Music as the bond between struggling children
Max was the first to arrive. He was swinging an imaginary light saber as the other boys stepped off the elevator and into the waiting room. Soon there were four of them — Sam, Peter, Luke, Max – all of them eight, all joining the imaginary battle, each of them struggling to connect with other children.
Max was loud, energetic and easily distracted. Then there was Sam, who sat next to his mother, and was reluctant to leave her side. Luke, quiet and gentle, moved in and out of the duel. Peter was loud, too, but unlike Max was aware of it.
Their therapist, Jenny, knew her cue. She knew these boys. She walked into the music room and sat at the piano. When the boys heard the music they followed it into the room.
The idea was simple. For the next 30 minutes, the boys – whose names have been changed to protect their privacy — were to be transported by the music, and through it, become a band.
First, Jenny gave each boy an instrument – a cymbal, a ukulele, a melodion, and a xylophone. For 10 minutes she let them make whatever sounds they wanted. She wanted to give them the opportunity to express their emotions and gradually transition into a shared musical experience. That way, they could find common ground. The boys created a cacophony of clashing sounds and uneven tempos. Tears, at first, then smiles, then laughter.
Sam is sensitive to loud sounds. “It’s too loud,” he said anxiously with a lump in his throat. “Please do it softly,” he said again, welling up.
Before he came to Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Foundation, he had a hard time expressing himself. Teary-eyed, he would curl up and hide away to face the corners of the walls. Now, he can communicate.
Max, meanwhile, looked concerned. Without being told, he knew. He knew he was responsible for the noise. With his eyes on Sam, he continued playing, softer now.
Then Jenny began to play chords. The boys listened. And as they did the noise lessened. But when Jenny asked them to swap instruments, something happened. They all agreed on the one they wanted, except one.
Sam’s melodion was broken. He tried to fix it but couldn’t and began to cry. Jenny tried to help him put the pieces back together. He was frustrated. He refused to give his friend, Peter, the broken instrument. He wanted to fix it first.
The others were concerned about it for a minute, and then they got distracted. They stood up from their seats and moved to the corner of the room, where they could take a nap. But Jenny was quick to react. She fastened the loose pieces of the broken instrument and guided them back into their seats as she began to play again.
Then, she gave them a melody to play and assigned parts to each of them.
Could these boys play as one?
Peter went first and, one at a time, they played. But Max didn’t quite understand the timing of his cue. So they had to start again… and again… and again. The boys were patient. Their attempts were repetitive, but they were also constructive. It wasn’t long before everything became leveled and the group was in sync. They finally managed to get through the entire song, and rejoiced. Max smiled brightly. Luke and Sam grinned and Peter laughed, swinging his long blonde hair back in excitement.
Harmony, at last.
As the session came to an end and the boys sang “goodbye and thank you for your music, goodbye, bye, bye, thank you for your music,” they were all smiles, all cheers to greet their parents. And, like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders, they decided it was time to take a short nap on the carpet floor.