Music Therapy Seminar, 08-10-2013

Posted by Gabrielle "Gaby" Berbey on August 18, 2013 at 3:45 AM Comments comments ()

I have always questioned this notion of the “birth of an idea”, this assumption that ideas spring out of nowhere in full form with no previous foundation. I believe that an idea is a specific enmeshing of thoughts and observations, a unique combination of both individual and general understandings. An idea can never emerge out of thin air, nor can it ever be solidified. Like humans, an idea is in a constant state of evolution, continuously transforming and adapting with surrounding ideas.


The idea of music therapy has no real concrete inception. Although there are monumental dates when, for example, music therapy became formally legitimized and recognized by health professionals, the idea itself has no real conception. From musicians playing for veterans shortly after WWI, to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, where they eluded to the healing powers of music, the concept of music therapy is simply an innate connection to music that we, as humans, possess. I’d like to believe that our primordial predecessors even experienced that inexplicably calm sensation when the sound of the river washing up against the rocks and the soft whistle of the wind intertwined into a harmony of sorts. The medical practice itself is one that we have recently began seriously expanding and cultivating, but the power within the art lies in our inherent bond with music.


It is this instinctive draw to music that has musicians such as Beth Robinson gravitating towards the field. In our last encounter with Beth, she explained to us her story as a music therapist, and the logistics of what she does as a private therapist. As she described her journey towards becoming a therapist, and her ongoing journey in helping others through music, I realized something about human motivation. During my first session at music therapy, I experienced an intangible lightness of sorts. Navigating adolescence (and I’m sure through the tribulations my future will hold), I often feel weighted by the rather self-centered expectations that I, as well as modern society, place upon myself. But in music therapy, the weight of expectations was lifted, and I felt the wonderfully unfamiliar feeling of lightness, a sensation that can only be felt when you reach out to others with no other motive than to simply understand and help. Once we have been exposed to this lightness, we cling to this feeling of voided expectations, and we continue to find ways to foster this lightness from thinking beyond oneself, and combat the weight of expectation. Talking with Beth, I realized that music therapists are individuals who have found this lightness through the innate connection to music that, in my opinion, most animals with any sense of hearing are able to experience. They are motivated by this lightness, and this drive translates itself into the continuous expansion and practice of music therapy, fostering the idea that has grown throughout centuries and leaving their footprint in this ever-evolving practice.


Like any practice, music therapy is not for everyone, and few may actually experience this lightness through pursuing music therapy. But if I learned anything from Beth’s talk, it’s that we must all ask ourselves a singular question: Where can I find this lightness of connecting and helping others? From someone who found it through music therapy, a practice that I did not even know existed until a month ago, then I advise the reader to actively go and find what in this world makes them get up in the morning, and what makes them go to bed feeling fulfilled. Chances are, you will find it through the most unexpected, and seemingly obscure act. 

Lesson of Sharing

Posted by Gabrielle "Gaby" Berbey on August 6, 2013 at 5:05 PM Comments comments ()

We often hear, and I’m sure many have experienced, the truths revealed during the second day of a new job. Entering the first day, we are presented an image of carefully crafted smiles and welcomes, and we leave the first day with a specific impression. On the second day of the new job, this impression is either solidified, or proved inaccurate. The curtain of carefully crafted smiles and welcomes are drawn aside, and the truth of a workplace is revealed. We are either drawn towards this reality, or deter away from its truth. It is naïve of me to boldly reflect on this truth given my limited experience in the professional world, but it is a reality I have accepted to believe through the truths I find myself so often observing.


In my second day at music therapy, the curtain of first-day impressions were drawn during an encounter between two of the students, both of whom wanted to play the same drum during the opening song. The students had particular attachments to this specific drum, one being drawn to its intricate designs on the side, and the other drawn to the low sound that emanated from the drumhead. Initially, neither was willing to compromise their attachment to this drum. Unsure if I should intervene, I watched silently as the two students grew progressively irritated with one another. As I sat motionless, and admittedly rather useless, in my chair, Beth approached the students. Calmly, she asked the students to collaborate and think of a way where both could use the drum. Despite her proposal, the students continued to argue. Finally, Beth looked both students in the eyes and simply said,  

      “Music can never be created unless you share it.” 

