Music therapy, “ephemeral art” and effective at the time of the coronavirus

Music therapy, “ephemeral art” and effective at the time of the coronavirus

I asked myself: what do I choose? Wait for the end of the lockdown because you can’t do music therapy without the presence of the person, without the body resonance aroused by the grand piano, or do I get involved, do I look for new ways?


Ephemeral…. From the Latin ephemĕrus in turn derived from the two Greek words above and day, it means “lasting only one day”.

Nothing is more ephemeral than music, you don’t touch it, you don’t see it … you listen, you play it, but every chord, every single sound lasts even less than an instant to make way for the next one. Yet in the fusion of many individual sound moments, music capable of moving us is born, that is, of moving inside, of making us smile, cry, dream, hope, pray, love …

Ephemeral art is based on the principle that what matters is the path of creation, the time, the duration, the action itself of giving birth to something unique starting, perhaps, from a few elements.

I go back to my childhood. I loved making games. I arranged my dolls or barbies in the order I had imagined; when I was a little older, I dressed them and took care of the details. Or I built houses, set up fruit and vegetable shops, and so on, but then when everything was ready, interest fell and I no longer played. When I became a mother I played a lot with my girls. I remember that even with them we turned the sofa into a den, a small house for them, or we built houses for their puppets with lego. Then when I started the game I felt that strange boredom that I felt as a child. I have often asked myself why. Then I realized that what fascinated me was the path, it was the creative action itself,

In my profession as a music therapist I experience the ephemeral art of music every day. Music therapy is the art of communication.

Music, art, communication, three terms that refer to each other in the sense of a common action that springs from sound, from music, because music is within man before it is even his production, to create a dialogue, a connecting bridge, to overcome closures, to probe unexplored emotional depths, to discover or rediscover the joie de vivre.

But all of this happens on condition that the music therapist knows how to create a sonic dialogue with the other, who knows how to read and translate not only his or her body, but the person as a whole, and who knows how to do it in a beautiful and authentic way. Communicative improvisation is fully ephemeral art. What matters is not the musical production itself, but what arises from playing by observing and observing by playing, as we say in strict jargon. The more the music reflects the child as a “living score”, the more beautiful it is, because even the most uncoordinated gestures, the most gracious voice, or the darkest silences, can become music which, through body resonance (the child is sitting or lying on the grand piano) brings his body together and arouses emotions in him.

In this time of isolation I have chosen to be close to the families I follow in music therapy by offering them a weekly video call (Fig. 1). Aware of the fact that without the concrete, real presence of the child I would have encountered many structural, I would say I did not get knocked down, neither by the impossibility of having the little one on the piano, nor by the impossibility of giving him quality music (the sound that comes is sometimes very metallic).

Fig. 1: Video call between the music therapist and the families

I believe that every life situation can teach us something. And now, after a few weeks of experimentation in this sense, I can say that I am learning a lot.

It is a joy for me to see the dear faces of children from week to week, and I am realizing that it is increasingly a moment awaited, not only by them, but also by their families. Andrea’s mother (all names are invented) said that the boy, when he came to therapy, exulted with joy at the last corner, before parking the car. This well-known place was for him the signal that the hour of music had finally arrived. Now the same thing happens with the phone. When mom calls Andrea because the phone is ringing for the video call, he shouts for joy, just as he did in the car, just before he got out.

The activities proposed to children are very varied, as the family world I meet beyond the screen is varied. There are families that are getting ready for the moment and I find them sitting at the table, dad, boy / girl, mom ready to play, sing, play together. There are those who pull small musical instruments out of the closets and those who build them with taste and imagination, those who use recycled objects (pots that become drums, markers that act as sticks), those who have prepared images with the rhymes of our repertoire.

I too am learning. At first I thought I’d make a couple of minutes call. I arranged a timetable with a phone call every quarter of an hour. I soon realized that fifteen minutes is a breath. Children listen, sing, play, families are involved. Once the time is over, truly ephemeral, too fleeting, they are relieved, but a little sorry. Here then is that I proposed to some to make half-hour calls.

It was necessary to think and create material to be sent so that children, depending on their age and their level, could have in their hands scores suitable for their abilities, illustrated nursery rhymes, photos of the musical instruments that we usually use for the game of recognition of sound tones. Yes, because maybe it’s hard to believe it, but even this is possible to do through and despite the phone.

Ah, I forgot, those I mentioned are children with autism, genetic syndromes, low vision, cognitive and language delays, infantile cerebral palsy….

Sometimes I manage to dedicate some time to my parents too, at the end of our virtual meeting, when the children are now tired and satisfied.

