Music Therapy Class Makes Joyful Sounds


Walk into the Allwood Library story room on a Tuesday night and you’re guaranteed not to hear a “shh” from the librarians. Instead, you might hear the happy sounds of children’s laughter, hands beating on bongo drums, and shakers shaking.

The Clifton Health Department, Clifton PRAISE (Clifton Parents Requiring Action and Information for Special Education) and Tempo Music Therapy Services in Nutley have joined together with to provide a course designed for children of all ages and abilities. Music therapy is the proven use of music as a way of reaching others that addresses the needs of those who learn differently in a relaxed environment without any pressure. Sessions last an hour and are carefully guided by a skilled therapist. In this case, the therapist is Miss Laura, who is calm, cheerful, and friendly and has established a wonderful rapport with each of the dozen or so students, ranging in age from five to 41. During our visit, the class was all children.

Students signed up in the fall for weekly classes that started in November and end in early January. The classes are run through the Clifton Health Department and there is a small fee that each student is asked to pay if possible. Details of this class were posted on the Clifton PRAISE  Facebook page and the class quickly filled up.

The Clifton Times was invited to observe a class to see the positive impact such a program can have. Tom Sadowski and Nathaniel King from the Health Department facilitated the class, greeting each student by name with some high fives and a few hugs, and the sounds of young voices and laughter soon gave way to the sounds of hands tapping on drums. The students followed the lead of Miss Laura from Tempo Music in terms of tempo and intensity – sometimes slow and quiet, other times rapid and loud – each played on the drum of the student’s choosing. They watched carefully and Laura made sure that each student looked at her (even if unable to hold eye contact), and Laura in turn smiled at each student as she encouraged them to play.

The fun part came a few minutes later when each child was given paper and pen and asked to choose a Christmas song out of a list of four and “write” slightly different lyrics to the song of their choosing. – The list included “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or they could pick their own song if they didn’t care for the first three. Each child concentrated carefully while health department facilitators Tom and Nathaniel offered encouragement and smiles and occasionally, replaced a pen.

With Laura softly strumming a guitar, each child was asked if they’d like to share their song with the others. Some sang along in loud, confident voices while others whispered, or spoke instead of sang. Laura offered to sing for those who didn’t want to, as there’s no pressure to perform for anyone who might be shy about public singing (or speaking). Some of the lyrics were silly and elicited laughter, while others were poignant and sweet. Each song got a hearty round of applause and when Laura asked for the papers the children had written out, she revealed that in a few weeks from that day, “We’re going to put on a concert for the parents! We’ll have drums, sing a carol or two, and we’re going to perform the songs you’ve written as well!” She added, with a smile that elicited a few excited outbursts, “There might even be refreshments served!”

It was wonderful to see children sitting quietly and interested in the program, interacting with one another. Parents of all students are encouraged to wait outside of the story room, where they’re able to talk with each other. It's an unspoken benefit - the time to socialize, trade parenting tips, and relax, and parents of the youngest children can stay in the room and play along with their kids if needed.

This session of the program will end in a few weeks and it’s not yet certain if it will be continued going forward. The Health Department will let parents know as soon as possible.

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