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Winter Traditions and New Resolutions

Rhythm & Reason Blog, Post By: James E. Riley, MM, MT-BC – (727) 350-7897,

The winter season is filled with beloved traditions. Nostalgic memories of people, places, emotions, music, and more. Who am I? I am years of making family recipe cookies, of helping Dad put up the lights, the jingle and the jangle of sleigh bells and loose change, holiday walks along the gulf, piano in a loosely packed sanctuary. I am my parents’ son, my sisters’ brother, my girlfriend’s partner. Even if not returning home or continuing with cherished traditions this year, it is hard not to reflect on those people dear to us, what we hold most dear in our lives, and what we have experienced throughout the concluding year.

But we cannot stay on vacation or eat peppermint ice cream all day. There is such a fresh, thrilling feeling when we begin something new, perhaps memorialized with the celebration of each new year. There is a romance to diving into new projects, new self-improvement routines, new outlooks, new everything. Who am I? I am also an aspiring professional, a budding writer, a curious musician, an optimistic athlete. There are new people to meet, new depths for relationships to reach. Our new intentions have little value if they do not produce real changes. The challenge is when the romantic period plateaus. Losing resolve for our New Year’s resolutions could be considered a failure of will, but it would be more productive to consider it a failure of design. How else could you have structured your resolution, how could overcoming personal resistance have been better incentivized, how could people have been incorporated or your environment adapted in order to improve your chance of success? One great aspect of humanity is not our individual intelligence, but that we live in networks and cultural institutions, that we can change our surroundings. We make a smart world so that we can be dumb.

We can only learn so much new information at a time. We must connect with the what we already understand. Every year we cycle back to tradition before again springing into something new. And this is how we learn. We have to build new knowledge with the foundation of what we already grasp. We gain new relationships, experiences, perspectives, insights, and skills, but should focus on context and meaning, on their connection to who we already are. We construct vast networks of people, information, and neural synapses not by starting from scratch, but improving on the original matrix.

Reflecting on this last year of my work, the university faculty I loved working with gave me the scaffolding to attempt and occasionally achieve some great things. Now having moved to St. Petersburg, FL and founding Music Therapy St. Pete, LLC, I feel a little lost. I want to build a new supportive community. Greater than food or even sleep, humans need social context and meaning. I have delved deeper into familial bonds, but seek some professional direction.

Genetics play no small part in our lives, but I argue that all behavior is learned. You can run more, change your thoughts, overcome addictions, learn to play an instrument at any age, adjust to losing (or gaining) basic senses, and learn how to develop a successful business. For some behaviors it seems that we have to fake it until we make it, like going back to work day after day and pretending to care about our duties. The romantic period plateaus, but we have to keep at it. Look how much happens in a year! How much time passes!

So we can learn new behaviors. Business is new to me. Blogging is new to me. I don’t even like posting on social media. But I want to construct a medium, a (however self-imposed) sense of responsibility, a (potential) community that will guide me towards more reading, thinking, writing, communicating, discovering.

Though my present self would rather skip the effort, my future self is much more motivated. I want to advocate the field of Music Therapy, serve music therapy students and professionals, help promote my private practice, raise money towards future causes, increase communication and cohesion between clinicians of diverse regions and clinical perspectives. Most of all, I want to prepare myself for doctoral education and a career as a professor. I welcome feedback, collaboration, Q&A, guest bloggers, shout-outs to your own posts and articles, and more. Comment below, or e-mail

I was a graduate assistant before teaching full-time for a couple of years. But it’s a new year and the spring has come. I’m actively seeking the musical, clinical, theoretical, and intangible development that will make me a more helpful teacher in the future. I am confident enough in my clinical services, but this online public broadcasting is foreign. Here’s to sticking through it beyond the romantic phases, through the plateaus, and eventually to celebrate as it becomes my new normal, a new tradition. The culmination of new learning. Connecting these (hopefully) learned behaviors with who I already am. All life is becoming. And returning to the past. And living here and now.

When the stars are out and your memories shine upon you… When the lights of the menorah burn, what do you feel? What do you see when you look in the Christmas tree? I see security, hope, possibility. By this process of reaching out and reciprocity, I have generalized childhood hope for a huge lego set in the morning to an optimism for my adult future. Who do you resolve to be this New Year?