Carla Carnegie Finds Her Calling in Music Therapy

Music therapy alum Carla Carnegie ’12 was featured in the Spokesman-Review, talking about her path to finding meaningful work with individuals dealing with neurological issues like Alzheimer’s, stroke rehabilitation and autism.

Carla Carnegie, Class of 2012, Marylhurst University

Carla Carnegie ’12 runs Willow Songs Music Therapy Center. Photo credit: Colin Mulvany, Spokesman-Review.

Blind since birth, third-grader Alex has been working with Carla Carnegie for a little over a year. The board-certified music therapist uses the tools of her trade; piano, drums, guitar and autoharp, to help Alex navigate his world with confidence.

“Music and movement next?” he asked. “Brown-Eyed Girl?”

And soon he was dancing across the room with Carnegie, holding her hand and humming in harmony with the song.

Her new space in Otis Orchards, Wash., offers Carnegie room to continue the work she loves while also providing a place for the community to gather.

Community is important to Carnegie, 59, a lifelong Spokane Valley resident. The community rallied around her family when tragedy struck in 1971. Carnegie, then 14, was walking along Trent Road with her mother and sister when they were hit by a drunk driver.

Her mother was spared, but her sister was killed and Carnegie critically injured. She spent 45 days in the hospital, suffering from multiple broken bones and head and internal injuries. After undergoing several surgeries, she was sent home in a body cast – just in time to celebrate her 15th birthday.

Her life forever changed. More than three months after the accident, she returned to school part time. But just keeping up with her high school studies was exhausting.

“It was extremely difficult, as I couldn’t seem to hold anything in my brain for any length of time,” said Carnegie. “Studying was more than fatiguing. This is all part of what a person with a traumatic brain injury goes through in trying to live life normally again.”

College seemed out of reach. While she was hospitalized, Rick Carnegie, a fellow West Valley student who worked for her dad, visited frequently. They fell in love and she married him as soon as they graduated from high school.

She was told she’d never be able to have kids because of her injuries, but gave birth to four healthy children.

When her youngest graduated from high school, Carnegie decided it was time to pursue her dreams. She enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College to study music in 2004 and later transferred to Whitworth University.

Music has always been a part of her life and was pivotal in her recovery after the accident.

“I grew up in a musical family,” she said. “My home was filled with live music. Music was the glue that held me together mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically, as I used much loved folk tunes I had played – jigs and reels on fiddle – to provide the foundation to learn to walk again.”

While studying at Whitworth, she learned about the music therapy degree. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in music in 2009, she looked for a college that offered a degree in music therapy. The closest one that offered it was Marylhurst University.

She graduated with a second bachelor’s degree, this time in music therapy, completing the required 1,200 hours of clinical internship in 2012, and launched Willow Songs Music Therapy Services that same year.

Her national board certification means she’s had additional training in neurologic music therapy, which she said is a great help in her work with stroke patients, kids with autism and people with Parkinson’s disease.

“I’ve found my calling, my passion and my purpose,” she said. “Music is my passion and now I’m able to help people in a meaningful way. It’s incredibly satisfying.”

This news item is an excerpt from an article by Cindy Hval published in the Spokesman-Review on Nov. 6, 2016. » Read the full article on

Carla Carnegie earned her bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Marylhurst University in 2012. She runs a private music therapy practice, Willow Song Music Therapy Center, in Otis Orchards, Wash.

2017-03-30T01:04:21+00:00 January 26th, 2017|Alumni, Music Therapy|