Tag Archives: music therapy

Happy Non-Teacher’s Day

This year, I celebrate my identity as a non-teacher.

On the Wednesday of the last week of August, as schools around the island closed for half a day to celebrate and honour their teachers, I reflected on my identity of not being one.

I looked at instagram posts by ex-colleagues and friends, sharing their proud moments, their pile of letters and gifts from students, being award titles like “Most Caring” or “Most Inspiring”. I looked at them and I felt a little tug. I could have been one of them. I WAS one of them.

What was that tug? Jealousy? Nostalgia? The longing for something you think you might like but know that you would not want it so much once you have got your hands on it?

Maybe a mixture of all of the above.

As I contemplated my mixed feelings on a day I had always had mixed feelings about (because I was never fully secure in my identity as a teacher), I also contemplated on the person I am now.

I thought about the decision I made to leave a particular system, though I realise now that leaving the system does not necessarily mean leaving the identity completely. So many aspects of who I am now and what I do as a music therapist still manifest from the teacher in me, just in a different context and in a different industry, with different goals and intentions.

And as I told a comrade, “the institution we left has its own system of rewards to get us to do what they want. Because we have opted out of that system, it means that we may not get those rewards, but it also means we are spared from the confines of that system.”

And that is certainly something to celebrate. Because freedom to be who you are and to relate to your authentic personality in what you do is something priceless. Certainly not something you can measure in gifts and awards and letters, no matter how heartfelt and touching and affirming they are.

That said, I was very touched by the call from 2 ex-students. It’s always nice to be remembered.

So… on a day when I would have celebrated (or tried to celebrate) my identity as a teacher, I instead contemplated on who I am, who I want to be. And relished in the freedom of being able to do so.

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“That Was Hard.” – a Lesson in Self Compassion

“That was so hard! You did amazing for what you were given to deal with!”

These words meant a lot to me for 2 main reasons.

  1. It’s not our cultural norm for someone to acknowledge how hard the things we have to do sometimes may be. I mean this in a widespread sense, not job-specific sense. But when your job is sometimes seen as nothing more than “having fun” and “making music with kids”, it can be even harder for people to understand why you feel like you have a hard time. So, having someone who understands when we have a difficult session, and acknowledge that it was hard, can be enough to move me to tears.
  2. I learnt that acknowledging and accepting when something is hard does not necessarily include admitting that I’m incompetent, which is one of my greatest fears. I learnt that acknowledging and accepting when something is objectively and naturally hard actually opens my mind to think about what can be done to overcome the difficulty of the problem, without getting too personal about it. Without thinking that if this doesn’t work = I’m a complete failure. Simply acknowledging the mountain-like nature of the tasks we have to do (Eg: Engage 6 kids at once on the same task, each of which have a different developmental delay diagnosis and/or have ASD and a cognitive age estimate of below 12months..) can go a long way in accepting that sometimes we don’t get the kind of completion and success we want, but can still learn and grow from the experience.

After that line was said to me, I felt so touched that the challenging nature of the situation was acknowledged, and I felt myself become more open than ever to take in suggestions for change and improvement. And some of the suggestions given were really good.

Of course I would have accepted the suggestions given anyway. But if not for this line, I don’t think I’d feel as confident about moving on, and might have even internalised some negative messages about myself. Not exactly the most healthy thing.

So today, I am thankful for this lesson in Self-Compassion. May all be well and happy!

Lessons From July: A Good Struggle

2 days late, but I was writing in my journal on the 1st of August and came up with a few things that July has taught me, and thought this main one to be blog-worthy.

The lesson on The Struggle and The Emerging… and the Going Back Again.

Yes, struggles like these are probably never going to completely go away. We find periods in our lives where we seem to be sinking into them uncontrollably, and by some stroke of luck and seeming effort, emerge from them thinking ourselves to be stronger than before, only to be immersed in the struggle again, once something else happens.

I’m referring to the struggle with self-doubt, of course.

And if there’s one thing July taught me, it’s that this struggle is truly necessary for reflection and growth. In fact, I should be worried if I don’t feel any struggle and am completely comfortable. Because it’d mean that I’m not pushing myself, that I’m not being stretched, that I’m not growing. In work or in my personal development.

The fact that I see my struggles as negative when they occur does not mean that they truly are. Just like we hate the bitter medication we have to take when prescribed, but when we’re well we look back and see how we couldn’t have gotten better without enduring and going through the medication process. Something like that.

The going through of the struggle also showed me how much I want to continue to do what I do, IN SPITE of the difficulties. It did not trigger in me feelings or thoughts of wanting to quit, or give up, or just let things be. It triggered in me the persistence to think of new ideas, to infuse new life into my approaches and interventions, and to put in more efforts to make the necessary connections and to develop the confidence I need to speak about what I do. The struggle did all that. And I am thankful.

