out for potential internships. Moreno waited until the last day of class to express his desire to pursue music therapy, “then didn’t think about it again all summer,” he said.
In mid-July, Moreno woke up to an email from Dr. Parker. She had found a great place for him that was willing to bring him on as an intern with their music therapy team, and asked if he was still interested.
“I’ll make coffee runs. I’ll do the cleaning. I’ll do anything for a chance to see that environment behind the scenes,” he remembers telling Dr. Parker. He followed up with the owner of Healing Sounds, after which they conducted a series of Zoom interviews to get to know one another and the rest of their team. Finally, they asked when he could start on-site.
“I can be there tomorrow,” Moreno said.
Getting the Full Picture
Moreno’s internship gave him a comprehensive look at a music therapist’s day-to-day.
He handled administrative duties like copying files, helping patients fill out intake forms, researching wellness apps to recommend, and running errands around the office. But Moreno also worked on more creative projects that drew on his artistic and academic interests, too.
In one, he developed a 40-page songbook for use in hospice and group sessions. Moreno, whose musical palette spans numerous genres and time periods, chose recognizable songs with empowering lyrics like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Another project involved him cutting out words and images from magazines for patients to use while expressing themselves during therapy sessions.
“There’s a lot of power behind using images to talk about something when the words aren’t there,” Moreno said.
Because Moreno speaks both Spanish and French in addition to English, he also interacted with many non-English speaking patients over the phone. During those conversations he was able to explain to patients what music therapy is and how they could prepare for their session.
“As someone who came to this country not knowing the language, I really enjoyed helping people who didn’t know where to begin,” he said.
Big Opportunities Will Find You Eventually
At the close of his three months at Healing Sounds, Moreno most appreciated the chance to participate in group sessions. During those meetings, he was impressed by how the music therapist improvised their approach depending on which patients were in the room. Whether they were traveling to a facility for people with autism or on-site with a group of 10-15 teenagers with short attention spans, Moreno said the attending music therapist was always able to address everyone’s needs individually. That, he said, captures exactly what draws him to the field.
“Music therapy is all about finding a way to engage everyone,” Moreno said. “You’re not thinking about the quality of your performance. You’re not belting out an anthem for applause. You become attuned to the needs of the group as a unit, as well as the individuals who are a part of it. It’s a totally different mindset compared to when you’re performing.”
Looking beyond his internship, Moreno hopes to get a bachelor’s in music next, followed by a master’s degree. The internship only further solidified his commitment to joining the field and his belief that an RMC education provides a pathway full of possibilities.
“It never hurts to reach out and be proactive about opportunities,” he said. “But I am incredibly grateful for my professors at RMC. They’re always thinking about how to give you a better experience through internships and programs. At Randolph-Macon, big opportunities will find you eventually.”