Voice, Choice and the Musical Mirror: Music Exploration for Special Needs Adults

by Various Writers

This is the third in a series of articles that examine the impact Music Care Training has in care settings and contexts. Watch for monthly stories from Level 3 graduates. This week’s blog post is written by Alison Dale, who works as a director/musician/writer. She operates Soul Fire Express: Music Care and Communication in Stratford, ON.

To all people, but in particular to people with a communication disorder, listening to music and music-making means communication.”Claus Bang, Danish Music Therapist

Everyone has a relationship with music, and music is a relational bridge between inner and outer worlds. I see this every day in my work with special needs adults. Many of my clients have limited verbal communication skills, yet they literally burst out of themselves when they interact directly with music.

One approach I often use is something I call “musical mirroring.” I find out what matters to a client (a song, a relationship, an expression, something that makes them laugh, for example) and then create individual, personal music that reflects this back to them. I record the song and invite them to be part of it in whatever way they can. When they hear themselves reflected back in this “musical mirror”, it strengthens both their sense of identity, and their place in the larger context of life that the music represents. When the song is personal, the context has meaning and relevance for them, and they get to be a character in their own music. The interrelated parts of a song can also represent a microcosm of community.

Through musical mirroring, individuals hear how their own voices add to a greater whole. Even if they are limited in their conversational abilities, they can still they can still take part by translating their life energy into vocal sounds, bringing joy, relief, release, and a sense of connection, along with artistic and emotional engagement.

Two of my music clients are graduates of the W. Ross McDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, and participated in a music program there. I had the chance to bring them back together in a musical setting again, and we’ve created a number of songs on which they are both recorded. This keeps the creative connection alive between them, and preserves their sense of personal voice and creative community. Chantal and Stephen are always excited to hear their own music, and they know their own parts by heart. The songs themselves have become creative settings in which they can meet even when they aren’t together, and my studio is often filled with whoops of joy and laughter as they listen to themselves.

We are all unique, and we all get a better sense of ourselves when we are “selves in relation.” Musical mirroring reflects this uniqueness, and reinforces both personal identity and connection to the bigger picture of life.