Tag Archives: reflections

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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Times Have Changed

It was Labour Day, and we as a family had gone out for a morning stroll at the waterway behind our house.

It was my suggestion. Mum supported it, as she always does when it comes to “healthy activities”, AKA opportunities for Dad to exercise.

Well our stamina didn’t even last even 30 minutes. As we neared a public transport – the LRT – we happily hopped on and headed for the nearest mall, where we proceeded to enjoy a second breakfast at MacDonald’s. We had a good laugh over our “token walk” on a public holiday, and reminisced over childhood memories related to Mac breakfasts.

It was there where Dad made his poignant comment: “Times have changed. In the past you 2 (referring to the brother and me) would be sitting down at MacDonald’s while I went to order. Now I get to sit while you all go order and collect the food.”

It was true.

Mum had also made a similar comment before, saying how when we were young it was the parents who brought us out and around, and now we are mainly the ones bringing them to new places, deciding where to eat and where to go on family outings.

It really is an allusion to the passing of time. The inevitable growing up of children you once fed with your hands. The undeniable aging of parents who were once towering over you and carried you in their arms while you slept (or pretended to sleep) on their shoulders. The cycle of life. The surreal reality of life.

And through it all, a reminder to cherish the moments we have.

To Judge Not

A few weeks ago, a relatively young MT with a few years of experience, C, came to give us a lecture on working with adult populations from her perspective.

In one of the case studies she shared with us, involving a young lady with complex emotional issues, C said that one of the personal hurdles she had to face was the fact that this young lady took a long time to trust C.

“People generally trust and feel comfortable around me easily, and it’s important to me that they feel that way. It was very confronting for me to realise that here was a person who didn’t trust me, and it took me awhile more to realise that it stemmed from the problems within her as well, not just solely with me.”

I found that to be a rather startling revelation, as I’ve always thought C to be one of the most confident people I know. And when you are confident, you generally don’t care too much about whether people trust or like you or not, right?

Well, wrong. Upon some reflection and thinking, I realise that the link between displayed confidence and a person’s inner desire to be liked and trusted need not be related at all. It was just a presumption on my part, fed by years of social conditioning – “Be confident, and don’t care about what others think of you. And you will be a successful person.” How wrong could the world be.

In this field (as in other industries), it is of course important (to a reasonable extent) what people think of you. How else can the therapeutic relationship be established and beneficial? But I think the being liked and trusted should not be the goal – They should be the by-products of a sincere, genuine and authentic relationship. And that is what C eventually managed to achieve through her musical interventions.

I truly appreciated her honesty in sharing with us her vulnerabilities. While some may feel that it might diminish their professionalism in getting emotional, what it did was in fact make us respect the fact that she was aware of her own emotions and took steps to overcome them.

Overall, a reminder for me to not judge people based on what they choose to show to the world, and to be sincere and authentic in all relationships to achieve those important by-products.

“I Can’t Work With Normal Kids Anymore”

Imagine my relief, when I blurted this line out, and Y, a wonderful therapist whom I greatly respect and adore, echoed my sentiments and told me that she could totally understand.

“I used to get so frustrated with normal kids as well”, she said. “I’d look at them and think – you have everything you’ll ever need and yet you are not cherishing it. There are kids who have so little, born disabled… and yet they are trying so hard” (I almost started tearing when I heard her say that).

“Yes! I felt that way even before I came here, and now I feel that even more strongly.”

R, who was nearby, also agreed, saying that once you’ve gotten a taste of therapeutic work, it’s hard to go back to whatever we were doing, because it will naturally seem so much more meaningless (he was from the corporate world, imagine that!).

And indeed, I do feel that most of the things I’ve done before has been pretty meaningless. Not all, but most.

Because when you’ve seen how a non-verbal person can communicate through singing and smiling, when you’ve seen a so-called intellectually disabled young woman reach out and give you a high-five in the middle of our drumming improvisation, when you’ve felt the hands of a 4-year old with autism stretch out and hold your arm and bring your fingers to the piano, laughing as she plays the piano through your hands, and then reach out to touch your hair and say your name in a loud clear voice… How can one go back?

How can I go back to the system where days are spent rushing through syllabus, where fancy lesson packages are prepared with no time to carry them out, where obedience and silence are order of the day, where countless events and excursions and enrichment activities are carried out not because they are truly beneficial, but because KPIs need to be met, because portfolios need to be beefed up, because people need to look good on paper.

I just want to pull my hair in despair when I think about it.

As much as I am living in the present and getting the most I can out of this amazing experience, I know that this too shall pass. And then… what?

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.

The World Persists

Today, our lecturer showed us a video in which a non-verbal autistic male  was interacting with his therapist through a percussion instrument. He would echo the rhythmic naunces of the therapist/pianist, who was taking cues form him as well. It was, in every sense of the word, a conversation. A musical conversation.

“But it took him 6 weeks to get here.” We were told. “When he first came, he would do nothing but walk around the room and make abrupt noises. His carer and therapist could not engage him in anything at all.”

The breakthrough point came when a guitar was presented to him, and his hands were guided to make strumming motions. That, together with some singing and further musical interaction, strengthened his focus, to the point when he was able to use an instrument independently to hold a conversation.

I was quite taken aback. 6 weeks to achieve something we all take for granted – communication.

It led me to think about how we tend to rush too many things in today’s world. Things that might need more time. We forget that just because some things don’t happen in time, it doesn’t mean that they will never happen. It doesn’t mean that the potential isn’t there.

A child who doesn’t do “well” for national exams at 12 years old, 16 years old – they aren’t doomed to failure.

A teacher who cannot manage the class “right” on her first day, first month, first term – it doesn’t mean that she can never be an effective teacher.

A grandmother who did not complete her primary school education – it doesn’t mean she can’t get her degree in her senior years.

Society imposes all these deadlines upon us, and we, in our desperate attempt to survive, try to meet all these deadlines. To prove that we can achieve certain things by a certain time, forgetting that we are all unique individuals, working on our own unique timeline and potential.

Sadly, even after we realise this and try to be more accepting of our own personal pace and journey, the world persists.