Article Written by Myles Hoglund. Photo provided by Peter Meyer.
Music is an art form as old as time itself. From orchestras, small bands, duos, single artists, and everything in between, music has and will continue to evolve. Minnesota is no stranger to musical impacts, Bob Dylan and Prince just to name a few. But what if there’s a professor here at Saint Cloud State University who is not only a guitar player but realizes the personal and moral impact music has through his music therapy? What could he give through his teachings?
Starting in his high school days, Peter Meyer’s musical journey started rather somberly. During a depressive period in his life, Meyer’s mother inspired him to start guitar lessons. Over the course of eight weeks, Meyer learned the guitar and he took a liking to it. As his emotional state improved, he would enroll at Minneapolis Community College to pursue special education but was unfortunately turned down. Fortunately, he wouldn’t take this lying down. “My only skill set was playing guitar, so I that’s what I did for the next 10 years. I performed and did a lot of gigs; it was a great time.”
Despite this, Meyer wanted more. He went to the University of Minnesota to pursue what would become one of his biggest passions. Music therapy. During his time there, he learned how musical experiences can be transcendent and universal, which is an approach he took to heart with his therapy techniques. He would then graduate with a bachelor’s degree in music therapy in 2004.
Four years later, he would graduate from the Saint Mary’s of the Woods College with a master of arts degree. Compared to the “behavioral approach to music” the U of M offered, Meyer said that St. Mary’s had a more “music-centered approach” by stating “Let’s create music together, let’s just be human. It was with that approach that I turned my mindset around to what music therapy could be and then I went to get my masters which fortunately was a humanistic approach to music therapy.”
As a music therapist, Meyer works in a music-centric direction which focuses on how the music helps the client both emotionally and physically. “If the music sounds like crap or if the music isn’t the primary focus, then it’s not music therapy” Meyer would also compare his work to traditional physical therapy, by walking on a treadmill, for example, has physical benefits but hiking has a more esthetic quality to it, and he believes his therapy is more akin to hiking in this sense.
When talking about particular cases, Meyer has mentioned quite a few, but there is one that has stood with him throughout his career. One of his patients was in a psychotic state, along with him being “about 300 pounds and six-two”. While Meyer was intimidated by him, he was still called in by hospital staff to hopefully calm him down. Despite this, he had a moment of clarity. “I get to my office, and I realize this is someone’s kid. You know? They had their hopes and dreams on this kid. I’d like my daughter to be treated alright in a bad situation and that’s how I operate.” While setting himself up, Meyer was inspired to play This Little Light of Mine. Not only do the two start to sing along and the staff let their guard down, but the patient opens up about his love for soul music. “That’s actually why I’m getting my PhD for research of the phenomenon of de-escalation through music because there’s no research on it. I don’t really like to see people being beat up in mental health wards and that’s a huge, huge problem.”
Along with his skill as a music therapist, Meyer is also a professor here at Saint Cloud State teaching guitar, music therapy, and general music education. When talking about his time playing guitar, he’s learned a few things that most people don’t realize. Much like a music therapist, the goal is to support people. “You make that band look better. It’s whatever you need to do to make that band sound great, if it means playing less or just holding a groove that is the most important thing.” While he understood the notion to show off your skills as a musician or
“shred”, he argued that working in harmony with everyone else will make the music sound better.
For those who are struggling to learn guitar, Meyer is willing to share some tips. Firstly, and rather bluntly, leave the guitar out. What he means is leaving the guitar visible out of the case will help lessen the intimidation and put plainly with “I guarantee you that guitar in the case is not going to play today.” Another tip is to simply learn as you play. With this, he mentioned bands like Nirvana which had raw accessibility to it, and how you can “find something you like and go with it”.
As we close our story, let us look over who Peter Meyer is. He’s not only a guitarist, a professor, and a therapist, but he’s a man with so much to give to the Saint Cloud community. Whether in a music studio, a classroom, or a hospital, Peter Meyer is someone whose heart and soul will be felt in everything he does.