Thursday, September 11, 2008
My brother fell in love when he was only ten years old. In fact, it was love at first sight. The moment he set eyes on his Christmas gift that year, there was no looking back. His first guitar opened up a whole new world for him, and he would play for hours, lost in another world. Nothing much has changed. He still locks himself in his room and enters a world where unspeakable joy threads its way through his fingers and into the strings of his guitar. Nothing else can lift him from the doldrums like an hour spent strumming on his handmade acoustic guitar. It was, and still is, a place to go when he needs to fill his tank. But it's more than that: music feeds his soul, nourishes every part of him, and when he dips his hand in the well of creative exploration, his spirit expands and lets in more light.
Of course, he would wave away my poetic ramblings. "It just makes me feel good, that's all, pure and simple," he would say.
For one breathless moment, there are no need for words, no expectations, either from the outer world or himself, and when he's on stage, he experiences a deeper connection with others.
It should come as no surprise, then, that his son, Christian, is a gifted drummer. Already, at eight years old, he has knocked the socks off of older, more experienced drummers. "How did he learn to play like that?" they ask. His father merely shakes his head and says, "I don't know, he just picked up the sticks one day, and away he went!"
Christian has autism, and according to the Autism Canada Foundation, "it has been noted time and again that autistic children evidence unusual sensitivities to music. Some have perfect pitch, while many have been noted to play instruments with exceptional musicality."
Which begs the question: Why is music therapy so effective in unlocking doors that have hitherto been closed within a developmentally, emotionally, or physically challenged person? Well, "music unlocks abilities" within a person. A trained music therapist will carefully assess the person and determine his or her particular needs and strengths. By creating a safe environment, where words are unnecessary, improvisation is encouraged, and creativity is given room to flourish, amazing things unfold. A nonverbal child speaks for the first time, or makes eye contact, for example.
Who benefits from music therapy? For those with acquired brain injury, autism, and other developmental disabilities, music can give them permission to explore their creativity, and an open space to communicate and interact with others.
"Music can heal. It can do more than ease the pain. It can throw a lifeline to kids who can't be reached in any other way." Paul McCartney
To learn more about music therapy, check out the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT Conference 2009, A Song for Everyone: The Voice of Music Therapy, May 7-9, 2009); Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund; the Laurier Centre for Music Therapy Research; and OnWellness.info.