CH's Ronna Kaplan impacts lives through music therapy

Ronna Kaplan is chair of the Center for Music Therapy at The Music Settlement, the first community-based music therapy program in the country.

Photo credit: Dale McDonald.

Music therapist Ronna Kaplan, who was born, and grew up, in Cleveland Heights, has a Heights teacher to thank for leading her to her profession.

“My senior year at Heights High,” recalled Kaplan, “we had a new band director named Robert Bergantino. When it was my turn to audition, he asked about my career aspirations. I said I wanted to go into a social service field and he said, ‘You should be a music therapist.’”

“Then, my mom told me that they had music therapy at The Music Settlement (TMS). She knew that because she’d been driving me to the Settlement for flute, theory and piano lessons since I was 10, and she often read the course catalog while she waited,” said Kaplan.

Louise Steele Markland, who became Kaplan’s mentor and supervisor, had started working at TMS three years earlier. “My senior year, I observed her and talked with her. Louise actually introduced me to the head of the music therapy (MT) program at Michigan State University, which is where I ended up going to school,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan moved back to the Heights after completing her schooling and internship, and started working part time at TMS in 1988, when her children—Erin Cochran, now of Portland, Ore., and Zach Davis, of Cleveland Heights—were both in elementary school.

“Louise sought me out to work for her, which was validating,” Kaplan said. “She was a leader in our profession and her work was groundbreaking; plus, she was the director of the first community-based music therapy program in the country, which was founded at The Music Settlement in 1966.”

Since 2004, Kaplan has served as chair of the Center for Music Therapy at The Music Settlement. She is proud of the organization’s contributions to the profession over the past 50 years: “We’ve trained interns and supervised students, helping to prepare subsequent generations of music therapists. We have contributed to the body of literature regarding MT, both in MT journals and journals or organizations of related professions. Plus, we’ve been a model for other like institutions.”

TMS will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its pioneering Center for Music Therapy with an evening of events on Monday, Nov. 7. Tickets are available online at People with special needs, along with their families and caregivers, are also welcome to attend the free (with RSVP) Arts for Us Concert on Sunday, Nov. 6: visit for more information.

As she embarks on the start of the next 50 years of music therapy at TMS, Kaplan looks forward to the continuing diversification of the Center for Music Therapy’s therapists, clientele and funding sources, and to providing more opportunities for intentional inclusion for clients with special needs.

“We’ll continue to cultivate new outreach partnerships in the community, and to sustain the long-term ones,” said Kaplan. “We are seeking more diverse partnerships, especially to tie-in to our upcoming west-side campus. Additionally, we’ll continue to seek alternate funding sources to help the people who need our services the most.”

Lynn B. Johnson

Lynn B. Johnson is the director of marketing and communications for The Music Settlement.

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Volume 9, Issue 11, Posted 10:04 AM, 11.01.2016