by Michael Murphy
Dan walks in right on time, but circle has run long at Friendship Academy. Dan doesn’t mind, he readies himself for his session. The children watch him as he does, waiting to get to say hello, waiting for their turn to find their spot on the carpet for music. As we wrap up our circle routine, a couple songs to go, the children look back at me and continue. With each song, Dan starts to play along, strumming in the background. We tend to make up songs, but that doesn’t slow him down. Dan goes along and adds another experience to our circle. He is in no rush, but increases the pace along with my song. Each child hears their name, jumps up from their chair and hurries to their carpet square for music. Dan praises their walking feet, greets them and listens to their quick stories about their day or comments on a new Paw Patrol shirt.
Music therapy adds something special to our classrooms. We all sing songs to our students, it serves an educational purpose and provides functional language, but there is something different about Music Therapy. The students are always excited to see Dan, they’re ready to sing the moment he walks in. Our quietest kids jump into “Hail Hail the Gang’s all here,” One of Dan’s welcome songs. Students call out their requests, and Dan finds a way to redirect or work in a new song or two. A towering teacher, Dan spends time on his feet, at eye level with the kids or works to control the gaze of students, willing to do what it takes to maintain that attention and push children to another level of focus. One thing at a time, Dan has all the time in the world to spend with each student until they give him something special for that day; a smile, a word, a sentence… Dan asks for a lot, but gets exactly what he needs before he continues.
We’ve seen shy kids open up, quiet kids yell, “busy” kids slow down and reluctant kids jump in. They throw curveballs at Dan and he throws them right back. “Z,Y,X,W…” Dan starts “his” ABCs. The children shout “NO!”, stopping his song. “That’s not how it goes” says a student who months before spoke in only grunts and groans. Commanding the attention and participation of a big concert of adults is cool, but there cannot be anything more difficult than getting a group of children to listen to your every word, chord or cue. Dan does it.
The exciting part about Music Therapy is that the same song is never really “the same song”. Either Dan plays it different, the children sing it differently, maybe the support staff adds a little something extra. It depends on the day, the weather, what the kids had for breakfast. Each session is exciting and each session ends too soon.
“Music time is over,” begins. Heads hang low, students sing along. Snack comes next, but they wont find solace in their Goldfish and fruit snacks. Dan’s time has ended, they have to wait a whole half hour to hear Dan’s songs blare in another classroom. Different again, effective again. They shout goodbye to Dan, they thank him. If only they knew how to ask for an encore, they would never let him leave. Music Therapy works and it is awesome to watch.