Music Therapy at Elms Bank School

Artist Relations and Development Manager Jim O’Regan recently visited our music therapy work in Manchester, and has written this piece about his experiences in a special educational needs school.

I visited Elms Bank School in Manchester, a special educational needs school where music therapist Holly Dickson holds a day of music therapy once a week. Today’s placement is just one of 47 partner organisations bringing music therapy to local communities across the North West.

Throughout the day Holly takes sessions with a number of children with severe learning difficulties. *Alex suffers from cerebral palsy and has limited movement in his arms. Holly begins with the ‘hello song’, quietly engaging with his breathing, and after a short while he responds with a loud ‘hello’, and Holly matches this by increasing the intensity and volume to highlight and encourage the interaction.

Following this, Holly places a set of chimes to the right of *Alex, and then continues to interact with his vocalisations. Holly believes that although *Alex has limited movement in his arms and hands he has more capability than he may think. The chimes are a very gratifying, musically pleasing percussion instrument. After patiently engaging *Alex and his vocalisations, he suddenly reaches out and strikes the chimes, which is again met with a dramatic change in timbre and intensity by Holly to highlight the connection and interaction.

After the sessions Holly and I discussed the varying approaches for each service user, but one common point was her aim to improve each person’s wellbeing through music therapy – to combine vocalising and percussion or provide rhythm and improve timing, for example. My time with the therapists on my visit really brought home the level of skill, focus and depth of detail needed from one session to the next, and really helped me to understand how important our work in partner organisations is to our service users and the facilities as a whole.

*Name has been changed for confidentiality purposes