Issue 3 of Music Education UK magazine was published in September 2012. For a taster, read Alexia Quin's report on the work of Music as Therapy International below.
Music as Therapy International
Music as Therapy International brings the gift of communication through music into the lives of thousands of disadvantaged and disabled people around the world. Children and adults who, for reasons of disability or trauma, find verbal communication difficult can use music as a personal and sensitive means of expressing emotion and relating to others, sometimes for the first time, reports Director, Alexia Quin.
Music as Therapy International started its work in the orphanages of Romania in 1995. There, we developed our skill-sharing model: Professional Music Therapists join teams of local staff working with children and adults with Special Needs. Over a number of weeks, they share their skills and ensure that the local staff – our Local Partners – are left with the necessary musical instruments, skills, experience and confidence to continue running their own music programme long after our volunteers leave. We now work beyond the boundaries of Romania, offering a range of projects which ensures that the legacy of the life-enhancing techniques we introduce to Local Partners around the world is a lasting one.
Last year saw two introductory music therapy training projects reach Local Partners working in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in Huancayo, Peru. The impact of music for the children in the school in Georgia is captured in the following vignettes, written by one of the volunteer Music Therapists, Sarah Whiteside:
- ‘An autistic boy spends most of the first three sessions at the back of the hall, usually taking an instrument with him. We try to stay in musical contact, responding to sounds he makes and using his name. During the fourth session, he is able to take his place in the circle.’
- ‘A young woman with little speech, who staff members describe as generally unresponsive outside the music room, joins in with a familiar Georgian song. As it ends, she lays a palm across her breastbone. ‘Guli,’ she says. Heart.’
- ‘A group of five children who share a lack of confidence and a tendency to silence spontaneously develop a musical game. We pass an imaginary object around the circle which changes shape from person to person, ‘speaking’ for the child. In one child’s hands, it is a scary monster, growling; in another’s, it becomes a cat, miaowing. The children are engaged, laughing and delightfully creative. During the following session, this game develops quite naturally into a group vocal improvisation where each child has a voice and can experiment within the game’s structure.’
In Peru, the music sessions were equally well received but this project brought an additional benefit. We were told that numerous overseas volunteers had spent short periods with the Centre over the years without considering the sustainability and long-term impact of their involvement. At times, this resulted in some difficult and damaging experiences for both the children and the overall health of the Centre. Our Local Partners thanked us for bringing a project that, for once, empowered the staff rather than solely focussing on the immediate needs of the children.
Meanwhile, on another continent, we returned to visit two teams of Local Partners working with disabled children in rural Rwanda. This visit came a year after their original introductory training project and so it was critical that we found the Local Partners’ new skills were still being used. Our volunteer team found both Centres had music programmes up and running although, as expected, the staff working with children with more complex needs had encountered plenty of challenges. One young girl had been discovered living in a forest at the age of two. She had been raised by animals and was brought to an orphanage where she lived, isolated and neglected, for six years with staff finding it difficult to cope with her animal-like behaviour. She was brought to our Local Partners two years before and, although she was less wary of humans, staff felt that they had tried everything possible to engage with her yet still found it difficult to make a connection. Our volunteers were moved when they observed a member of staff, Ancille, patiently leading a considered, gentle music session which included several moments of ‘meeting’ between her and the young girl.
We pride ourselves in carefully tailoring our activities to meet the different needs of local people in a way that reflects the vast differences between the countries they work in, the specific difficulties they face and the reasons these difficulties have arisen. Our Distance Learning Programme, which we run in Romania, is one example of how we seek creative solutions. When we started our work in Romania, our skill-sharing training model worked well in the large institutions which housed hundreds of children, cared for by longstanding local staff teams. However, reform within Romania’s care system has thankfully seen the closure of many of these large institutions. In their place, there are now smaller centres providing community-based care. While the local staff continued to appeal to us for training to enhance the services they could offer, our traditional skill-sharing model was no longer the best way to respond. Last year, we developed an alternative: a Distance Learning Course focussing on the use of music to benefit young children with disabilities. We provided a series of online tutorials and an intensive study weekend while our students completed both written and practical assignments. The impact was far-reaching and by the end of the year, we were rewarded in the knowledge that there are now new music programmes up and running in three counties across the country.
Music as Therapy International does not only work overseas. Here in the UK, we run a University Credit-rated Learning Programme for Early Years workers: Interactive Music-Making for Practice. This initiative focusses on early intervention and making some of the benefits of music therapy available to young children when they first show signs of needing extra help to fulfil their potential. It is a course open to anyone working with young children under the age of five which has recently been short-listed for an Advancing Healthcare Award.
Music as Therapy International’s work was presented on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 1 July and Thursday 5 July 2012. To hear the appeal, click here.
Quotes from Local Partners around the world
- ‘For us, these music therapy sessions mean a lot. They came at a time when we didn’t know what to do with these children. Now, we have greater hope for their future.’
- ‘It is astonishing to see the way members of a group communicate with each other using music. I didn’t realise music could be a way of communicating and interacting.’
- ‘The resilience of the children to remain able to express themselves in this was positive and reassuring. In daily life, it seemed that they had very little emotional effects and showed neither happiness nor sadness. While in music, the children smiled, cried and interacted with each other. Above all, they expressed themselves freely in a way that seemed to feel very natural to them.’
- ‘After music sessions, M (she is very shy) started to communicate with teachers, sometimes she also gives answers. She doesn’t hide her face when somebody is speaking with her.’
- ‘I continued this work because I was supported by Music as Therapy International for 12 years. The continuous effort from them and from me has helped us give sense to the life of abandoned people that didn't have any hope of someone reaching out to them.’
- ‘You help us to love the children we live with more.’
About the author
Alexia Quin is a British Music Therapist who founded Music as Therapy International in 1995. Alexia originally visited Romania as a volunteer for eight months in 1992. With this experience behind her, she felt that skill-sharing might be more effective than volunteering and that music therapy could offer a way to address some of the emotional needs of children and adults at risk in Romania and beyond. Alongside her work for Music as Therapy International, Alexia works for Greenwich Community Health Service (part of the Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust) as a Music Therapist in a Secondary school for children with severe learning disabilities.
Subscribe to Music Education UK magazine
To subscribe to Music Education UK magazine, click here.