Ava Leavell Haymon and Cordell Haymon in a headshot.

Music therapy is the use of creating, singing, moving to and/or listening to music in order to address individualized physical, cognitive, social and psychological needs. It is often used to help people with Alzheimer’s disease, learning disabilities, substance abuse problems and acute and chronic physical pain.

Those interested in studying music therapy in Louisiana previously had only had two options: earn an online degree or leave the state — until now.

LSU alumni Ava Leavell Haymon and Cordell Haymon donated $1.2 million to the College of Music & Dramatic Arts to fund an endowed chair in music therapy position. This donation, which could be matched by up to $800,000 by the Louisiana Board of Regents, would provide annual funding to the position, enabling the University to start a new degree program in music therapy.

“We are incredibly excited for the establishment of a new endowed chair in music therapy,” said College of Music & Dramatic Arts dean Todd Queen in a public statement. “Music Therapy is a rapidly growing and important area of study, linking across many different academic disciplines and our society.”

The Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy would be the first music therapy program offered at a Louisiana public university. The interdisciplinary degree program would combine classes offered in the College of Music & Dramatic Arts, along with classes from the College of Science and College of Humanities & Social Sciences.

“This creates another career opportunity for people with wonderful music training to deploy that training in support of a very beneficial [cause],” Cordell Haymon said.

Research by the American Music Therapy Association has shown that the treatment can reduce muscle tension, improve self-esteem, increase verbalization and more.

One study performed in 1998 showed that depressed adolescents using music therapy experienced significant decreases in stress hormone levels. Another study from 1994 showed significant decreases in patients’ negative symptoms and social isolation, while increasing socialization and interest in social events.

The Haymons’ gift was part of the University’s $1.5 billion Fierce for the Future Campaign, the largest higher education fundraising campaign in Louisiana’s history. The campaign seeks to unite the University’s statewide campuses and to raise philanthropic support for arts and culture; coast, energy and environment; research and economic development; health; education; and leadership.

Ava Leavell Haymon graduated from the University in 1967 with a master’s degree in English. Cordell Haymon graduated from the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center in 1968. The two have supported the University philanthropically for over 35 years.

This generous endowment by the Haymon family ensures [that] LSU and our community health partners will be at the forefront of research and techniques in this cutting-edge field,” Queen said.

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