Nod Of Approval

Recently thrown into the deep end again – 5 minutes before the adult intellectual disability group started, R said it’d be good if I could try leading the instruments improvisation segment on the piano. Up till this week, I had always been the co-therapist in this segment, trying to facilitate the individual clients’ playing and engagement while R had always been the one doing a fantastic job on the piano, creating music to match each client’s percussion instrument, their character, styles of playing, etc.

I had big shoes to fill.

Sensing my trepidation, R gave me some pointers –  Take more initiative here and there, anchor them with a steady pulse, sense the balance between leading and following, vary musical elements like dynamics and note registers to add more color to your playing…

“And don’t think too much, just think of it as having fun with them.”

Wise words.

Among this group is Ti – an amazingly musical non-verbal person, who intuitively anticipates musical phrases (Eg: He knows exactly when to come in), hums songs in perfect pitch, and grasps rhythm with surprising accuracy. Of all the clients in this group, I felt most excited, yet nervous about working with Ti, as I recognized his musical sensitivity and did not want to disappoint him.

We got off to a rocky start – he was hitting the snare and hi-hat with a rather irregular pulse, probably because I had yet to make a connection. Slowly, we established a steady beat. Then he started speeding up! I followed, bouncing chords off on the piano as quickly as he was bouncing his sticks off the snare and hi-hat. That was when I felt that a firm connection had been established. R then signaled for me to slow down, to see if Ti would pick it up on the change. He did – with R’s visual cues, Ti managed to match the new pulse with exact accuracy. Then, as if he knew that his turn was going to be over soon, Ti doubled the speed again, as if saying: “Alright, enough of the slow stuff. Let’s end with a bang!”

And that was what we did.

Ti’s carers were impressed with Ti and the music. R gave some encouraging praise, enough to make me feel good about myself. But what really made my day was Ti – when R turned to him and asked if he liked my music, Ti responded with an affirmative nod of his head.

I felt my heart swell with emotion when I saw that nod. I had not disappointed him. I had his nod of approval. His silent, non-verbal nod.

Reviewing the video recording, I hear and see many things I can improve on. But when I see that nod from Ti, I feel reassured. It not only implies his contentment with the experience, it is also a personal reassurance, that I’m on the right track and I’m improving in my clinical musicianship. And if I continue to work hard, I will get there.

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