Taking the Stage to Help Others

Freshman music therapy major, Amanda Conti, poses with her guitar on top of the CELS building at Montclair State. -Photo by Christina Urban

As Told to Christina Urban

Amanda Conti

Freshman music therapy major at Montclair State

Marlboro, NJ

My dad’s really musical and he was the one who wanted to get me started in music. From the time I was little, we would always listen to the Beatles and other music together. He plays piano, so he got me into piano by the time I was four. I was taking piano lessons and I had a strong ear, but I never learned how to play music so I took group piano lessons. At five or six, my piano teacher moved me up with 10-year-old because she thought I was good at reading music, but I was just figuring things out and so I ended up getting moved up, completely skipping the part where you learn how to read music. I just never really learned how to read music and I do everything by ear now.

I started playing drums next — which was a bad idea. I started singing at 13. I’m learning guitar right now.

I had terrible stage fright. I used to get really nervous, so I would never sing in front of people. For the longest time I would only perform like outside of school, but I never let anyone in school know that I sang. It was terrifying because you can’t be more vulnerable, especially when it’s stuff that I’ve written. You’re just showing your feelings. Singing is the kind of thing where you can’t mess up and blame it on anything, it’s all you. I think now, people appreciate someone being vulnerable and sharing themselves and they’ll connect to it.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school where people found out that I sang and write because I started getting over my anxiety with performing.

Now I love singing. It makes me feel less anxious. It’s something that eases my nerves.

I’ve done all different shows. I sang back up for Bon Jovi once in Red Bank. I did this music program, and Bon Jovi was looking for backup singers so he went to my program. They chose a couple of people and they asked me. It was surreal. That was the moment I realized that was what I wanted to do forever.

Being on stage is what gives me energy. It was something that used to make me nervous and now it’s so comfortable. People come up to me now and say that I look more comfortable on stage than off stage. I’m so comfortable with being vulnerable to the audience and sharing my feeling on that platform because I feel like I was meant to perform music to help people and share my story.

I have a younger brother with special needs, so I was between choosing something to do with music and special education. My freshman year of high school, I found out about music therapy and I loved it. I started volunteering at Special Strides, near my house. It’s a place that uses unconventional therapy to help kids, like horseback riding. My brother learned how to walk there. I started bringing music therapy there to do with the kids and it was a humbling experience.

One time, I was working with this kid who had a stutter. He was trying to get a sentence out and he couldn’t do it. We had him sing the sentence over a melody that he knew and he said it perfectly without stuttering.

I’ve seen people, who doctors thought they would never speak, make their first sounds and words with singing. It’s like watching miracles happen all the time.