An Evening with the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), in London

“The brain that engages in music is changed by engaging in music.” ~ Michael Thaut, Professor of Music and Professor of Neuroscience at Colorado State University

music solutionWe all know, on some level, how essential music is to human existence. We can recite instances when music has evoked powerful memories and emotional responses in us. Even if our involvement with music is only to the extent of listening to the radio now and then, to the more obsessive playing of our CDs, iPods and MP3’s on a constant loop, it has a major impact on the quality of our lives. Further up the scale, (sorry!) amateur musicians find joy and fulfilment from the pressures of everyday life by playing an instrument, and the more gifted of us make their living from bringing this lofty form of entertainment to the masses. Then there are those who specifically use the medium of music to reach out to segments of society that are suffering, either mentally, emotionally or physically. In the UK, there are over 700 of these caring and talented individuals who make up the membership of BAMT, which supports this network of highly trained and committed therapists.

I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about their valuable and pioneering work in this field when I was invited by Beth Britton to attend their exhibition: Music Therapy – The Art and Science, hosted by the Barbican Music Library in London on 10th September.

music factThe exhibition itself was full of amazing scientific facts about how music therapy has been successfully employed in the fields of neurology, child development, adolescent’s issues, autism, adult mental health, dementia, cancer and the challenges of old age. There were wonderful anecdotes and case studies from both therapists and recipients, as well as the history behind music therapy, not just in the UK but around the world, dating back to ancient times. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine played music to some of his patients.

With a glass of wine in hand and a tasty selection of hors d’oeuvres on offer, I had had a lovely chat with a lady called Catherine; who is based in the north of England, working with seriously disturbed and mentally ill individuals. She told me her first instrument was the cello, but that she mainly used the piano and guitar in her sessions due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of the participants, as well as plenty of singing. She explained how singing was great to establish a rhythm and get patients moving, and she actively encouraged them to sing and dance.  I think she found her career very rewarding, but due to the intensity of the work and the time input she felt her own musical creativity was not being broadened.

The presentations were extremely interesting. Donald Wetherick,Chair of the BAMT Trustees, music therapist at Nordoff Robbins London Centre and music therapy tutor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, highlighted the role of the charity in the UK, and explained about their work in the areas of research and collaboration in Europe and beyond. They are a point of contact for the public, for therapists and other professional bodies. You can find out more about them on their website. Or connect via Twitter: @musictherapyuk

“Currently provision of music therapy is uneven across the UK. We want to work with all those who champion music therapy to help change this, so that everyone who needs a music therapist can get access to one. Funding for large-scale research, such as the field of music therapy and dementia, is also vital if we are to harness the full potential of music therapy.” ~ Donald Wetherick

He introduced Richard Jones, the librarian of the Barbican Music Library, who gave us an overview of their set-up, They are only one of two music libraries in London (along with Westminster Music Library), and they have hosted various musical events from classical to jazz to rock. It seems appropriate that they are based on the second floor of the Barbican, which is also home to the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

For more information click here. You can also follow them on Twitter: @BarbicanMusic

Donald then introduced my cousin, Beth, who is a Dementia Campaigner, writer and consultant, to talk about her experiences of how music helped her father, who lived with vascular dementia for the last nineteen years of his life. Discover more about her brilliant work here and on her blog: and on Twitter: @bethyb1886

“Even as other abilities decline, music engages the brain through an extensive set of processes that are preserved and remain functional.” ~ Dr katrina McFerran, University of Melbourne

Yehudi Menuhin quoteThis explains why people who can no longer find the words to speak, may still be able to sing and play instruments. Beth related the story of her father humming and singing the last few words of his favourite songs as she sang to him, long after his ability to speak had gone. By encouraging and supporting active involvement in musical interaction and socialisation, music therapists can help clients living with dementia reduce feelings of apathy, anxiety, restlessness and depression, potentially lessening the need for medication.

These two videos express the essence and benefits of music therapy better than I ever could in words:

How does music therapy benefit children with special needs?

Music therapy, the empowering tool:

The final speaker was Professor Helen Odell-Miller, Head of Therapies at Anglia Ruskin University and Director of Music for Health Research Centre, who gave us a fascinating history of the origins of Music Therapy in the UK, and how the early pioneers established the framework of common practices and professional and personal qualifications that Music Therapists need, (a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy as well as having an advanced level of musicianship and skill, and also being registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council). Music therapists work in hospitals, schools, pupil referral units, day centres, hospices, care homes, therapy centres, prisons and in private practice across the UK.

BAMT is conducting cutting edge research into the role of music therapy on human health and wellbeing, in addition to providing support and training to music therapists. Notably, they are sharing the results of their discoveries with other health professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team of speech & language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, paediatricians, teachers, social workers, consultants, psychologists and psychiatrists who are working to deliver the same aims in society.

Promotional video by Nordoff Robbins for those interested in training as a music therapist:

I hope the work of music therapy resonates with you! The BAMT exhibition is on display until 31st October at the Barbican Music Library in London.

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