Inside music therapy with Nordoff Robbins | Features | MN2S

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we have teamed up with renowned music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins to raise money for their causes and help spread the word about what they do. We asked Harriet Crawford, Head of Music Services for the Inner London area, to shine a light on the great work they do for those that might not know what music therapy is all about.

How did Nordoff Robbins come into existence?

In 1959, Paul Nordoff, American composer and pianist and Clive Robbins, a special education teacher, developed a new form of collaborative music-making to engage isolated and disturbed children, which they termed ‘therapy in music’.The effects of the music therapy, which started initially in children’s homes, were felt early on. It helped the children develop discipline, concentration, self-control and increased social and self-awareness and the effects lasted way beyond just the sessions themselves.

Demand for the work increased and the first music therapy service was established in South London in 1970. This was soon followed by the first Nordoff Robbins training programme in 1974, which was essential as it gave Nordoff and Robbins the opportunity to pass on the vital skills they had developed in the preceding 15 years. The charity’s first fundraising team was established in 1976.


Who has the charity worked with over the years?

Considered to be the “music industry’s charity of choice”, Nordoff Robbins is incredibly lucky to be supported by music’s finest. From The Who, who received the first ever O2 Silver Clef Award in 1976, right through to Rita Ora who received the O2 Silver Clef Best Female Award in 2015, we’re proud to recognise these artists and their achievements at our annual award ceremony which, to date, has raised £9.2 million to fund our Music Therapy work.

In the 40 year history of the O2 Silver Clef Lunch, there have been a total of 163 award winners. Some of the biggest names in the music industry have been honoured including David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, The Bee Gees, Michael Buble, Kylie Minogue, Pharrell Williams and many many more.

Take a look at our 40th Birthday film [below] to see just a small selection of some of our friends and supporters. Outside of the music world, sporting legends David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Pelé are the three latest recipients of the HMV Football Extravaganza Legend of Football Award, and Laurence Dallaglio, Jason Leonard, Victor Ubogu, Richard Hill, Ben Kay, Nick Easter are just a few rugby greats to be honoured at our annual Six Nations Rugby Dinner.

Tell us about the therapeutic treatments and activities that Nordoff Robbins enable…

Nordoff Robbins is the UK’s leading music therapy charity. We deliver music therapy to children and adults in the community in schools, colleges and nurseries, in hospitals, care homes and in our own music therapy centres. Working in partnership with many different organisations, we run sessions for groups and individuals, long-term therapy and short-term projects. We also provide specialist music lessons to people who are desperate to learn to play or sing but whose disability or circumstances mean they can’t access traditional music teaching. Improvisation is central to what music therapists do. People play percussion instruments or sing spontaneously, whatever their age or ability, and the music therapist plays alongside them, forming a musical improvised duet, which is a powerful experience for the client and leads to greater social confidence and emotional wellbeing.

How does one train as a music therapist? Is musical talent and training required?

We run an internationally renowned two-year masters level training programme in London and Manchester. We have been training music therapists since 1974. By training our own therapists, we can ensure the future of the profession.

Our trainee music therapists are all talented musicians but they come from a wide background, some have had no professional musical training and some are classically trained musicians. They are a variety of ages. Some may be recent university graduates and others may have been working in a totally separate field for many years. The thing they all have in common is their talent and passion for making music and helping people.


How does music therapy help the people who take part in it?

Our music therapists work with people of all ages – babies, children and adults right through to old age – from all backgrounds, and from all over the UK. Our clients have a range of challenges including autism, dementia, mental health problems, stroke, brain injury, learning and physical disabilities, depression, and in some cases, a life-threatening or terminal illness such as cancer. All of these people have one uniting factor: music dramatically improves their quality of life.

For people with dementia, music therapy can reduce isolation, alleviate anxiety and depression and stimulate memory. Studies show that having a music therapist in a care home helps to reduce a resident’s quality of life. Demand for our work in this area continues to grow.

For children with autism, early intervention with music therapy can enhance development. For slightly older children it can help develop meaningful language.  For adults it can offer emotional stability.

For those with learning and physical disabilities, the rhythm of music can help stimulate movement, better muscle coordination, balance and strength and improve social skills.

For people with mental health problems, music therapy can help to raise levels of confidence and self-esteem and offers a way for individuals to connect people with their feelings. Music therapy also helps people cope with the transition from hospital to life back into the community.

In the immediate aftermath of a brain injury, music therapy can stimulate memory recall and provides emotional support. For those with long term neurological disorders, music can help people regain use of parts of their body lost through neurological neglect or weakness.

Our music therapists work in hospitals helping people with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. Our work can help take a patient’s mind off gruelling and often painful treatment and provides an opportunity to talk and sing about the difficulties of the situation.

Music therapy can also help many other people including those with post-traumatic stress disorder and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.


How does technology play a part in what you do, and what exciting technological advancements are on the horizon in the music therapy field?

Technology is vital to us as musicians and music therapists of course. We film our sessions so that we can look back at what happened in detail, and plan our music for the next session. We need the recording to be top-quality, both audio and video, also so that we can play the work to other professionals and people who want to find out more first-hand about what we do. In the sessions themselves, we use music software for composing and songwriting, and also with those who can’t easily pick up an instrument.

If there are musicians and artists who are reading this who would like to get involved in what Nordoff Robbins do – is there a way for them to do so?

If you are a musician and are interested in finding out more about becoming a music therapist, visit the Nordoff Robbins website training section.

You can also get involved with our fundraising team in whatever way your imagination permits! Marathons, cake sales, charity gigs, skydives, the sky is the limit (quite literally in some cases!). Fundraisers and donations are vital to our work as we receive no government funding, so if you’re inspired by music therapy and want to play your part, please visit the Nordoff Robbins website.

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