$1.5M investment brings state-of-the-art music therapy studio to Mott Children’s Hospital


ANN ARBOR, MI — The Barton family is so musical, you might find sheet music in their genetic code.

Anne-Marie and Kent Barton are the parents of sons Luke, Chaz and Cole, all of whom play guitar and sing. As for their daughter Sophie, she really gave her all to music and had career aspirations, Anne-Marie said.

Sophie died suddenly of an irregular heartbeat aged 17 while on a family trip. As the family picked up the pieces of the loss, they discovered that Sophie also wanted to dedicate her life to serving children in hospitals.

Flash forward to today, and the latest in a series of state-of-the-art music therapy studios named after Sophie Barton has opened at CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Michigan Medicine opened the latest Sophie’s Place studio in a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, August 3, the culmination of a $1.5 million investment in music therapy for child patients.

The space, which spans about 1,250 square feet, triples the music therapy services that Michigan Medicine can provide for children, health system officials said. The investment was made possible by donations from former NFL quarterback Steve Young and his wife Barbara’s Forever Young Foundation, as well as the Mott Golf Classic and other donors.

The first Sophie’s Place came in 2013 at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, followed by other studios at children’s hospitals in California and Arizona. The Ann Arbor studio is the first outside the western United States, Young said Wednesday.

“It took vision and some trust in a small group of people,” he said, pointing to the Barton family. “We’ve done that a few times in the west and to take it east and across the continental divide, it’s very exciting.”

Anne-Marie and Kent Barton, the parents of Sophie Barton, the inspiration behind the Sophie’s Place initiative.Sam Dodge | MLive.com

The Bartons were blown away by the studio space on Wednesday, especially when hospital officials presented them with a framed photograph of a sound wave depicting Sophie’s voice singing. While the day was personally moving for them, it also advanced the cause of music therapy which has “a prescription for healing,” Anne-Marie said.

“Music really transforms the soul,” she said. “It also opens up certain parts of the mind, to take advantage of progress if you have suffered brain damage. Music can not only make you feel good, but it can also improve your health.

Sophie’s Place studio will advance Michigan Medicine’s goals of providing emotional, psychological and holistic health care, said Dr. David Miller, president of the University of Michigan Health System.

“This venture is going to be such a catalyst in advancing the comprehensive, holistic care we provide here at Children’s and Women’s Hospital,” he said Wednesday.

Studio music therapy services include opportunities for patients to record and share music with other patients and families, as well as experience in recording studios, the statement said. There will be group music therapy sessions, specialized programs to promote coping methods, and programs to support families in times of support and loss.

The studio also allows for in-person and virtual performances, bringing footage into patients’ rooms if they can’t get around. There will be programs such as “Story Hour” to encourage academic engagement with child patients and “Song of the Day” segments that connect music therapists with child patients.

“Music is a powerful way to provide children and teens with comfort and connection and to help them cope with their hospitalization and treatment,” said Luanne Thomas Ewald, chief operating officer at Mott, as well as ‘at the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

Mott’s studio will be managed by music therapist Meredith Irvine, who has called the space an opportunity for more connection between patients at the hospital.

“Music is an integral part of who we are as individuals and how we connect with each other,” she said. “Sophie’s Place will allow us to provide individualized music therapy services that meet the needs of each patient throughout their journey and healing process.

The Ann Arbor studio would have brought Sophie “extreme joy”, her mother said.

“Sophie used to say her legs tickled and that’s how she reacted to things that brought her extreme joy,” Anne-Marie said. “It was everything Sophie wanted. It really reflects Sophie.

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