Monthly Archives: September 2015

Singing a different tune

I’m not a music educator or music therapist, but I’m a music lover and an occasional music maker, and I know the power that music has in my own life. The importance of music in the lives of the children and teens I have worked with is so huge that it often comes into play in the therapy. Sometimes, it IS the therapy. Consider this example:

A ten year-old African-American girl is in a long-term placement with a Dominican foster mother who is planning to adopt her. The child has a beautiful voice and loves to sing along with the Latin music that’s played all the time in the home. In our weekly art therapy sessions, she sings these songs while she works, and teaches them to me so I can sing along with her. We fall into the habit of singing together every week, and our singing is filled with energy and fun. After a number of years, the placement is disrupted (an all too frequent occurrence in foster care) at the foster mother’s request; she feels overwhelmed by the child’s problems and changes her mind about adoption. The child is replaced with an elderly churchgoing African-American woman. In therapy sessions, the child continues to sing Latin songs for a long time, but the fun is gone and there is a pervasive sense of sadness and longing to her singing. At home, she attends church regularly with her new foster mother. Over the course of a few months, the songs in our sessions slowly change from Latin music to hymns, and eventually she starts to sing the hymns with a sure, powerful voice. The Latin songs disappear from her repertoire. And it is this musical communication that tells me she is beginning to absorb the loss and to form a new attachment.

Refugee children show us how it is

To add to the flow of information and images about the current refugee crisis, here is a selection of photos from a 9/7/15 BuzzFeed article,  A Charity Gave Refugee Children Disposable Cameras. Along with cameras, the kids were given some photographic instruction to capture their daily lives in refugee settlements. The goal of this phototherapy project was to give the children “a form of psychosocial support – catharsis through artistic expression.”

Thanks to reporter Alan White, to BuzzFeed, and to Unicef, who gave the cameras to 500 Syrian and Palestinian refugee children. All photos are by children ages 7-12, taken between October 2013 and July 2014.  I encourage you to view all of these amazing photos in a larger format and read the full article here. You can find out how to help Unicef here.

A group of children warm their hands over a fire in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Ahmad, 12, from Raqqa Governorate in the Syrian Arab Republic. Unicef / Zakira

An expanse of makeshift shelters is visible in an informal settlement in the Tal Serhoun area of the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Moussa, 12, from Aleppo Governorate, in the Syrian Arab Republic. Unicef / Zakira

Girls and boys stand together in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Nahed, 10, from Aleppo. Unicef / Zakira

A boy and a girl walk along a muddy, uneven ground between makeshift shelters in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Omran, 11, from Homs. Unicef / Zakira

Children use rocks and a tyre as stepping stones to cross a debris-filled body of water in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Nour, 12, who is from Homs. The children are his friends. Unicef / Zakira

A girl stands with her hands in the pockets of her coat outside a makeshift shelter in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Qosay, 7, from Aleppo. Unicef / Zakira

A Syrian refugee girl smiles while standing in the snow in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. A boy walks nearby, while makeshift shelters are visible in the distance. Photo by Hilal, 9, from Aleppo. Unicef / Zakira

A woman walks through an informal settlement for Syrian refugees in the city of Qobb Elias in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Mohammad, 12, from the city of al-Safirah, Aleppo. Unicef / Zakira

Several children stand next to one another in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Two of the children are barefoot, while the others are wearing plastic sandals covered in dust. Photo by Sara, 9, a Syrian refugee who wanted to show the harsh conditions in which residents live. Unicef / Zakira

A man sits with two girls (his daughters) next to a fire while the girls’­ brothers stand nearby outside the family’s makeshift tent shelter in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. The ground outside the tent is muddy from rains, and some of the children are not wearing shoes. Photo by Hani, 9, from Hama. Unicef / Zakira

Children, a woman, and two men stand next to a snowman they’ve made outside a makeshift shelter in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Akram, 8, from a rural area near Aleppo. Unicef / Zakira

A woman and man stand with four of their children in their makeshift shelter in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. The shelter became damaged after placing a shoe in the stove caused a fire to break out. The couple and children are the family of Jasem, 7, a Syrian refugee, who photographed them. Unicef / Zakira

A boy pushes a cart filled with items for sale in an informal settlement, in the Bekaa Valley. Photographed by Shadi, 12, from a rural area near Idlib. Unicef / Zakira

A boy pulls a small makeshift wagon bearing two plastic crates, one of which holds a petrol canister, in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Shadi, 12, from a rural area near Idlib. Unicef / Zakira

Mohanad stands next to his family’­s makeshift shelter in an informal settlement in the town of Marjaayoun in Nabatieh Governorate. Photo by Mohanad’s older brother, Omar, 8, who made the image to serve as a reminder of their time in the settlement after the family returns to the Syrian Arab Republic. Unicef / Zakira

Women, accompanied by children, fill jerrycans, pails, plastic bottles, and other containers at a water point in an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Photo by Riham, 11, from Homs. Unicef / Zakira

Inspiration is sometimes hard to come by

But I try to follow the Ten Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life from Sister Corita Kent and John Cage. Especially these three:

  • Rule 3   Consider everything an experiment.
  • Rule 6   Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.
  • Rule 7   The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.

Here’s some stuff I do when I’m having trouble getting something going.

I scribble.

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I scribble or draw on top of an image in an old book or discarded magazine.

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I make my own coloring book.

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I make a mandala.

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I rip up paper and glue it down.

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I just mess around with materials. (Kids are geniuses at this.)

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The most important thing is the doing, the movement, the physical connection with the materials. Eventually, something opens up. And if it doesn’t… well, scribbling has it’s own satisfactions.