Return to the definition of Music Therapy as the art of communication. Am I doing therapy through video calls? Probably not, but that’s not my problem. Am I communicating? Definitely yes, in a new way. If in taking on the therapy there is often also the breaking of the child’s patterns to encourage his openness to the newness that music brings and when it becomes dialogue, I believe that the first to break his own patterns, in this case I was I.

I asked myself: what do I choose? Wait for the end of this long period because you cannot do music therapy without the presence of the person, without the body resonance aroused by the grand piano, or I get involved, I open myself to the new, I look for new and different ways to communicate with my little patients and do it in an artistic, beautiful, fun way, to break isolation, to break loneliness, to make me feel close to many families?

Here then an apparently ephemeral call becomes hope, expectation, breaks the routine, is an opportunity for comparison, continuity, sharing. It lasts a few minutes, but what it leaves is lasting and has a profound value. Of course there is no lack of critical issues because experiencing the encounter through the screen can be more frustrating for some children and certainly more tiring for parents who have to get involved in person to create a sort of sounding board that favors the involvement of their child.

But unfortunately at the moment we have no other possibility. After a few weeks of experimentation I asked the parents how they live this new way of meeting.

Below is the testimony of some of them.

The dads of two children aged 7 and 6 with autism write: “These ten, fifteen different minutes of the day and week are very useful to Nicola (all names are invented) and they do him more than good because he sees you [he turns to me] and hears your voice, as well as the piano sound. This difficult moment that we are all going through is particularly difficult for him and for children with similar difficulties. The relationship is one of the main problems for them … any relationship they undertake at the moment is a cure-all “.

“The musical therapies with Paola, during the” cloister “, proved to be of great help to Giorgio, they allowed him to break the endless days at home. In addition, the meeting, even if short, has its own ritual: we listen to Paola playing with her daughter Dolce to hear them in a recording for harp and cello, Giorgio recognizes her and begins to wait for the call. He is not always attentive but once the virtual meeting is over, he sings the songs of the lesson by himself. It’s a nice experience that we appreciate and it helps us a lot. “

Riccardo’s mother also answers my question to comment on this new course of online sessions.

“After so many years of music with Paola, Riccardo has made so much progress and started doing unthinkable things. Then the interruption of everything and the all at home! […] During the first video call he got very excited, then he heard the sound of the piano and the notes of the songs he knows…. It is not easy for him to listen, watch Paola, sing and follow the score with the musical notes. But he enjoys it.

In these months I am learning from my child that if I also try to put everything in line to give him more opportunities and allow him to make all the experiences he can, sometimes reality can surprise us and even in the most unthinkable unexpected events, there is hidden a possibility. After all, in my life Riccardo was and is, despite everything, a wonderful unexpected event! ”.

Adds Elisa’s mother (Rett syndrome, 14 years old) “In recent years, with the help of music therapy and Paola, we have managed to have improvements in respiratory, fine and communicative motor skills. In this difficult period, when we were forced to stop all therapies, I must be honest, I went into crisis, the fear of seeing Elisa regress scared me, but the proposal to do music therapy through video calls has enticed me. Elisa immediately seemed enthusiastic and happy to see Paola, so we extended the duration of the meeting to half an hour. Another very funny aspect is the collaboration of the 8 year old sister Nadia. She says she is very happy to be able to interact with her sister and to be able to help her.

Lorenzo’s mother, 16, writes with visual problems: “It is very nice for us to keep up the pace of activities with Lorenzo. In this busy time for everyone, we are maintaining a minimum of weekly routines. Lorenzo welcomed this lesson method well, even if it is tiring for him to maintain concentration and makes it a little difficult to understand the management of the musical scores sent. However, he looks forward to meeting Paola … the thing we notice is that after the meeting he hums the songs and remains involved in the music for an hour or so. Lorenzo told me that he really likes the lesson done this way because he sees Paola and sings the notes. But he misses the piano! “

Many are still the writings that came to me from the families, these were written to share with the reader a path invented in this hard time of isolation so as not to leave families alone and to keep in touch with the children.

I conclude with the thought of Roberto’s mother, 6 years old with autism.

“A small window on the life of the past … The video calls help my child to understand that the world of before has not disappeared. The people with whom we have relationships are there and we can see them. We also try to do the things we used to do together … the relationship is rebuilt … music acts as a bridge between us … far but close “.

With these words so profound and so true, I return with my thoughts to Gibran’s initial phrase: “The secret of music lies between the vibration of the player and the heartbeat of the listener”.

I listened to that beat, I felt the pain and intolerance of parents and children locked in their homes and I reacted, reinventing the music therapy session, and adapting its ways and contents to each individual situation. And the fruits of this choice are not lacking!

So today I see and feel the strength and beauty of that secret … even from a distance!