Category Archives: Work

Response Art

AL is a lady with advanced dementia. At the time of writing we have had about 4 sessions together. In this particular one, she had come in with her body tightly contorted. Her hands were clasped to her chest, and her knee was almost reaching her stomach. It did not look comfortable.
Having had several sessions with her, I knew that she liked to listen to softer, soothing music, but did not want to sing. She also did not have particular songs she liked, and seemed ok with improvised melodies over structured chords. We started. I used a motif from a well known song and improvised around that, humming, using vowels, extending and playing around with phrases. A minute or two in, I asked if this was ok. She nodded. She showed she was listening by moving her head and lips to the music, though without verbalising any sound. After about 10 minutes, her leg started to lower itself. Her body looked more relaxed. We continued.

And then –

I heard her!

She was beginning to sing the lines from the song we were improvising around. Her words were clear – it was the exact lyrics. I was stunned, and continued playing the accompaniment while she sang the same lines several times.

And just as suddenly as she had started, she stopped. And went back to closing her eyes, listening.

We continued – and I was happy to note that her overall body posture had become more relaxed by the end. She was no longer tensing her muscles and tightly holding her hands to her chest.

That few seconds of her singing, actively engaging in the music, kept rippling in my mind for days after that. I felt that I had to express it in some form, and hence did an art representation of it.

Sometimes I feel that I just live for moments of connection like these.


Her Singing Voice

We were singing the Goodbye Song when we heard it. Her singing voice.

She was going “baaaaaaii~~~!” at every “bye” in the Goodbye Song, while looking straight at me. It took me about 2 rounds of that to realise she was singing.

Before that session, I had only ever heard her vocalise and babble using her baby sounds. It was the first time I heard her use what seemed to be her singing voice – softer, more airy, not in tune but definitely higher than her usual vocal range, as if she was trying to hit a higher note. She seemed to know it was a long note at the end of the phrase, too. As her breath was sustained, the notes would spiral into a descending glissando. In the space in the music after each note, her contribution was mirrored musically, as a validation. To let her know: I can hear you, I can see you, and I am taking your lead in this music we are in together.

Can you imagine what it feels like to hear a child discover her voice for the first time?

It was beautiful.


So for the first time in my life, I am actually not doing something fully.

For a month or so, at least, I am working… *gasp* part-time.

To be honest this was something that would never have come to me as a feasible idea.

Work part-time? And have… all that free time?! Apart from weekends?! And take home less pay than I already am making?!

But once I made the decision, it felt so right, so why-didn’t-I-do-this-earlier.

“Finally!” I could hear my body saying. “I’ve been trying to tell you for so long!”

OK, buddy. I’m listening to you now.


On the first weekday I did not have to go to work, I found the time and motivation to finish an online course I had been putting off. I enjoyed a slow leisurely lunch with the brother. I went cycling and soaked in some Vitamin D and produced some endorphins. The exercise was so beneficial that I felt motivated for the first time in 2 months to compose new musical ideas for sessions! Then I cried and used it as a wonderful opportunity to practice self-compassion.


I have no idea what will happen from here.

But let’s see where this journey is going 🙂


This quote reminded of the term “flow”, described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (How do we even pronounce that) as:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

And these are the 8 characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task



This prompted me to reflect and examine the frequency with which I currently experience this state of flow in my job (because that’s important to me!).

Yes, when I conduct sessions, I can see how being “in the zone”, having my skills and the challenge at hand being equally matched, seeing the natural and connected engagement with the children, creates the circumstances for flow to take place, which contributes to my perception of meaning and joy.

I suppose it is when we are unable to experience this state of flow in what we do, that the tasks and job may become more tedious and arduous. How do you feel flow in a session with the little boy who is screaming his head off, or with the one who is scratching his peers and everyone is just trying to stop him but making things worse, or with the little girl who is crying because she wants her favourite snack and the teacher is refusing to give in to her?

I think that’s when being able to be in the moment and taking the stance of an observer can really help a lot. Thinking “Wow, this is a difficult situation” instead of “I AM in a difficult situation” can really make a lot of difference in how we react and/or respond to the challenges. It certainly takes practice, and I’m still working on it 🙂

Control and Stuff…

Variables like…

The weather.

The colour of different leaves.

Frequency of waves.

Perspectives of others.

Whether colleagues understand your work (or think that music therapy is about teaching kids how to play instruments *roll eyes*).

Whether a kid will suddenly decide to hit you in the face because he was prevented from licking lotion (haha yes happened yesterday).


We probably could take measures to address or pre-empt some things, but still, it would be a lot less painful if we truly accepted that there is an infinity of variables we could not control or address even if we wanted to.

And in a way, living life with that kind of surrender can be quite liberating.

It means I can still do my best, without worrying about what the outcomes say about my abilities or skills, because we cannot control all the variables.
It means I can still strive to improve myself, but be gentle with my own pace and progress, because we cannot control all the variables.
It means I can meet whatever problems I may face head on, without necessarily blaming myself (or others) for their occurrence, because we cannot control all the variables.


“The secret of life is… Everything is out of control.”

-Ajahn Brahm





Meet up with 3 other ex-colleagues on the eve of a public holiday, preparing a cake to celebrate one of their birthdays, and chatting in the living room till 9.30PM – Perfectly fine and enjoyable.

Staying back for an hour to have lunch in the office to welcome new staff, watch them do initiation forfeits, and make small talk – Escapes immediately after workshop session ends.

Meeting up with a friend I have not seen in 2 years, in a foreign country, and spending an entire day together catching up along the beautiful coastline of her country – I can’t wait.

Going on a company-sponsored trip to an offshore island to spend 3 days 2 nights with a planned itinerary, large group outings and games and activities – all in the name of “bonding” – I’d take unpaid leave if I could or had to.

I’m not anti-social.

Just …. selectively social.

A Little Thing

It’s a usual music therapy practice to greet each person in the group individually at the start of the session, and to say goodbye to each individual. It is a way to invite each individual into the group setting, and at the end, to thank them for their contribution to the group.

Well yesterday, I forgot to say bye to each individual kid after a session.

After the group goodbye song, the boys were transited to go toileting, then to go for their outdoor activity.

But one of the little boys decided otherwise – he apparently pulled his teacher back to the classroom, where I was still packing and clearing the area after their session.

I had turned around and there he stood, looking at me, somewhat bashfully.

Unaware of his agenda, I asked “A, what is it?” Not that he could verbalise a reply, but I knew he was capable of communicating through gestures and vocalisations.

When a few more moments had passed without him initiating anything, I looked at the teacher standing at the entrance of the classroom.

“Do you know what he wants?” I asked.

“He wants to say bye.”


It hit me then. Of course. I had forgotten to give each kid their individual goodbye after the session, perhaps unconsciously assuming that the goodbye song was good enough and that it wouldn’t make a difference to them anyway… Apparently it does!

Squatting to his eye level, I said “Bye bye A!” and held out my palm for a high-5. He returned the high-5 immediately, smiled and turned to walk back to his teacher.

Heart melts.

The little things do matter. A lot.