Hearing these words, the students immediately grew quiet, looking at one another as the truth in Beth’s words settled into their minds. Suddenly, one of the students picked up the drum and set it in front of the other student, telling her peer that they could use the drum for the entire song.

The curtain had been drawn, and I witnessed the truth of music therapy outside the context of music itself. Music was simply the foundation, the rudimentary layer that gave the class direction. But the fundamental stratum lay in the collaborative nature necessary for creating music. Beth’s words reminded me of a quote from the book Into the Wild, in which the main character writes, “Happiness is only real when shared”. The main character of the book did not reconcile this truth until over two decades into his life. Perhaps the haunting impression of his statement lies in the fact that many people in this world will never actually fully grasp this truth. But as I watched the student pick up the drum and place it in front of her classmate, I realized that this statement is the core of success for music therapy. And it is a truth that these children are able to grasp when so many others fail to truly understand. Music becomes sacred to the students because, simply put, it makes them happy, and they are compelled to spread this happiness in any form possible because they recognize they can never truly appreciate their happiness unless it is shared. As the curtain of first-day impressions were drawn, this truth about music therapy was revealed, and it is a reality that I find myself completely gravitating towards.

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Music Therapy and More at Eagles' Wings in China

Posted by Cherry Yuan on August 3, 2013 at 12:30 AM Comments comments ()

I first learned about music therapy from Kim Bennett, a child speech specialist. She shared her experience of visiting Eagles’ Wings Orphanage in Jiao Zuo, China, last December, even showing me a video clip. In the video was a girl named Li Zhu who sat on the ground, her upper body so hunched that her head almost touched the floor. Ever since she was sent to Eagle’s Wings, which provides shelter for children with special needs, Li Zhu would not respond to anyone. However, Kim was able to use music and candy as encouragement to try and connect with Li Zhu. Gradually, Li Zhu responded and slowly sat up straight. After my many years of music training, this was the first time I had witnessed the true power of music.

When Kim told me she was going to bring a team of child specialists to Eagle’s Wings in July, I eagerly volunteered to join them. The minute we stepped into the facility, Li Zhu was the one came to greet us. She even held my hand. I could not believe this was the same girl I had seen in the video. Kim explained to me that in China, if children with special needs are not adopted by a certain age, they will be sent to government-run institutions for the rest of their lives. Therefore, Kim and her team are working to improve the conditions in which these children are raised so that they will appeal to more potential parents and get adopted in the future.

For the first two days of my visit to Eagles’ Wings, the BEACON team from the US, in which I was a part of, spoke with the local staff, as Kim believed that training the staff to be better equipped to take care of children with special needs is an essential component of her goal. I helped as much as I could by translating the team’s words into Chinese. During this time, I learned that music can help connect the two hemispheres of the brain, improving word retrieval in language, communication and developmental skills, which is important for school readiness. I also learned that when a person sings a song, he or she uses the whole brain to control and process information. Therefore, it is important to teach special needs kids to sing songs that could help improve their brains’ controllability.

For the last three days, we worked with kids directly. In the mornings, we separated the children into two groups; the lower skilled group and the advanced one. We would spend an hour and half performing music therapy with each group. The first group we worked with was the lower skilled one. All the kids in this group must be with their nurses because most of them can’t walk, stand, or even sit up by their own. The team’s music therapist, Angela, would sing a song and show pictures related to the lyrics. At first, the children barely sang back due to their shyness, but after the 2nd and 3rd time, the whole room filled with singing. I noticed there was one blind girl lying on the ground and who was quiet most of the time. But when we played the harp music, she immediately raised her hands and moved her fingers along with the music as if she was playing the harp! For the advanced group, we noticed most kids have developmental skills so we asked their nurses not to “babysit” them but to just sit behind them and let them communicate with us on their own.

