This music therapist’s five-month leave period to earn her degree after the fact coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Sibylle Kefer explains to mdw Magazine why she looks kindly on some aspects of last year’s sudden standstill—and why, for her sixth album, she no longer wants to be dependent on others.

Music is something that appeared quite early in the life of this exceptional artist: her father would put on entire evenings of folk music, and her mother taught piano in the kids’ bedroom. It was at the age of 10 that Sibylle Kefer received her first lessons on the flute. “Later on, as a teenager, I also wanted to explore other instruments. So I took lessons in flute, piano, and—later on—drums at my local music school, and my father showed me chords on the guitar at home.” Kefer also played in her district youth orchestra as well as in the local brass band, and she even led her own youth band. “Playing in the orchestra was something I’d wait the entire week to do, so you really could say that I lived for music.” What’s more, this young musician kept getting new ideas for new instruments. “As a rule, I always wanted a to do whole lot more of whatever interested me while completely eliminating everything else—like school,” says the Upper Austria native with a laugh.

I lived for music. It really was the greatest thing for me.

It was at a career fair that Sibylle Kefer first learned about the mdw’s programme in music therapy. What caught her interest about it was how it brought together her two great passions: music and social commitment. “Music therapy was my desired career—and if that hadn’t worked out, I would’ve gone into social work.” So following one year of preparation, she attained admission to the mdw’s abbreviated programme in music therapy.

Sibylle Kefer’s second career alongside music therapy is singing jazz. As a 17-year-old, she had experienced a concert by jazz singer Ines Rieger in Hallstatt—and this performance motivated her to attend several seminars in Scheibbs and Zeillern. She then proceeded to finance her training as a jazz vocalist by working as a music therapist. “Music therapy enabled me not only to train as a jazz vocalist but also to pay my band better when we did our initial projects. That was very important to me.”

At the moment, this thoroughly trained jazz singer is working on her sixth album. “I’ve participated in several production workshops so that I’ll no longer be dependent upon others—and so that I can have my music sound like I want it to. I want to involve all of my personal themes in this album.”

I could never learn enough, and I kept getting ideas for new instruments.

Alongside her work as a children’s music therapist, Sibylle Kefer also spent ten years helping jazz singers work toward their diplomas © Magdalena Blaszczcuk

Around 20 years after her original training as a music therapist, Sibylle Kefer decided to take the opportunity to complete the present-day course of study in order to earn a music therapy diploma, which hadn’t yet been offered back when she was a student. “The beginning of my leave for further education last year coincided exactly with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. At that point in time, I was extremely tired from working and urgently needed a break. I’m part of a great team, and what I do is very meaningful—but it’s also very strenuous.” This time away from her career therefore provided her with an opportunity to gather new strength and get a fresh start. She proceeded to take a deep dive into her diploma paper topic of “children’s fears of losing control in attachment-based music therapy” (Kontrollverlustängste bei Kindern in einer bindungsorientierten Musiktherapie), and by November 2020, she had successfully completed all the requirements for her diploma. “I was grateful for the opportunity to concentrate on my research work during this period. What’s more, I once again had more time for both my family and myself, which did me good. So the standstill due to the pandemic was quite a fortunate thing for me.” At the same time, though, Sibylle Kefer did worry about the side-effects that this upheaval would bring along with it. “That preoccupied and frightened me quite a bit, of course—above all in terms of how it was affecting children and adolescents.” But the way in which these two groups have dealt with the coronavirus crisis is something for which Kefer has a lot of admiration. “Young people are so flexible. They had to accept lots of limitations, they looked out for others, and they hardly got any breaks.” And it’s here, says the trained music therapist, that resilience plays a huge role. “It’s about forging links between each other and staying in contact. You’ve got to restructure and order yourself.”

What I learned while training to be a therapist is that there are many ways of dealing with things you’ve experienced.

As a mother of three, she likewise experienced the period of COVID-19 restrictions as a huge challenge; maintaining structure during a period of home-schooling proved quite difficult: “On the spur of the moment, I decided to develop a radio play together with my kids to give them something enjoyable to do.” The whole family, including the grandparents, eventually joined in and recorded the script’s various roles. “We also wrote songs and proceeded to record them, and that was a great experience for us all.” As an educator, Kefer points out how the attitude that parents bring to bear in a crisis affects how their children behave. “Parents can enable their kids to be resilient by demonstrating the ability to get something positive out of difficult situations.”

Having returned from her further education leave, her everyday life as a children’s music therapist features the coronavirus and the associated mitigation measures. “We’ve have to wear masks in our work with small children, some of whom suffer from linguistic development and contact disorders. I’ve found that to be quite challenging.”

As a music therapist, Sibylle Kefer has spent many years working at the SOS Children’s Village in Hinterbrühl. And she now also works at the Zentrum für Entwicklungsförderung [Centre for Developmental Promotion] in Vienna © Johannes Wahl
In general, this music therapist finds individual resilience important and helpful. But she finds it just as important for us to be there as a society for those who need help. “It would be unfortunate if everyone fought only for themselves. Art is something that’s vulnerable and fragile; it should be able to remain authentic. And being weak is just as human as is being strong. All of these facets are important.”

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