Loyola University Chicago

School of Social Work


Helping others through music

Helping others through music

Before joining the faculty at Loyola’s School of Social Work, assistant professor Brian Kelly pursued a career in music. Now, he uses that musical background to connect with young clients.

Kelly—who holds a degree in audio engineering in addition to a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in social work—came here in 2013 with a mission in mind: to help others. Here, he talks about his career, the hardest part of being a social worker, and which DJs he loves to see perform.

You hold an associate’s degree in recording arts. How did you decide to get into social work?

In my late teens I played music around Chicago, and I pursued a career in music in my early 20s that led me to get an associate’s degree in audio engineering. I came back to Chicago in 1998 and pursued a career in music for two years. It was a lot of fun, but I reached an end game with that particular phase of my life. I knew I wanted to do something different, and I had an interest in helping others, which led me to social work.

Talk a little more about your work with music.

I used to provide addiction counseling services to young people at a transitional living program on the South Side. The agency had a makeshift studio space, and I saw young people using music equipment—and they were happy. I thought, “That’s a connection that we should explore as social workers.” Over the course of several years, I observed and interviewed young people who used the studio and found that the studio space is a place where they engage and foster their strengths.

One of your areas of interest and study is social justice and anti-oppressive practice with young people. Talk about that and how that connects with the Jesuit mission.

Research and teaching need to come from a space of service. Although I need to be productive in terms of producing scholarship, I want my research to have some benefit to the young people and agencies I work with. I want the work that I do to serve the community. That is social justice to me. It’s about meeting clients where they’re at and working with them from that space.

What is the hardest part about social work?

There is so much work to do. How do I choose what work to engage in? For me, it’s about finding the work that I’m passionate about and understanding that I can’t address every concern. If I can do what I’m passionate about and I can push it forward, then I’m OK with that. A lot of it is being OK with knowing that I can only do so much.

And finally, what music do you like to listen to?

Currently, I’m listening to a lot of Chicago house DJs: Michael Serafini, Innerspace Half-life , Hakim Murphy. And I was very excited I got to see Slowdive  reunite this fall at the Vic.