Membership Spotlight: Irvin Sayoc Kalugdan, MMT, MT-BC.

Irv Memberspotlight

This quarter our Membership Spotlight shines on a valued MAR member:

Irvin Sayoc Kalugdan, MMT, MT-BC.

Irv took the time to answer some questions so we could know more about him and his wonderful contributions to our profession. Thank you, Irv!

Describe your career as a music therapist—education, populations served, etc.

While I was interning at Cedar Lane Center for adolescents with emotional disabilities in Fairfax County Public Schools in Vienna, VA, I was working as a psychiatric technician in a corporate psychiatric hospital in Leesburg, VA at nights and a counselor at a halfway home in Front Royal, VA on the weekends. I was asked to incorporate my music therapy training into my work at the hospital and halfway home and helped to instill a greater sense of how music therapy can be used in those settings. Working part time, I started my current program at the Mount Vernon Comprehensive Services Site (MVCSS) 17 years ago, which eventually became the full time position that I currently maintain. At MVCSS, I have the opportunity to work closely with the Art Therapy program on a daily basis exposing me to the benefits of collaborative practices and interventions. This led me to searching for more ways to incorporate the expressive arts and collaboration in my work as a music therapist. I left the hospitals and halfway house to focus on my work at MVCSS, which included starting a breakdance club for the Mt. Vernon community including at-risk youth and special education students from my music therapy program.

I continued to perform on the side as a musician for several years until I decided to take a break from performing as a musician and pursue a part time career as a ballroom dance instructor at Arthur Murray Dance Studios. While there, I had the pleasure of working with a couple that had been referred to us by their physician to rehabilitate from a stroke using Tango and other smooth style dances. After experiencing amazing results with rhythmic auditory stimulation and gait re-entrainment practices, I left the dance studio to revisit my work as both a musician and private music therapist working with children, teens, adults, families and aging. I expanded my private practice, which was primarily children with autism, to include stroke rehabilitation and chronic asthma sufferers. After several years of been asked to speak about music therapy both domestically and internationally, I decided to put my private practice and performing on hold to pursue a masters in music therapy at my alma mater, Shenandoah University. Afterwards, I went back into private practice and incorporated working with contractors and consultants including other music therapists, art and dance/movement therapists. Shortly following successful experiences with these collaborations, I started the Creative Arts Therapy Studio, LLC and am looking forward to providing more ways to help my community using the expressive arts as therapeutic interventions.


What brought you to the field of music therapy or why did you decide to pursue music therapy as a profession?

I was originally a music education major with a minor in dance and psychology.  I knew I wanted to end up in the education field in someway, but didn’t really consider music therapy or music in special education. During freshman year at Shenandoah University, my maternal grandfather suffered a stroke that left him in a coma. We flew to California and rushed to his bedside. Over several family visits, I noticed that he was able to respond to my mother singing to him at his bedside. I had brought the course catalog with me on the plane and noticed the Intro to Music Therapy course. The following semester, I added the course and later dropped my minors to pursue music therapy as a double major.


What suggestions do you have for novice music therapists?

Work hard and work smart. Try not to just do one or the other. Listen to, learn and respect both our predecessors and our future professionals. Remain vigilant to our standards and ethics, even as they continue to adapt to the changing needs over time.


What are some of your favorite resources (Websites, books, blogs, journals, etc.)?

AMTA publications (JMT & Perspectives)

Journal of Ethnomusicology

Journal of Music Education

Jessica Kinglsey Publishers


Tell us about one of your most favorite moments of being a music therapist.

At the start of a new school year, I was in a conversation with a returning student about the music that he discovered over the summer. As a freshman, he came in as a hip hop rapper wanting to emulate Eminem which is why it surprised me when he asked to learn songs from the singer songwriter Jason Mraz. After a couple minutes into the discussion, I got an email asking if we wanted to a sound check to meet him in person…Jason Mraz. I almost fell out of my seat. In that moment, I couldn’t say anything to my student until I got the field trip approved. The timing of that email was uncanny.

As we sat in the front row of his sound check, I watched my students and their parents’ expressions as they experienced Jason Mraz’s performance. When he came down to talk with us, we shared a lyric analysis that we had done of his music. He loved the lyric analysis, the concept of music therapy and the kids. My students were so pleased that their insight was valued by Jason Mraz. He spent quite a bit of time talking about his songwriting process and the power of music in his own life. It was the beginning of an amazing journey into a level of community outreach, collaboration and partnership that I had never thought was even possible. But it was also a humble reminder of how much more significant our work can feel when we network and connect with the music community in our everyday practice.


Describe a challenge you have had in your career and what you did to overcome it.

One of the many challenges I’ve experienced is the concept of maintaining a balance. One of my colleagues says that I suffer from helium-hand whenever someone asks if there’s a volunteer or apparent need. The challenge was not just balancing time and attention to tasks, but also balancing my relationship to different personalities and colleagues. My job was part-time when I started and I got paid next to nothing compared to many of the people I worked with. But I saw the growth potential so I stuck with it. I saw many colleagues that I consider to be friends, come and go for various reasons. Trying to stay focused and continue my work regardless of the changes became very difficult. In many ways, I was just happy to have a job that afforded me a lifestyle that I could somewhat enjoy. And because most public school teachers don’t really get “paid” well, many of us just need a second job to keep the bills paid. So, accepting this reality and balancing both everything and everyone that I want to spend my time and attention on is a constant challenge. I overcame this challenge of balance when I realized it wasn’t something that you fix and then it goes away. I realized that it needed to be tended to and nurtured and not because the neighbor’s garden is nicer than mine, but because I get to chose what goes in my garden. Little by little, your hard work goes a long way and you’ll be able to accomplish all the things you set out for yourself if you remember that you get to chose.


What goals do you have for the next few years?

Expand my practice to partner with more organizations and businesses. Get back into performing. Continue to balance family, “me” time and work.


Do you have hobbies outside of music?

Dancing, art, going to museums, mountain biking, rock climbing, backcountry camping, section hiking, snowboarding, scuba diving, travelling, video games, comic books, movies and most importantly spending time with my loved ones.


Feel free to state anything else you would like us to know about you.

I love my family and they mean the world to me.  Being a father and husband are amazing responsibilities that take amazing amounts of time, patience and effort.  Trying to become and remain a music therapist really helped me to learn what it’s like to work hard to sustain healthy relationships and let the unhealthy ones go.

I also host an annual 5K wellness walk and Turkey Trot at Mt. Vernon High School every Saturday before Thanksgiving, in which my music therapy students DJ and perform at the bandstand. If you’re a runner, walker, want to get in shape or would like to volunteer, please feel free to contact me directly or visit MVCaresTurkeyTrot on Facebook for more information.


Are you interested in nominating someone to be featured in our Membership Spotlight? Simply fill out the Membership Spotlight Nomination Form