In small ways, I am reminded why I named my organization Music Gives Life.
For nine years, I was the music/movement therapist at Life Skills Day School. The special needs students ranged in age from 10 to 21. One morning, I led a music therapy session for two developmentally delayed nineteen-year-old men.
Alex was very tall and wiry. Shy, with a sweet smile, he tried hard to make conversation. His words were garbled, and I tried hard to understand him. His arms and legs looked like thin sticks, as he lumbered awkwardly around the room. His best friend Ben never seemed to stop talking. Ben was short and strong, and walked in a heavy sideways fashion. Both young men had weak, stiff fingers, and struggled through a lifetime of tedious occupational therapy. Properly holding a fork or a pencil were terribly difficult tasks they practiced daily, and might never accomplish.
They took my beginning recorder class and, after a year, could play one note: B, on their soprano recorders. This one note enabled them to play in the school band, whenever that note fit into the song harmonies. Some of their schoolmates were able to play three recorder notes: G, A, B. Three students in the school could play complete, simple tunes. Other students played single notes on piano keyboards, strummed specially tuned guitars, or beat simple rhythms on percussion instruments. I conducted while teaching assistants cued individual players.
This day, with just Alex and Ben, I set up a snare drum, crash cymbal, and a piano-keyboard. They took turns playing the drum and cymbal, then the piano. With a little prompting from me, they were able to listen to each other and improvise quite well. They switched instruments a few times and thoroughly enjoyed making a rhythmic racket. Music therapy is the one place in life where chaotic noise can be desirable and appropriate.
Like all young men, Alex and Ben were fascinated by technology. It wasn’t long before they wanted to push buttons on the piano-keyboard and hear the prerecorded songs and classical pieces. Alex could only read the numbers, but Ben could read some of the song titles. I helped them push the appropriate buttons and play pieces they wanted to hear.
By chance, they pushed the numbers for Mozart’s "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik". The happily compelling music started, and Alex was infused with joy. This awkward young man began leaping and spinning around the room. Arms wide, laughing with unbridled delight, he stretched his stiff limbs and owned the entire space, dancing with rapture. Ben was also entranced by Mozart’s stunning music and played the piece over and over. When time ran out and they needed to go back to class, both young men leapt up the stairs looking happier and brighter than I had ever seen them.
I sat back grinning. Indeed - Music Gives Life