by Music Therapist Robin Bates
One of the most bizarre situations I can remember happened three months after I qualified. My first ever client in Cornwall was a little boy I’m calling Vyvyan, seven years old, who had cerebral palsy, was quadriplegic, had epilepsy. His parents had moved from London and were living in a tiny cottage at the head of Polwheveral Creek on the Helford River, near Falmouth, a mile from the
sea. When I drove down the lane to the cottage, brambles scratched both sides of my car.
Vyvyan usually sat in his Mum’s lap in the poky lounge. I took a mbiri and a guitar, and I sang to Vyvyan, taking cues from his eye-movements and breathing pattern; Mum joined in too. There seemed to be little response from Vyvyan apart from thinly vocalised yawns.
On my way to the session one February day, driving down car-scratchy lane, I turned a corner about 50 yards from Vyvyan’s cottage and had to slam on my brakes. An enormous cow stood
broadside across the road as if wedged between the two hedges – a big beef roadblock – and she had a Tesco’s bag on her back. There was a man leaning against the cow, wearing a heavy coat
tied up with rope, and a floppy woollen hat. I wound down my window.
‘Hey boy!’ the man said, ‘turn off ee engine – QUICK!’ I switched off and got out out of the car. ‘Listen!’ he said, cupping his ear, ‘Can ee ‘ear it boy?’ I listened for ten seconds – ‘What?’ I said.
‘The birds, boy – the birds! Twitterin’ higher they are! It’s the spring! The spring’s comin!’ Suddenly I heard them; he was right -the birdsong had gone up a notch or two, was more urgent.
Listen! Can ee ‘ear it boy?
It took several minutes for the man to shunt the cow through a farm gate after I explained I was on my way to an appointment. When I told Vyvyan’s Mum why I was five minutes late, she said
‘Ah yes, that’s Belman, that is, Belman Bolitho. He’s lovely, he lives on the farm, he brings presents for Vyvyan every day.’
Belman gave me a gift that day too: the gift of listening properly. My sessions with Vyvyan were never the same after the time Belman helped me hear spring and I have since recommended to the
British Association for Music Therapy that he is employed for a session or two on all of the UK music therapy courses.