Following the group music therapy, we would work with each child individually. We tried to teach the kids some basic skills such as naming the food, saying greetings and using sign language. The key to keep the kids concentrated and connecting with us is to find something that really motivates them. For example, there was a little boy that Kim worked with who loved bananas. Therefore, we used bananas as a reward for him. Every time when Kim taught him something, he would master it very fast because he always wanted a piece of banana.

After a whole week of learning and helping, I discovered that faith and love are most important to me. If we believe in these special needs children and treat them with love, they will connect and respond to the outside world in ways they previously would not have been able to do. Often times, it requires some patience and understanding, but in the end, it is always worth it. Each child is unique and needs his or her own time to develop and grow. Music therapy plays an important role in helping these children to feel and express themselves. I am thankful for this opportunity of participating in the training and teaching the special needs children. I hope they are able to benefit from this and live better lives afterwards.

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Volunteer at Wings Learning Center, 07/17/13'

Posted by Gabrielle "Gaby" Berbey on July 24, 2013 at 2:15 AM Comments comments ()

The dictionary defines autism as a developmental disorder that is diagnosed by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, and to communicate with others. If you had shown me this definition two weeks ago, I would have undoubtedly agreed with this description. My mind would have likely conjured up an image of an introverted child rendered dysfunctional in society due to their disorder, a child defined solely by the limitations of their disorder.

As I reflect on this definition now, I find myself unsettled by its language, or rather, unsettled by the word ‘impairment’ in the context of this definition. This impairment, synonymous with ‘damage’, implies that these children will never be able to experience the beauty of human connection, leaving them forever isolated in an intangible and unconquerable sphere of autism’s symptoms. According to this definition, their disorder has stripped them of their ability to connect with others, consequently defining them. But what if, for a moment, we reflected on the individual and not the definition, making an attempt to understand and see the world through their eyes? Once we grasp that the individual can define the disorder, and not vice versa, and that we all possess innately distinct insecurities of sorts in regards to social interactions, we open our minds to the possibility of transcending the limitations of autism.

The notion of rising above these seemingly concrete limitations did not seem possible until Tyler and I assisted in teaching a music therapy session for autistic teenagers at the Wings Learning Center in Redwood City. Admittedly, before the session, I found the thought of working with autistic teenagers to be daunting, as I experienced the far-too-familiar fear of the unknown. Entering the session, I found myself being uncharacteristically reserved, silently sitting in my chair and observing each child and how they interacted with their surroundings, hesitant to immerse myself into their worlds. But as Beth, the head therapist, began the class with a guitar-accompanied song, my preconceived image of the introverted autistic child vanished. My silence was no longer from reservation but instead, surprise. I observed as each child sang confidently and loudly, fervently hitting their drums to the beat and unafraid to have their voices ring throughout the hallways. The louder they sang, the happier they seemed, as the music from their voices drowned the noise of their disorders. They had found their voices, and more importantly, believed in their voices, something that we, as humans, often struggle with.

After Beth’s song, Tyler improvised on the piano while one of the students fearlessly improvised alongside him, harmonizing with his chords. I noticed a wide smile plastered on her face the entire time, not simply because she was playing the piano, but because she was connecting with others through piano.

I followed Tyler’s performance with several Scottish tunes I picked up from my recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. As I moved from one tune to the next, the kids began dancing freely around the room, jangling their tambourines and tapping their drums to the beat. Never in my entire thirteen years of playing had I ever witnessed an audience so receptive to the simple beauty of music. For them, music was not about the specific notes and techniques, but instead it’s about how they felt listening to the music. They were united through this inherent, but often overlooked ability to simply feel, and to let that feeling become the drive for their collaboration between one another, and they, in unison, transcended the limitations of their disorders and the misunderstanding surrounding their disorders.

Misunderstanding is often present in the fear of attempt, a fear of exploring something that, at first glance, does not seem “normal”. But once we step out of our comfort zone, experiencing the wonderfully unsettling feeling of embracing the unfamiliar, the blindfold of misunderstanding is lifted. I realized that the children in the Wings Music Center are not autistic children, but children who have the strength to define their autism. They are children who have found a means of capturing an unadulterated joy from connecting with one another in ways that I have never witnessed before, and they are among the happiest, kindest, and bravest teenagers I have ever met. I greatly look forward to continue being inspired by the children in the Wings Learning Center Music Therapy in the following weeks.


