Music, the best medicine

Prof. Nigel Osborne is an extraordinary person. Composer, musician, inventor, researcher in the applied neuroscience of music and the creative arts, and animateur in the uses of music for children with special needs and those suffering from trauma, he was here in the city to head a week-long residency at Vidya Sagar, along with other U.K.-based Opera Circus musicians Darren Abrahams (lead facilitator and opera singer), Priyanka Devani (trombone and piano musician), and Hindustani vocalist Prakriti Dutta, besides three teachers from Udayanchal School in Mumbai (Grainne Rooney, Tanuja Kanak, Christine Fernandez) who work closely with Opera Circus.

At Vidya Sagar, he facilitated the creation of a musical production ‘Elements’, with lyrics, music, and movements all created by special children. Amazing progress could be noticed during each of these musical sessions. For instance, a boy with cerebral palsy who is non-verbal, and with limited ability to move, could produce and modulate sound in synchrony with the rhythm and pitch of the music the Opera Circus team was playing, something he was not able to do before. Not surprisingly, music therapy will henceforth be a regular feature of the curriculum at Vidya Sagar. And at the premier of ‘Elements’, Prof. Osborne unveiled his invention, ‘Skoog’, a musical instrument which can be accessed by even people with very limited movements, to produce and compose music.

Meanwhile, Prof. Osborne’s Silk Route project has been working to link countries along the ancient silk trail (China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe) by introducing the music of diverse cultures in schools and colleges in these countries. The larger aim of Silk Route is to establish a virtual and free music highway. Prof. Osborne also composes music for Share Music — Sweden, a professional performing music group that includes not just professional musicians, but also challenged individuals. “In Europe, most performing artists work with the community too. That is how it started for me too. I think this keeps artists vibrant and adds creative impetus,” he says modestly about his multifaceted approach to music. He speaks about the fantastic potential of music therapy…

Is music therapy for everyone, or just for the musically-inclined?

It can help anybody who is open to it. That is a good thing, because it implies that music therapy can’t be thrust on anybody. You don’t have to have musical knowledge or ability, though.

Does music therapy have potential for a short-term or long-term impact?

For both. For instance, there was a traumatised child I was working with. He was numb with shock, wouldn’t look up at people or speak a word. But after a session of music, he was singing and dancing. Certainly, I do not assume that music therapy healed him in a session; but it was able to provide him some relief, at least for some time. In terms of a long-term impact, it holds great potential for children with autism, attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD), etc. It makes them calmer, too. Many children who were unable to speak normally have been helped by music therapy. Even with diseases like Parkinson’s, music therapy can work wonders, especially in the early stages. At a superficial level, walking in tandem to rhythmic music can help a person lose the shuffling walk that this disease causes, for instance. At a deeper level, recent research by Robert Zatorre has shown that dopamine levels (which are diminished by Parkinson’s) actually show a rise with music therapy, which means it can have a healing effect.

About your Vidyasagar experience…

The wonderful learning that I take back from here is the intimacy with which special education is imparted here, which makes it much more effective. In the West, it is quite impersonal, legalised.

What can India learn from the western system of music therapy?

India can learn to be proud of its own music systems, and put them to use. This country has had too much foreign interference and influence. Indian classical music, both Carnatic and Hindustani, is one of the strongest possible systems for music therapy because it is emotionally rich, expressive and centres round the voice, which striking a chord with listeners. And because of its fantastic range, there is something in it for everybody.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 1:33:56 AM |

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