Music Therapy in Schools :Edited by Jo Tomlinson, Philippa Derrington and Amelia Oldfield

Friday, August 17th, 2012 Book Review by Susan Pyke

I would really like you to be able to read all the Foreword and Introduction of this book. The introduction ends:“This book fills a gap in the literature and will be invaluable not only to music therapists working in schools but also to a wide range of professional colleagues in schools as well as to parents, relatives and carers of children receiving music therapy within the education environment.”

The thirteen chapters cover children from pre-schoolers without speech onwards. Each chapter and author have been chosen for diversity, but most of the eighteen writers are connected with Cambridge, lecturing or having studied at Anglia Ruskin University, or working for Cambridgeshire Music.

There are two to five case histories from each writer, which are poignant and moving as the Introduction promises, and there are testimonies to music therapy’s many uses. Examples include a severely ill and disabled three-year-old without facial or vocal expression, five to nine-year-olds risking exclusion from school and teenagers already excluded. The chapter on work in Belfast sets the scene with six pages of the relevant history.

Dr Frankie Williams, appropriately, writes the Foreword. She draws together the threads of music therapy’s development which was fired by the passions and determination of so many excellent people. She herself is part of Cambridgeshire Music’s achievement: fourteen music therapists provided 189 hours’ work at the time of writing. Since then they have been affected by financial cuts.

All over the country alternative funding is being sought for music therapists. Dr Williams ends (in June 2011) with this paragraph:

“It has taken forty years to build up this essential resource of music therapy in schools, local authorities and the Health Service, and it can take a few minutes to demolish this in a government or a council meeting. All those taking these decisions should read this book first.”

Having read this book one should come back to this observation and consider hard what to do with this message. I hope that it may speak to and inform decision-makers, and fuel another generation’s concern and ability to change lives.

From my personal perspective, Professor Odell Miller and Dr Oldfield were the first music therapists I met. Like many others whom I met subsequently, they generously allowed their work to be observed and gave workshops demonstrating the potential of music therapy in education. I was a private teacher, working to support music in special schools, and Dr Williams was also a valued contributor in the early stages of the voluntary group I was asked to set up. At that time I went to workshops and read most of what was available then; I had the privilege of a short course of music therapy myself and did ’supervised play therapy’ with two young children.

So I read this book with fascination and some familiarity with the settings and the sounds of the sessions described. Even years ago I struggled with some of the texts. Despite my fascination, reading psychological jargon was not easy. In recommending this important book with its vital message for these times I must confess that some pages were less easy than others, and if it’s your first foray into reading about psychology you might need perseverance – or to skip bits!

The sounds of the improvised music can be hard to imagine, especially if you’ve never seen or heard the instruments being used. They are listed but not described, and there are several that are new to me. Luckily, if you can manage Google, you can get a demonstration on You Tube. I strongly recommend playing the videos on music therapy charity websites, and they also give good background reading. But in this book there is so much variety on every aspect of the subject and it offers constant wonder and excitement at the potential of music therapy.

Some say our ears are our most important organs, certainly in gestation and early years. The fact that music involves every area of our brain makes it a potentially very powerful healing tool.

Tomlinson, Jo, Derrington, Philippa and Oldfield, Amelia (2011) Music Therapy in Schools
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
ISBN 978-1-84905-000-5

Susan Pyke LRAM, ARCM, GRSM is Chair of Music and Special Needs in Norfolk and is contactable on pykesu@gmail.com.

For more information contact the British association of Music Therapy (BAMT). www.bamt.org includes information sheets as follows
Music Therapy and Mental Health
Music Therapy and Autism
Music Therapy and Neuro-Disability
Music Therapy with Adolescents
Music Therapy in the Early Years

There are videos and stories on:-

www.belltree.org.uk
www.keychanges.org
www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk
www.musicspace.org

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