I’m sure the next wave of self-doubt will come soon enough – there seems to be no lack of that in our world. Let’s hope that I’ll remember this lesson, on the value of a good struggle.

 

Anxious Teachers

A music therapy session with a new class today got me thinking about certain things.

Ironically, it wasn’t the kids I worked with that got me thinking. It was the teacher of the class.

More specifically, how the teacher of the class responded to her kids’ behaviour.

Bearing in mind, of course, that these are kids with special needs, albeit high-functioning ones. They understand instructions, they can follow verbal directions without needing too many prompts, and they can adhere to rules and regulations when imposed within the boundaries of the classroom.

The thing was, though… where is the balance between imposing rules and letting the kid “be themselves”?

When is it ok to let the kid have free reign over how he wants to drum and how he wants to hold his mallets, and when is the right time to correct them and show them the “right” way to play?

When is it necessary to step in to tell the kids to “use gentle hands” because they’re doing something really dangerous to hurt themselves and/or their friend and when is it ok to let them have their fun and freedom, even at the risk of taking some risk?

I don’t have all the answers, even though some of the teachers would think that we’re the “music experts” and SHOULD have all the answers.

My stance has always been that musical expression is and can be a platform for communication, interaction, identity building and personal growth, even at 5-6 years old. So when we tell a kid they’re playing the drum “wrongly”, or that they’re going to hit their friend, when in fact they’re sincerely communicating and expressing through the act, it could possibly send a deep message to to them, influencing how they start to view the world and their role in it. Something I really hope we have not done.

Being a teacher, no matter the context, is never an easy task, as I can personally vouch. But I sometimes think we’d do our charges a lot more good if we learnt how to put our own anxieties aside and not worry so much about out heads rolling off the chopping boards should the kid emerge with so much as a scratch on their arm.

Give them more space to find themselves, more air to breathe and discern right from wrong… play the role of the guide, not the authority.

Isn’t that possibly more beneficial for them in the long run?

 

 

Music Collage

At a session one evening, we did something called a Music Collage. The process involves participants choosing a theme, actively listening to a recorded piece of music, selecting images from a range of pictures to fit the theme, depending on how they interpret and think about it, and sharing which aspects of their collage stood out the most for them.

The theme we chose was Movement vs Stillness, and the music selected was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, 1st movement.

“The person on the wheelchair… because it seems like he is still, but at the same time I realised the wheelchair is also about movement.. and I realise… it’s all about perspective. There is no full movement or full stillness. It is all how you look at it.”

“I feel that my collage represents my… character. Like, sometimes I can be really active and loud and outgoing, but other times I will just be quiet and still. So there is no picture that stands out for me.”

“I feel like the music was describing something bad about to happen. So I chose the picture of this crab… the music is describing the journey of the crab as it’s about to be killed and cooked and eaten… from movement to stillness..”

Through their insights and sharing, I have got to know this group of people over the past 2 months. Their personalities, sense of humour, quirks and what means the most to them. And with the time that has flown by, we are also on the brink of parting ways. It has been a blessing to be with them on this journey, one I will always be thankful for.

Music and Mood Regulation

Sometimes it frustrates me that the potential of music doesn’t seem to be reached in the classroom. Especially after experiencing what music could really do for individuals and small groups. It frustrates me that that has to be compromised in the name of curriculum, school needs and manpower.

If holistic and equal education is key, why doesn’t the government provide funds for small group instrumental instruction and music appreciation? Students would still be able to experience the relationary and social nature of music making with the close relationship of a teacher, without the same teacher having to monitor 35 other kids in the classroom at the same time – something will have to give.

This week’s article is “The Role of Music in Adolescents’ Mood Regulation“. The immense and expansive nature which music can play in mood and emotional regulation in adolescents makes me wonder if they really need classroom music teachers at all.

We all have the instinctive and intuitive drive to use music in our daily lives – to counter sadness, to pump up joy, to divert attention, to focus, to fill voids around and within us. How can music lessons in school build on this intuition, such that students feel validated and valued as a person? And I believe that this is something the arts can do and scaffold, far more than any other subject, which usually involves a steep learning curve.

I thought about my overarching aim for this year – for students to leave each class feeling accomplished and developed. Be it cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally – there is potential to touch any of these areas through music at any one time. So while students may already have the ability to use music for self-mood regulation, surely they can also be expanded to feel the beauty of creating a song cover arrangement, feel the adrenaline of playing in unison, feel the anticipation of listening for nuances and basically just become more “whole” as a person through these experiences.

And so could we – even as adults.