Music Therapy – What is it?
by Robin Bates, music therapist

Of all the people I work with, there is one girl who can help me tell you what music therapy is about. She’s Bridget. A stunningly beautiful girl, eighteen years old. She has cerebral palsy, spends most of her life in a wheelchair, can’t move much and has no words. She’s part of a group of six teenagers I see for 45 mins every Tuesday at the Curnow School, Redruth.

After five sessions with this group where I tried to help the people play xylophones, a guitar, pieces of percussion, I began to work with the voice. I sang a simple two note melody, offering this to Bridget HIYA BRIDGET. The voice was the key for Bridget: she gathered herself, focused and seemed to be heaving it up from her boots, from the tips of her toes.

Every sinew she could govern was straining … then the voice came – timidly at first – a whimper and then it rose… , a rich flowering alto which climbed higher and higher, expressive, soulful and exuberant. When I praised her for her enormous effort, her joyous smile lit up the room and continues to light up my day.

And I think this may be the one window in these people’s week through which, helped by music – they can tell the world a little bit about who they are. This is me; this is my way of making an impact on the world. THIS IS WHO I AM.

The Cornwall Music Therapy Trust currently supports the work of six music therapists in Cornwall. We work in Special Schools, mainstream schools, children’s centres, The Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, Little Harbour Children’s Hospice. Between us we see each week just under 200 children and adults with such diagnoses as autism, Downs syndrome, dementia, global delay etc. Importantly, as it is unburdened by the need for words, music therapy can be particularly effective in helping clients, like Bridget, who have no speech, or who lack the ability to talk about their emotions.

How You Play is Who You Are