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.