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Even Labrinth Can Learn Something About The Power Of Music

Posted: 26/04/2013 00:00

I first heard about Nordoff Robbins a few years ago when they unveiled 50 30ft-tall Gibson Les Paul's on London's Southbank.

I must admit I was pretty taken with the custom-painted guitars, auctioned off to raise much-needed funds, so didn't find out much more about the charity other than they provide 'music therapy for kids'.

On Tuesday, I accompanied Labrinth to the Nordoff Robbins centre near Kentish Town. He too didn't know much about the charity but was keen to get involved.

We sat in the therapy room and waited for three students to be brought in, Alex, Imen and Adelaide. The trio, all under eight and in a mainstream state school, have differing degrees of autism and learning difficulties. The condition is unique to each of them; Alex is bossy and controlling, Imen has problems engaging with the environment around her, and Adelaide, virtually silent, has extreme self-esteem troubles.

You don't have to be a scientist to realise getting out of the classroom and into a room full of exotic percussive instruments and pianos, and allowed to play and experiment, could be beneficial. You don't have to be autistic to feel the power of music either. How many of us have been moved to tears, or to dancing, by a piece of music? It doesn't even have to be familiar to you beforehand.

What I saw in the music room, after the two therapists had introduced themselves and eked interaction out of the students, was mesmerising. As if fearful, initially, no doubt exacerbated by the presence of strangers, they soon relaxed as they pounded bongos and snare drums.

Smiles started to fill their faces, eye contact was being made where there had previously been nothing but blank stares.

Imen, so insular, we were told, was looking to her peers to see what they were doing over at the xylophone, for example, and either wandered over to join them, or decided to counteract the melody with a another instrument.

At one point, showing just how far therapy had taken her, she sat next to Labrinth and started counting out the ascending scale he was playing on the piano and immediately started playing a descending one of her own. They were talking to each other, in a language they both felt comfortable with.

This was no mindless letting off of steam. The children weren't merely getting something out of their systems. There were choices being made; choices about expression which changed the way each of the three children communicated with those around them. And that's just it, they were communicating, completely at ease for perhaps the first time that day. Alex reached for a softer beater with which to play the xylophone and seemed much happier with the results. Adelaide, too, the most detached of the group, began laughing as she shook a tambourine.

The success of the therapy can, to an extent, be judged on what happens in the room and how interaction takes place. The true victories come in what happens after the music has stopped.

Before I attended the session, I thought about music's power over me, and how I'd felt it many times, but ultimately found its effects fleeting.

To be perfectly honest, the cynic in me was sceptical at just how much good smacking a conga for 30 minutes could do for a child with autism.

Half an hour later, watching the children leave the room without the need to hold hands or stare and the floor, confident, talkative and ready for the outside world, there wasn't a doubt in my mind."

The Nordoff Robbins music therapy annual fundraiser O2 Silver Clef Awards will be held on June 28th 2013 at the London Hilton, Park Lane.

 

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