Convocation ‘20: Aanchel Gupta

Rehabilitating Children Through Music

Erik Einsiedel - 02 June 2020

In her second year as a Bachelor of Arts student, Aanchel Gupta took a course about music therapy. What she learned inspired her to eventually volunteer at the Stollery Children's Hospital to work with children with little contact with the outside world. Through music therapy, she enables them to express emotions through music, helping them cope with their treatments in positive, creative ways.

A singer herself since the age of three, Aanchel is a trained vocalist who has been performing in choirs for 12 years, winning multiple solo vocal competitions internationally. When she first came to the U of A, Aanchel pursued a science degree in biology, but after finding her passion in her music classes, switched to the Faculty of Arts to major in Music and minor in Linguistics.

She credits her professors who have encouraged her interests in fields like medical ethnomusicology, prompting her to participate in research projects using music in rehabilitation. Aanchel has leveraged her experience in volunteer opportunities with organizations like Braille Tones, a choir that provides musical experiences to adults and children with disabilities.

As she continues to pursue opportunities to use music to rehabilitate people, Aanchel is looking forward to pursuing higher education in public health, and eventually a career in medicine.

What drew you to the area of your study?

I began my university education in the Faculty of Sciences majoring in biology with a music minor. I’ve always had an interest in both sciences and art, and therefore wanted to explore both of these interests by taking a variety of courses.

Although I enjoyed my science courses, I found the music courses I was taking exposed me to a breadth of skills and opportunities I felt I could apply to different areas of my life. These courses taught me to think critically from different perspectives, while honing my writing and communication skills.

I’ve always been passionate about music and I have been singing from the age of 3. I have been singing in choirs for 12 years, and I took voice lessons, completing level 10 in the Royal Conservatory of Music. I also have won solo voice competitions at the local, provincial, and international levels. Naturally, music felt like an easy choice in terms of what to study. I wanted to learn about the uses of music, and how I could combine my passion for music with my interest in healthcare.

Within the music program, I’ve taken classes in theory, history, and performance, realizing that there is so much to learn in the realm of musicology. Music is such a prominent aspect of all our lives, and throughout my degree I have been able to explore the function of music in different cultures and contexts. Although there is undoubtedly a pleasurable aspect of many kinds of music, I’ve also learned about the weaponization of music, music as a political force, and music as a healing mechanism. For example, I took a class about music and identities, and from there I chose to research the musical identity of the Holocaust. I learned about the different functions of music within the work camps, such as the use of prisoner orchestras to maintain order, and prisoners signing national anthems as an act of defiance (this paper was selected as Highly Commended in the Music, Film, and Theatre category in the Global Undergraduate Awards 2019!). Another aspect of music I explored was music in political movements like the Civil Rights movement. Music played an active role in uniting the repressed and rallying for change.

I’m grateful to have had amazing professors throughout my degree who have supported and encouraged my interests in fields like medical ethnomusicology. More recently, I’ve been able to take on some research projects that explore music in relation to rehabilitation as well as stress reduction. I think there is a lot of potential in the area of music and healing, especially in the western healthcare system.

From the beginning of my degree, I have sung with the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers, an auditioned choir with singers from across campus. This group has been an important part of my university career as I was able to continue my love for singing, while developing and improving my musical abilities with like-minded individuals. While in sciences, The Madrigal Singers provided a creative outlet that balanced out the variety of courses I was taking.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

In my second year, I took a music therapy course and loved it. In that course, I learned about the applications of music and its use in healing. This course sparked my interest in researching music through a cross-disciplinary lens, combining health and healing practices of different cultures with listening and creating music. It encouraged me to pursue my interests to learn more about this topic.

Having had so many great music opportunities growing up, I also felt that it is important to give back to the community and foster opportunities for others. I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the joy of music, which is why I volunteer with people who may have barriers accessing music education. Through the music therapy course, I began volunteering at the Stollery Children’s Hospital as a music therapy volunteer. As a volunteer, I visit children who do not experience much contact outside the hospital, and I provide them with a constructive way to express their emotions and creativity. I have gained an insight into how prolonged medical treatment can negatively affect a child’s ability to cope, as they miss out on normal childhood experiences. Experiencing human connection is a vital part of life, and I am able to be a part of that by bringing music right to their bedside. 

I also volunteer with Braille Tones, a choir that provides musical experiences to adults and children with disabilities. Volunteering with the choir has allowed me to see first-hand how music can empower individuals of any ability to create and share their love of music. I am also President of the University of Alberta MusicBox Chapter, a group that works to provide music education to vulnerable children. Our club works with community partners in Edmonton to create free music lessons for children in vulnerable areas. I strongly believe that music can positively influence a child’s development, as it fosters a sense of commitment and community and promotes creativity. My positive experiences with music are what motivate me to provide the same opportunity to underprivileged children.

Did you face any significant challenges, and if so, how did you deal with it?

I’ve been fortunate enough to not have any significant barriers or challenges during my university career. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to volunteer and create opportunities for others.

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

I was lucky to have some amazingly dedicated professors who made the transition manageable. Actually attending classes and participating in discussions over zoom made my classes feel more real and I felt motivated to stay focused.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

The University offers so many different courses! Don’t be afraid to take courses outside your program because you’ll be surprised as to how much they can impact you.

What is next for you?

I am really excited to start my Masters in Public Health at UBC this fall! After that, I hope to pursue a career in medicine.


The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.