Tipping Point

Posted in Blog on 27th October 2011

She sits in a chair, rocking violently and does not make eye contact. On the table beside her there are chime bars, bongos, tambourine and cymbal, a lyre, and various small percussion instruments. She looks at these but does not reach out to play them.

This is Mzia, one of the carers attending training sessions. She is demonstrating typical behaviour of one of the children at the school.

The women wanted to try this. They wanted to show us how it is. There is laughter as they recognise the behaviour Mzia demonstrates. She looks brave and vulnerable up there and she also laughs, breaking out of role for a moment.

It’s the third of the daily training sessions. Talking about it afterwards, Alastair and I wonder if there’s a challenge here, as if the women are starting to say, ‘see how it is for us?’

Mzia plays the bongos in a scattered, fleeting way, stands up, then slumps back into the chair, arms folded. Picking up the key we use to tune the lyre, she taps the cymbal three times, but stops as soon as Alastair, in the role of therapist, tries to match her rhythm.

I worry they think that we think music therapy is some kind of magical cure-all.

Openness and energy characterise our discussions now. The politeness we experienced in the first few days is being replaced by honesty, curiosity, and what feels like a real willingness to experiment with a new way of working.

These women are used to being in a teaching role, leading and directing what happens. They are authoritative, clear-voiced and sure. In asking them to be led by the children, we realise we are asking a lot.

If therapeutic music is to work in this context, these women have to make it their own, but we also have ideas and opinions. It is tricky to get the balance right between sounding like we know something, and recognising what is already known here. We want to draw on skills and strengths the women already have in communicating and building relationships with children. But therapy is a different shaped container from the classroom. Its relationships are based on eliciting responses from children rather than requiring them.

Some of the sessions feel chaotic. We are also finding our feet and getting to know the children, learning to stay grounded and hold a sense of the group, and drawing children into the music. In training sessions, we all agree that you can’t force anyone to do anything. But there is a lot of discussion about how much we should encourage participation, how much simply make the space and wait.

One day, Alastair talks about the parallels between music therapy and early mother-child interaction. He talks about the importance of staying still, so that children feel safe to explore, knowing they can come back. Somehow, even before the translation comes, it’s clear that the women understand this. There is a focusing, a drawing in, and quiet. There are nods, bodies alert in chairs.

These moments, when they come, are electric.

We are now half way through the project. There is some kind of tipping point and we have moved imperceptibly from thinking about beginnings to thinking about endings. Things are speeding up. It reminds me of the moment when summer becomes autumn and you just know it, even though you can’t say why.

In Tbilisi, the wind has stopped blowing and now it is getting cold. The ocean drum got fixed with sellotape, and Alastair has had his fishing trip. At the weekend, I took a mashrutka north to Kazbegi, where snow lies on the high ground, red apples cling to wintery branches and cows and chickens – and a few waterproofed tourists – wander in the streets.

As time goes on, there is a lot of energy around some of the ideas we discuss in training sessions. The women talk backwards and forwards, not leaving space for Darina to translate. Alastair and I end up frowning at each other, wondering when to jump in. We are still at the ‘where’s the post office’ stage of things with our Georgian and trying to work in two languages makes things complicated at times. It also puts a lot of pressure on Darina.

In sessions with children, though, our lack of Georgian can be helpful. Apart from the simplest words and phrases, everything takes place in the music and in gesture. This means everything is available to everyone. It makes me realise how much of verbal communication is unnecessary, how words can get in the way of what is trying to happen (a strange thing to write in the middle of this wordy blog!).

Staff members are beginning to put their teaching roles to one side, working to create a space where the children feel safe to explore in their own ways. In parallel to this, we now spend much of the time in training sessions role-playing specific situations and watching video extracts from the work with children. This allows the women to see and feel for themselves what works.

Knowing how time goes, I know that any moment now we will be in a car on the way to the airport. Time is short. We are already talking about what happens next, and how we can develop the project.

Staff and children at the school are doing amazing things and we are both learning a lot from working here. We hope the energy and enthusiasm to continue the work will continue to grow after we leave, and we have some ideas about how to support this.

Very happy to be here! Many thanks for help with fundraising, donations of instruments and all your support!

Newer: Roots in the invisible

Older: A Basic Beat

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