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Colleagues celebrate music therapy trailblazer

Published: 22 June 2023 at 14:00

Professor Helen Odell-Miller at an event to mark her retirement

Friends fly in from around the world to join Helen Odell-Miller’s retirement event

Friends and colleagues from around the world have gathered in Cambridge to celebrate the incredible career and achievements of Helen Odell-Miller OBE, Professor of Music Therapy at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), who is retiring later this summer.

Helen co-founded ARU’s ground-breaking MA in Music Therapy course in 1994 and is also Director of ARU’s Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research (CIMTR), which is one of the largest and most influential research units of its kind in the world. In 2016, she received the Order of the British Empire for services to music therapy.

In addition to her own clinical work as a music therapist in the NHS, Helen has led countless research projects investigating the benefits of music therapy for different groups and is currently UK Principal Investigator for the major five-country HOMESIDE study.

Large group of people at Professor Helen Odell-Miller's retirement celebration, including Helen and three musicians

Helen has been instrumental in establishing the case for music therapy to be used for people living with dementia, leading to changes in the NICE guidelines in 2019, and this work led to ARU receiving The Queen’s Anniversary Prize – the highest national honour awarded in UK higher and further education.

Alongside ARU Vice Chancellor Professor Roderick Watkins, Helen received The Queen’s Anniversary Prize from HRH Princess Anne and the then HRH Prince Charles during a ceremony at St James's Palace in February last year.

Helen has also helped to establish important partnerships and collaborations with Alzheimer’s UK, the Britten Pears Foundation, Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden, Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, as well as numerous other health trusts, care providers and universities worldwide, and has held an important role as a music therapy advisor to the Department of Health.

Before joining ARU in 1994, Helen helped to establish music therapy across Cambridgeshire, first working at the Ida Darwin Hospital and then at the Fulbourn Hospital next door (now part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust), when the first full-time music therapy post was created in 1980.

Over 150 people attended the celebration event in person at ARU’s Cambridge campus, including Professor Inge Nygaard Pedersen (Aalborg University, Denmark), Professor Denise Grocke (University of Melbourne, Australia), Professor Cheryl Dileo (Temple University, USA), and Professor Gro Trondalen (Norwegian Academy of Music), who are part of an international music therapy consortium Helen helped to establish over 20 years ago. While they are in Cambridge, international colleagues have passed on their research expertise to ARU PhD students in seminars.

Professor Catherine Lee, Professor Helen Odell-MIller and Professor Roderick Watkins at Helen's retirement celebration

Pictured above are (L-R) Professor Catherine Lee (Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences), Professor Helen Odell-Miller, and Professor Roderick Watkins (Vice Chancellor of ARU)

Other colleagues and friends sent video messages that were played during the special event, which also featured live music from jazz musician and ARU lecturer Kevin Flanagan, and a performance from Cambridge Voices, the choir Helen sings with as soprano.

ARU colleague Jorg Fachner, Professor of Music, Health and the Brain, said:

“This celebratory event was an absolutely wonderful occasion. It was clear from how many people attended, and how far they had travelled to be there, that Helen has influenced so many people in different parts of the world, as well as right here in Cambridgeshire.

“Helen has dedicated her life to music therapy and it’s no exaggeration to describe her as a real trailblazer, not just in helping to establish music therapy as a profession but in making it a recognised treatment for different groups of people. Helen will be retiring this summer, but the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research is in a wonderful position thanks to her tireless work, and we are looking forward to building on this in the years to come.”

Helen said:

“What an incredible party and event – I will remember the day forever. Everything was brilliantly planned and so much fun, although probably not for my colleagues who worked so hard to organise it! Without my fabulous colleagues, the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research would not be where it is now. I know that ARU's music therapy community is in very safe hands.”