BOONE, N.C. — Renee Yong, a music therapy graduate student at Appalachian State University, is a board-certified music therapist whose work has garnered regional — and international — recognition.
She recently earned a scholarship for her original song, “Cold Mountain Shadow,” as part of the fall 2021 Make Your Mark International Scholarship Contest, and in 2019, she received the Intern Scholarship from the Southeastern Region of the American Music Therapy Association.
An international student from George Town, Malaysia, Yong is set to graduate from App State’s Hayes School of Music with her master’s degree in music therapy this fall. Post-graduation, she aims to pursue a career in higher education — with the goal of researching music therapy treatments for depression.
Yong said App State’s music therapy program has opened her eyes to music’s ability to connect deeply with people from a variety of backgrounds, adding, “It is such an honor to bear witness to someone’s growth and healing process through the sharing and creating of music.”
She is passionate about researching music therapy interventions as an approach to mental health and neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new neural connections over time in response to changes in a person’s environment, such as acquiring new knowledge or listening to a new song.
Studying, working abroad
Yong has been studying abroad since 2015, when she traveled to Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music performance.
Initially attracted to App State for its “renowned music therapy program,” which she began in 2017, Yong said the university’s setting in the Appalachian Mountains — with its convenient proximity to outdoor activities — and the helpful staff in App State’s Office of International Education and Development were also important factors in her decision to attend App State.
In 2019, she completed a six-month music therapy internship at the University Hospital of Cleveland as part of App State’s Equivalency in Music Therapy program, working with patients in the hospital’s ambulatory and psychiatric units. Such internships are a requirement of the program, which prepares students for the national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Yong passed the exam and now holds the national credential.
Afterward, she accepted a job in Indianapolis, providing music therapy services to individuals with disabilities before returning to App State in fall 2021 to continue her studies.
During her time at App State, Yong has served as a graduate research assistant mentee in the Students with Diverse Abilities Program, advocating for inclusion and access to higher education for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
‘Cold Mountain Shadow’
Yong created and recorded “Cold Mountain Shadow” — her winning song entry in the Make Your Mark Contest — after taking a road trip with friends along the Blue Ridge Parkway and watching the sun rise from Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower.
She was one of five international students worldwide to be named a winner in the contest, which challenged participants to express what it meant to them to be an international student in America in 2021 through a literary or artistic submission.
One of the song’s refrains — “Soon the sun will rise, keep waiting for the light” — was inspired by conversations Yong and her friends had around difficult topics, she shared.
“I realized how important it is to cling to hope when our hearts have grown cold and discouraged,” she said, explaining that her sunrise experience along the parkway was a reminder to not give up hope for the future.
In addition to pursuing her career aspirations, Yong’s future includes a trip to Malaysia to spend time with her family, she said. She has not been able to return home for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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About the Hayes School of Music
The Hayes School of Music prepares young musicians for professional lives as performers, composers, music educators, music therapists, conductors and music industry professionals, ensuring the next generation of musical leadership for the state, region and nation. Noted for quality instruction by national and internationally recognized faculty musicians, the school offers four undergraduate degree programs and three graduate-level programs. Learn more at https://music.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.