BRITs Blog – meet Antonia

We couldn’t do what we do without the generous support of the BRIT Trust. Through the Nordoff Robbins Graduate/ Partnership development scheme, their support allows us to reach more people across the UK and over the next six months, we’ll hear from the music therapy graduates who are benefiting from the scheme.

Antonia’s story

When embarking on the Nordoff Robbins Masters programme, I thought I was becoming a music therapist! How little I knew… since graduating in July 2015, I seem to be more commonly known as ‘the music lady’, every now and then, ‘the pied piper’s wife’, at one school ‘Tinkerbelle!’ (due to the jingling chimes on my trolley) and once I have been ‘a guardian angel’.

After six months of working as a music therapist at four different partner organisations, I would perhaps choose the words ‘privileged musician’ to describe my job working with clients in settings such as Chatsworth Futures.

Chatsworth Futures is an adult learning centre for young adults with learning disabilities and autism, facing the challenges of living as independently as possible. Music therapy supports Chatsworth Futures’ ethos of ‘enabling learners to develop their functional skills independence and communication and skills for living’, by working to enhance social interaction and communication, develop initiation and confidence and enable the acquisition of new skills through music.

Poppy was referred to music therapy as a means of developing her social interaction. 

She has Autism and limited speech, often using the same phrases or words habitually. This means that many of her daily interactions with others are very similar and limited. This is the story of how music therapy helps…

Poppy is sat in her chair opposite the keyboard, shuffling her toes on the blue mat in front of her. She gazes at me as I accompany her shuffling… she seems aware that she is directing the music with her movements. The shuffling develops into tapping, her arms can no longer resist…they shoot up in front of her face, her fingers elegantly curled, reminding me of the flamenco dancers I once watched in Spain. I follow Poppy’s movements as I play the piano, providing music in a Spanish style for her dancing. She leans in again… ‘Aww’, she sings.

When Poppy began music therapy sessions, it was clear that music was something she enjoyed and responded to with animation. To begin with, the habitually repeated words Poppy repeated became the center of our musical improvisations. I developed songs that incorporated her phrases and that matched the notes, vocal energy and style she was speaking them with. My aim in doing so was to try and help her become aware of the music and to establish a musical connection. In working with her repeated words, we entered into a musical dialogue, exchanging and turn-taking with different varieties of vocalisation.

Poppy says hello in her usual way and waves enthusiastically. We begin our ‘Hello Poppy’ song, created with pauses for Poppy to answer. Poppy offers an ‘awww’ in the pause…I sing it back to her, extending her melody. Poppy answers, a slightly longer ‘aww’ and on not just one note, but three – her own melody! We continue for a few more phrases. Poppy is experiencing herself and her habitual vocalization differently… it has become communicative.

Extending her phrases and improvising new vocalisations is significant for Poppy. Music therapy has given Poppy an extended toolbox of ways to not only express herself but to communicate with others, bringing her into social interaction. Staff have said that music therapy really brings Poppy to life and that ‘…she gets so close to you and she doesn’t do it with everyone – that relationship that you have with her- her expressive communication is really developing!’

Music therapy has developed alongside the Chatsworth Futures provision, which began at its new site in September. I provide a large group, or ‘jam session’ as its become known, with all of the adults, staff and on one occasion parents too, at the end of the day. Music therapy at Chatsworth will now be continuing beyond the present pilot project for a further year, quoted by staff as ‘making a real difference to our students lives.’


Find out more about the music therapists who are benefiting from the BRIT Trust Nordoff Robbins Graduate/ Partnership development scheme.