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Music Therapy, Redwood City 7/10/13

Posted by Charissa L on July 10, 2013 at 11:40 PM Comments comments ()

So, Tyler and I visted the music therapy group for the third time today! It was my last time for the summer, so it was extra-special. We began with the "check-in" where each person shared their adventures of the past week -- field trips, strawberry picking, and ice-cream making! Of course we went off several tangents, discussing favorite ice cream flavors, hiking, etc. Then everyone fetched their instrument of choice, and together we sang the group song, "MBL." The kids were practically begging to play their game IBS, or Invisible Ball of Stuff (basically charades), so Beth gave in and allowed two rounds. First, one boy (Jonathan) mimed gathering eggs on a farm, and then a girl (Jasmine) acted out characters from High School Musical. Both of them were so creative when they portrayed their scenarios. For example, Jonathan whistled the tune of "Old Macdonald" to show that he was on a farm.

After IBS, I took the stage and performed an excerpt from the 1st movement of Dvorak's violin concerto, and afterwards I answered several questions regarding the different parts of the violin, my favorite types of music, and even if my brother played an instrument! Everyone wanted to a turn to make music with Tyler, the master of improvisation, so Jonathan went first. It began with just Tyler on the piano and Jonathan on the guitar, but slowly everyone else joined in with drums and tamborine. The piece they made up was very blues-y with a bit of gypsy feel. Then we began a new piece, with me playing the violin, and again the percussion instruments chimed in. (It was actually my first time improvising alongside someone else, and it was a lot of fun! but I definitely need to work on it...)

I really wish I could come back, but I'm so glad that I had this opportunity to help out! I"ve definitely learned a lot myself and made some wonderful new friends. :)

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Music Therapy, Redwood City 7/3/13

Posted by Charissa L on July 4, 2013 at 12:25 AM Comments comments ()

On July 3, Tyler Leswing and Charissa Leung visited the Wings Learning Center for the second time. This week there was a bigger group of teens, all of whom were very excited about the music therapy session!

The session started out with the kids catching up with one another, telling the rest about their summer vacations. Beth (the therapist) led the group on guitar for a spirited rendition of their original song, called "MBL" (or Music Band Live). Then, Charissa performed the first movement of Mozart's 5th violin concerto, which everyone enjoyed. Each person took out their favorite instruments to play along as everyone sang "Good Time," by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen. Afterwards, Tyler began an improvisation on the piano, and one of the group members, Jake, came over to the piano and began playing a simple tune alongside Tyler. Together, they continued their harmonizing melodies and ended the song with a soft, tender chord. It was a very special moment.

Like Jake, the regulars of this group are also quite musically talented. They may not have had formal training, but they all enjoy singing, have a great sense of beat, and can figure out tunes on the keyboard and guitar. What special people -- they truly love music and making friends, and honestly are the most happy, sincere group one could ever hope to meet.

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Music Therapy, Redwood City 6/26/13

Posted by Charissa L on June 27, 2013 at 2:05 AM Comments comments ()

On June 26, Tyler Leswing and Charissa Leung went to the Wings Learning Center in Redwood City to work with a music therapist (Beth) in guiding some teens in a group session. It was a smaller group than usual since a few of the students were on vacation, but it was still beneficial to the 3 students who participated. Charissa started out by playing the 2nd movement of the Dvorak violin concerto. After each short section, she led a discussion on the moods and content of the music. The students were able to use their imaginations to express how they perceived the music. Then, she led the group in a sing along with the song “This Land is Your Land”, by Woody Guthrie, with Tyler at the piano, Beth on the guitar, and the rest of the group (including dads!) singing the song in harmony. It was a lot of fun!

Afterwards, Tyler played one of his original pieces on the piano. Then he asked us to give him some descriptive words/scenarios and he improvised a piece with those ideas. The group chose an enchanted castle, then a bowling alley. Everyone really enjoyed his music and was stunned by his creativity! Beth gave positive feedback on the session and welcomed them back to her studio anytime.

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