Cory Joy Craig
The Reward of Music as Therapy
“Music can heal the wounds that medicine cannot touch.”
- Dr. Debasish Mridha
Just ask Cory Joy Craig. She has the wounds – the physical and psychological wounds – that medicine cannot help.
But music can.
“(My siblings and I) had to go to a lot of psychiatrists and therapists to deal with our past,” Craig said. “I tried to block as much of it as I possibly could. Week after week, they would try all different kinds of techniques to try and get it out of us. I have night terrors. I have anxiety disorder and depression. Whenever I start feeling that coming on, I just want to grab my saxophone and go play it. I want to go listen to something in the car, relax, and not have my mind on it.”
Craig is the Beginning Band director at Benton Intermediate School. She’s also one of several quarterfinalists from across the country for the Music Educator Award. Presented by the Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Museum, the award recognizes educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to music education.
“I’ve been destroyed a thousand times.
Still try to stand tall. Don’t know how long I can fight back, with the rope hanging around my neck.”
- “Rope Around My Neck,” by Pain
Craig grew up in southern California. Make that survived in Mission Viejo, Calif.
“My parents were very abusive,” Craig remembers. “They would beat us up. They would throw us down the stairs. They would put us in a closet for a day or two or lock us outside.”
Not even school was an escape for Craig.
“I skipped school a lot,” Craig said. “(My siblings and I) were dirty. … I dreaded going to school. I would rather stay at home. There was this one day my dad was home from work. I was cuddling with (younger sister) Hannah in the bed. He decided to come up and touch me and do all kinds of stuff to me.”
“He was very sexually abusive toward me and my siblings. We were kind of his child harem.”
Going to school had to be pretty bad for Craig to have wanted to stay home.
“We smelled like meat. That’s what a lot of kids said. We had rats for pets. Our clothes were ragged. My shoes would have holes in them.”
Craig’s parents temporarily lost custody of their children to a foster agency. When the children were returned to their parents, Child Protective Services made occasional home visits. But those visits turned out to be a formality.
“They would always call ahead and let us know they were coming,” Craig said. “I knew that because my parents would say, ‘All right, let’s start shoving things in closets.’ We had to take all the dishes and hose them down outside because our sinks were clogged and maggots were in all the dishes. We put on a whole show. We had our first shower in probably a month. We got everything cleaned up.”
So, Craig and her siblings continued to stay with their parents. But, Craig said, their living conditions didn’t get better.
“When I was in early elementary school, we had a really bad case of lice. I think we always had lice, but then the school mentioned we had to do something. So, we shaved our heads. We had to go to school with a shaved head and also looking dirty.”
Eventually, when Craig was 10 years old, she was removed from her parents and began going to foster homes. It was while living in her second foster home that Craig found music.
“I thought I might be good at it,” Craig said. “I didn’t feel successful at anything.”
The band needed a baritone saxophone player. Craig needed something. Anything.
“I brought home this big ol’ case that was basically a coffin. It was as big as I was. I had to bring it up the hills of Mission Viejo up to my house.”
But that physical struggle led to self-confidence – and self-respect.
“I can be heard for the first time,” Craig thought. “People are going to hear and see and listen to me. I’m important. The baritone saxophone doesn’t have some of the most exciting parts, but it has some of the most important parts. It lays the foundation for the rest of the band, so I felt very, very important and powerful in that sense that I had never felt before.”
Music also helped Craig find things that, growing up the victim of alleged abuse, seemed far, far away.
“It brought friendship. It brought dedication and hard work. For those going through tough circumstances, especially when parents aren’t involved in pushing their kids, music is where they’re going to be pushed. Music is where they are going to learn all these skills they might not learn at home or be pushed to learn at home. And that’s from poor to rich. That’s in every home.”
“Oh, no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive.” - “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor
Not only has Craig survived, but she has thrived – thanks to her love of music. And she uses her past to help others who are struggling. Katie Williams learned music under Craig at Herndon Magnet School.
“My eating disorder is something that I have suffered with for years,” Williams said. “I wasn’t diagnosed until about a year ago. I went to several treatment centers, and they put me through different kinds of therapy programs. The one thing that really helped me through it all was music therapy because of the music I learned through Mrs. Craig. I find it easier to put aside the eating disorder thoughts, sing a song in my head, make up some lyrics or use what Mrs. Craig taught. I don’t always go to the piano, but I play a song in my head.”
Williams’ parents, Robert and Jennifer, got to know Craig well while Katie and her brother, Ian, were in Craig’s class.
“She’s a strong person,” Jennifer Williams said. “She’s a strong soul, and she wants to instill that in everyone. She wants everyone, no matter what’s going on, to keep pushing forward – keep fighting.”
So, at 31 years old, Craig is in a place she couldn’t imagine when she was a child – allegedly being abused by her parents and forced to live in filth. From her personal pain, Craig is teaching children the sound of music – and the relief it can bring from pain and despair.
To learn how you can help pay for instruments in Craig’s music class at Benton Intermediate School, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org.