Across the music therapy Twitterverse and blogosphere, everyone is talking about the starting school year. Yes, the backpacks are filled, the binders are lined with fresh paper and the superhero lunch box has been packed with healthy goodies. Students and teachers alike are all heading back to school within the next few weeks. Everyone has positive attitudes and bright hopes for the 2011 school year.
Even though I have been out of academia for two years now, there’s something about the end of summer that still makes me want to buy school supplies. Who doesn’t love making the first notations with a perfect ballpoint pen in a new notebook? It’s no surprise that I still associate this time of year with the impending school year. After all, we spend a significant amount of our childhood and young adult lives within a classroom.
School is such a formative experience in young lives and this is clearly represented in music. There are a surprising amount of songs that are about school and they range across the emotional spectrum. From Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” to the repetitive childhood favorite “The Wheels on the Bus”, you can find songs celebrating or decrying the educational structure. While I’ve been known to do an amazing (-ly loud) rendition of “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” when driving alone in my car, what strikes me most when I think about the correlation between school and music is what a fantastic teaching and binding tool it can be.
Out of all the classes I’ve sat through and all the lessons I’ve listened to (and taught!) the ones that stick with me most forecefullly are the ones that were set to music. Seriously, how could I ever misuse an interjection after hearing this little ditty? And I can still name all 50 states in alphabetical order in about a minute, thanks to the Fifty Nifty Song.
With school so prevalent in kids lives, it can easily be a place for uncertainty, worry or even fear. What better way to maneuver these emotional minefields than with music? It’s a non-threatening way to allow kids to express their emotions without asking them to directly reveal too much in front of their classmates. There’s something safe about using existing art to express yourself and connect with others.
Of course, all of this is no surprise to music therapists. Music therapists have been helping schools and teachers connect with students for years. Have you ever taught in a school? What are the tips that a new or experienced music therapist should hear before they ever walk into a classroom?
Thanks to stevendepolo and dynamosquito for use of their images!
~Laura, Guest Blogger
One of my earliest memories is of being in the kitchen with my grandmother. Even today, whenever I am whisking eggs or folding dry ingredients, I can almost hear her humming tunelessly, just the way she did when she was happy and in the moment. In my family, baking was an intergenerational activity that brought in age ranges from 4 to 84. Even as a toddler whose complete lack of coordination prohibited her from handling anything more dangerous than a blunt spoon, I knew that I was always welcome in my grandma’s kitchen.
As my family continues to age and the newest generation of drooling babies and mischievous toddlers is crawling and multiplying around us, I keep an eye out for these intergenerational bonding moments. The chance for aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents and children under the age of four to all get together in the same place is rare enough; to get all those individuals participating in and enjoying an activity together seems to be asking a lot. With a crowd this large, cooking isn’t really a good option. Games are difficult when the grandparents veto all calls for contact sports and the young’uns are totally oblivious to the point of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. So how can we as a multi-generational unit bond together? Well, we’ve found two big rallying points: music and water.
Music has no age gaps. While there may be a significant difference between the Elvis oldies Grandpa plays in his car, the weird garage band music emanating from the youngest uncle’s ipod and the Veggie Tales theme song my niece has memorized, this is one activity that all of us can participate in and appreciate. Music gets everyone laughing and moving together, whether or not the correct words (much less the correct notes!) are being sung. Choruses of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea!” and “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” can be heard at random times of the day and night. JoAnn has seen the way music can act as a binding agent during music therapy sessions, helping to smooth over uncertainties and lending words to people who otherwise find themselves with little to say to each other.
Water has also proved to be a nice convergence point. Maybe it’s because there is an infinite number of games that can be played or that everyone can have the experience that he or she wants. While the kiddies are splashing around in swim floaties, the older kids can be playing Marco Polo and the Vitamin-D craving adults can simply sunbathe.
While some of my earliest intergenerational moments happened in the kitchen, the ones I’m making now are happening around the pool or are set to music. What do you think is the key to creating an environment that is good for all ages? Are there any activities or games that you’ve found really successful for a wide age range of participants?
~Laura, Guest Blogger
The other day, Susan Seale posted a TEDtalks video about conscious listening to her blog. If you have a few moments, it’s definitely worth the time to listen to this short talk. While Julian Treasure’s main point was related to connecting with each other (and ourselves) through better self-reflective listening practices, I found myself mulling more over the amount of noise in our lives. Whether consciously chosen or not, we are in a noisy world: the low-voiced meeting happening in the corner office, the on-hold Muzak when we call customer service, the hissing of the espresso machine in the coffee shop. In fact, it’s the quiet moments that draw our attention rather than the loud ones simply because they seem out of place. I may not be aware of what song is playing on the car radio, but I sure notice when the station deejay doesn’t switch the track fast enough and there is an extended pause of white silence. And every parent knows that when the household is too quiet, it’s a sure sign that the kiddos are up to something.
We have instant access to just about every sound and song we could ever want. There is free Internet radio like Pandora, iTunes has customizable playlists and YouTube can play everything from music videos to the sound of babies laughing. So, what is the role of the music therapist when considering the cacophony we’re surrounded by on a daily basis? When we already have a soundtrack to our lives, what does a music therapist have to offer?
Simply put, a lot.
Just because we hear noise constantly does not mean that we are benefiting from it. Music therapists use their extensive instrumental and vocal talents combined with therapy training to make what would otherwise be random sounds into something purposeful and useful. It’s not that music therapists “own” music; it’s that music therapists can control and utilize music to its full potential.
It is easy to see the creative aspect of a music therapist’s role. After all, they are talented musicians who sing and play a variety of instruments. In one sense, they are artists. However, they are also scientists and this is the role that can be harder to detect because they observe, diagnose and heal through their artistic methods. Kimberly Moore did an excellent job illustrating certified music therapists as professionals with an arsenal of knowledge and training at their disposal.
There is no substitution for expert knowledge and experience. In a world full of noise, we need music therapists to help make sense of the din, to bring order to chaos. I like to think of music therapists like the conductors of an orchestra, able to bring forth particular harmonies and make certain sections sing.
What types of noises are you surrounded by?