On 15 October, 2015, Dr Nigel Osborne and his compatriots—Ms Christine Bain, Ms Emmeline McCraken—held insightful discussions on various topics at Sri Aurobindo Society in Puducherry. This was followed with an intensive workshop on Music Therapy over the next few days (16 to 20 October) at Satya Special School where the musicians demonstrated methodologies of their work with children and teachers. Special educators, therapists, coordinators from the school as well as guests from the field of music and dance and other non-profits were among those who participated in the workshop.
Dr Nigel Osborne MBE FRCM is a renowned British composer, music therapist, and global activist. He has served as Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh and taught at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover. The core of his output is ensemble music, and theatre has played a major role in his work as well. Notable among Dr Osborne’s compositions is Nachiketa, the chamber music opera inspired by Indian mythology. He has been using music and sound therapy to work with special children and children afflicted in war-stricken countries. This October, Dr Osborne conducted a series of music therapy workshops in different units of Sri Aurobindo Society.
On the first day at Satya the session began with ‘Hello’—a song sung by Ms Emmeline McCracken as a way to greet and introduce oneself or another person. Ms Christine Bain then followed this up with some energizers, activities that were extremely engaging and a lot of fun. These were perfect examples of the kinds of exercises for children before or during an activity in school. From vigorous rubbing of the palms—as if to create energy for oneself to mirroring and creating movements based on the music that was being played—the activities continued to be a joyful introductory game that involved tapping of hands on one’s lap, shouting one’s name and what he or she liked that should begin with the same alphabet as the name, all the while keeping pace with the background rhythm.
Maintaining sound as the key ingredient in the next activity, an imaginary pencil was passed from one person to another with gestures in the air coupled with some funny sound effects. A similar game of musical slide with actions was also played. The musicians engaged the audience with a song ‘Calypso and Banana’ that everybody learnt right there. ‘Rollercoaster’ was another energetic game where the facilitator shouted ‘roller’ accompanied by an action (moving arms up) and rest of the audience followed it up hollering ‘coaster’ making the opposite gesture (moving arms down); several other such words as ‘up’, ‘down’ were used along with their corresponding movements. It ended with the ‘Penguin dance’ that had the whole audience walking around in a circle just like penguins!
After an energetic start to the day, Dr Osborne requested all those present to spend some time in silence and to take in all the possible sounds emanating from the surroundings. Some of the participants described what they heard in detail, using their voice to imitate those sounds. Based on this experience, Dr Osborne explained how all the sounds in a child’s environment were vital and how music and stories could be born out of them. Children could use their own voices to mimic sounds that they heard; this would perhaps be helpful in building language skills as well when it came to identifying the different sounds or their sources. Dr Osborne discussed the deep connection between music, movement and our bodies. He said that our bodies were full of oscillators that responded to vibrations that were generated from the different sounds, rhythms and music that we heard.
He further stressed on the elegance and beauty with which one should share rhythm with one other. This was demonstrated by consciously passing around a clap. One needed to be ready; be mindful of the sound and pass the exact sound using the same energy. In children, this activity could develop and enhance concentration and focus. The complexity of this activity could increase when a second clap was passed along halfway through the group, which could accompany a melody as well.
Following this, the visiting musicians taught the participants how to conduct a Music Therapy session. Ms McCracken and Dr Osborne placed all the instruments around those present, and Dr Osborne took on the role of a child with Autism who seemed agitated at the beginning of the session and refused to participate. He lay on the floor as Ms McCracken, as the ‘Music Therapist’, played the piano. As she continued to play, the ‘child with Autism’ picked up one of the instruments lying next to him and started to bang on it; the therapist tried to keep up with the rhythm of the ‘child’. Tentatively, ‘the child’ inched towards other instruments, testing and trying them out. More at ease now, ‘the child’ slowly sat up and played one of the instruments using his voice to compose his own piece of music.
In the final segment Dr Osborne, along with his team, demonstrated some games using various instruments. ‘Musical Forest’ is one such game that develops mindfulness amongst children. In this game, the ‘trees’ hold various instruments and some children are blindfolded; as a child approaches a tree, one of the instruments is played indicating that the blindfolded child should change their path. Again in ‘Follow the sound’, the participant/child follows a sound source blindfolded and has to identify the instrument besides trying to recreate the same pattern or music they heard. Another game blended ‘Music and Emotion’, which may work very well with children with Autism. The group forms a circle in which one child stands at the centre. One half of the group has instruments that are loud, which can represent anger, while the other side has instruments that produce soft mellow tunes representing happiness, peace, and so on. When the child from the centre jumps to any one of the sides, the corresponding instrument (emotion) is played. As the complexity of the game increases, a large number of emotions can be included specific to different instruments. Towards the end of the session, a connection is established between music and storytelling—how various sounds could be introduced as a story progressed. This was further detailed out during the following day’s session.
The next day’s theme was based on music and storytelling. As Saraswati Pooja was around the corner, Dr Osborne decided to compose a song revolving around the story of the birth of Goddess Saraswati. After reading the story out aloud, it was divided into four main segments and a melody set to it was played throughout the story. The participants divided themselves into four groups and depicted each story idea playing various musical instruments along with movements and dance. The story came together beautifully, seamlessly flowing from one part to the next keeping sound and music as an integral part of the storytelling process. It was a performance that engaged everyone in the room; different instruments were used innovatively; movements were created to emphasize certain aspects of the story; and overall the room’s energy was elevated and there was positive synergy amongst all those present.
Based on the experience over the past three days of the Music Therapy Workshop, it was important to apply some of the learning in Satya. So on the final day, different groups of children along with their mothers were brought in starting with those needing ‘Early Intervention’. There was vowel stimulation combined with movements that the little ones really enjoyed, in which they participated with their mothers and teachers’ help. Meanwhile the older children composed a small song about Goddess Saraswati and Lakshmi, the elephant, providing the lyrics and music to describe the Goddess. This was replicated in a few other groups of students. It was heart-warming to watch some of the children’s reactions to the music. Manobala, a child with partial cerebral palsy and deafness, actually selected the melody that he liked and preferred over others with the help of the vibrator on his ear. Sandeep, an Autistic child who would barely be able to sit by himself and constantly felt the need to run around actually sat down in the centre of the circle listening to all that was being played with rapt attention absolutely quiet. He was relaxed and calm almost through the entire day proving the therapeutic and serene effect of music on children with special needs. The workshop ended with a brief discussion on how Music Therapy can be implemented at the school with the assurance of total support from Dr Osborne and his musician friends to help accomplish this.