Introducing a new generation of musicians to music therapy

This month saw the culmination of an ‘Introduction to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy’ for students from Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. The course was delivered by therapist Brigitte Schwarting, who over 5 sessions guided the 21 students through an overview of how this specialised intervention can help some of the most vulnerable adults and children in society.

A central additional element involved the Chetham’s musicians taking their instruments out of school to spend a day with one of five music therapists in the North West & North Wales team. In total, 7 visits took place with Chetham’s students participating in sessions in a community hall, special needs schools, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities and a dementia care home, all under the guidance of the therapist working in each place.

This provided a great opportunity for the music therapists and for the people we work with. Here are some thoughts from three of the therapists who hosted visits by the Chetham’s students:

From David Robinson, working at Heathlands Village care home, Bury:
“It was a privilege to welcome the 3 students to participate in my work at the dementia care home. They willingly accepted the challenges I threw them, including playing and singing to residents whilst walking around the room or crouching in front of them! This enabled the live music to be brought to the residents in a way that encouraged spontaneous musical interactions, and it was hugely welcomed by care home and by the families of residents who were visiting at the time.”

From Sarah Denman, working at Heaton School, Stockport and Delamere School, Trafford:
“It was a wonderful opportunity having talented young musicians working alongside children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. The visiting students gained a real insight into the application of a musician’s skill within an entirely different context to performance, witnessing how many of these children can express themselves more freely and communicate more readily through the medium of music. The children I work with also benefitted hugely from this visit, experiencing a multitude of new sounds from the trumpet to the violin. This was also an opportunity for school staff to witness which sounds the children respond most to and see them exploring new musical styles and genres.”

From Holly Dickson, working at The Birches School, Didsbury and Valley School, Stockport:
“The students from Chetham’s brought exciting new instruments and sounds to sessions. In one class, all the pupils were captivated, I’ve never seen them so focused as when they were listening to the violin and clarinet performances. They took turns to interact with clients in 1:1 sessions (seen in photos), and this brought a new experience of ensemble playing for them. It was a pleasure to have the girls from Chetham’s with me for two days and I hope they found it a positive experience – our young clients at Valley School and The Birches School certainly benefitted from the visits.”

Amongst many positive comments, the Chetham’s students themselves said, “It is clear to me how much music therapy makes a difference”, and “It was so rewarding – I’ve really seen the joy that music therapy can bring!”.

Claire Campbell Smith, who runs the Community Music programme at Chetham’s, highlighted why she thinks the ‘Introduction to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy’ is such a valuable experience for the students: “It enables our students to focus on something other than themselves and provides them with an opportunity to give something back. It broadens the scope of their vision of music and takes them into a completely different environment, which can be out of their comfort zone. For one or two of them, it shows a possible career path. And learning about music therapy gets our students to think about what music really is and what it can achieve!”