Our history

In 1959 American composer and pianist Paul Nordoff and special education teacher Clive Robbins developed a new form of collaborative music-making to engage vulnerable and isolated children, which they termed ‘therapy in music’.

The early years

The effects of the music therapy, which started initially in children’s homes, were felt early on; it helped the children develop concentration, self-control and increased social and self-awareness. The effects lasted way beyond just the sessions themselves, and demand for Nordoff and Robbins’ work increased.

Nordoff and Robbins 1972 ‘Irvin can beat the drum’

1974 – Our first training programme

They began researching, publishing and teaching all over the world. Led by Sybil Beresford-Pierse, the first music therapy service was established in South London in 1970. This was soon followed by the first Nordoff Robbins training programme in 1974 which was essential as it gave Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins the opportunity to pass on the vital skills they had been developing for 15 years.

1976 – Our fundraising team is formed

1976 was a pivotal year for Nordoff Robbins.It marked the establishment of the first fundraising team whose job it was to support the work, training and research of Nordoff Robbins music therapy. In 1982 the very first Nordoff Robbins Centre opened in North London, housing a music therapy service and training facility under Sybil Beresford-Peirse. Nordoff Robbins’ work later spread to other countries with a dedicated music therapy centre opening up in NYU Steinhardt, New York, and Nordoff Robbins’ music therapy work developed in Germany, Australia, South Africa, Japan and Korea.

1990 – Knebworth Rocks to raise funds for our new centre

Thanks to a fundraising rock concert at Knebworth in 1990 with performances from Paul McCartney, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Elton John and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, a new Nordoff Robbins music therapy centre opened in Kentish Town, North London, which is to this day is the hub of Nordoff Robbins’ activity and their national headquarters.

1995 – Our Master of Music Therapy Programme launches

Nordoff Robbins continued to grow from strength to strength; in 1995 the Nordoff Robbins’ Master of Music Therapy programme was launched to train the therapists of the future. The programme continues to be one of the leading training programmes for music therapists in the UK, and is validated by Goldsmiths University.

2001 – Our work in partnerships starts

2001 was a ground-breaking year for Nordoff Robbins, when we launched our first national outreach services, partnering with organisations in health, education, arts and social care, to help people of all ages to access services outside of our centres. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Music Therapy Unit opened in 2009 on the grounds of the BRIT School in Croydon, establishing a second base, and this was followed in 2015 with a third unit, which opened at the Royal Albert Hall.

2018 – Nordoff Robbins England and Scotland merge to form a single charity

In 2018 Nordoff Robbins and sister organisation Nordoff Robbins Scotland took a significant step, announcing our merger into one UK-wide Nordoff Robbins charity, with a shared primary goal – to deliver high quality Nordoff Robbins music therapy to all who need it. For many years we had been working closely together, but the merger gives an opportunity to pool our expertise to form a comprehensive UK approach. Fundamentally, we want to support more people, in more places who can benefit from our music services.

Today, Nordoff Robbins is the largest music therapy charity in the UK helping thousands of people each year. We now deliver services from 13 centres across the UK, and we work in partnership with over 211 organisations. Whilst changes over the years have been substantial, our ethos has remained the very cornerstone of our work – to change the lives of the people who need us most.