Music education alumna connects children and families through music and sign language
Lora Heller ’92 could tell The College of Wooster was going to be a good fit the day she first stepped foot on campus for a prospective student visit. It had everything she was looking for: “It was small yet diverse, had a music therapy program and theater opportunities, and was absolutely beautiful.”
Heller earned a Bachelor of Music Education at Wooster. In her Psychology of Music course her junior and senior year, she developed an interest in music in Deaf culture, researching the impact of sign language (or lack of such access) on the Deaf community when involved in the arts. Heller put this research into a creative project called “Shelter from the Storm,” a short original musical play involving both deaf and hearing actors and a mixed deaf and hearing audience. This project would shape her master’s thesis in graduate school, a pilot program including music and sign language with very young children, and form the basis of her current practice, Baby Fingers.
Now a music therapist and teacher of the deaf, Heller credits Wooster and her professors with directing her toward her later career. “Dale Seeds, the theater department chair when I was applying to Wooster, was so supportive when I was producing ‘Shelter from the Storm,’” Heller expressed. “And Lalene Kay, the director of the music therapy program, was an incredible source of support during my entire time at Wooster and beyond.” Heller also emphasized the supportive academic nature of the College: “At Wooster, I was able to explore my interests in sign language and deafness. I eventually went on for graduate school in deaf education, and recently performed with the New York Deaf Theatre.” Heller founded her music therapy practice Baby Fingers in 2000, with a mission to “provide accessible language for deaf and hearing children and their families through music and sign language.” Baby Fingers stresses the importance of ASL as an accessible language for hearing and deaf children alike, and as an essential component in language development and cultural connection/identity for young deaf children.
Heller has also been published, both as a children’s sign language book author and for her music therapy scholarly work. Her most recent scholarly article was published in Voices, an online international music therapy journal, titled “Time in Between: Music Therapy with Adolescent Girls in a Safehouse in Kingston, Jamaica.” In the article, Heller reflects on the short-term music therapy work she did in Jamaica with teen girls living in a safe house. “The work was phenomenal and hard to put into words,” Heller explained. “It was a growth experience as a professional and opened my eyes to biases that we all have whether we realize it or not.”
Connecting her current career back to Wooster, Heller says the wide array of courses and professors she explored prepared her for all aspects of her professional life. “Classes like Human Anatomy and Physiology allowed for my required science to provide knowledge in an area that would be essential for work as a medical music therapist,” said Heller, “while classes like Statistics to fulfill a math requirement gave me experience that I’d need for later research in the field.”
Looking back, Heller appreciates how the College supported her creative and academic endeavors and equipped her with the skills necessary for her career. “Wooster helped prepare me for it all. I’ll always feel a great deal of warmth and appreciation when thinking of my time and experience there,” Heller said.
Posted in Alumni on May 15, 2022.
Related Areas of Study
Become a certified music teacher at the elementary and/or secondary levelMajor
Earn a bachelor of arts in music or a bachelor of music in either music performance or music compositionMajor Minor