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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 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.
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 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.
Thanks to a fundraising rock concert at Knebworth in 1991 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.
Nordoff Robbins continued to grow from strength to strength; in 1995 the Nordoff Robbins’ Master of Music Therapy degree programme was launched to train the therapists of the future. This has since been extended to an MA in Music Therapy Master which is validated by Goldsmiths University.
In 2001 Nordoff Robbins turned a corner and developed outreach services nationally in partnership with organisations in health, education, arts and social care, to help people of all ages who live in many different and challenging circumstances.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Unit opened in 2009 on the grounds of the BRIT School in Croydon establishing a second base and in 2015 a third unit was opened at the Royal Albert Hall where Nordoff Robbins is now their dedicated special education needs partner.
Today, Nordoff Robbins is the largest music therapy charity in the UK helping thousands of people each year, and 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.