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  • Chiming bells and farewells - Project Georgia 2014, week 6

    So it’s hard to fathom that we are now in our last week of Project Georgia. As we speed towards the end of the project, it is natural that all sorts of mixed emotions begin to surface; mild panic about wrapping things up sufficiently before we go, sadness knowing we will soon be leaving a city and people in it that we have grown very fond of, but also slight relief at the thought of home and its associated comforts.

    One of the biggest fears we have is that once we leave that the sessions will evaporate. We are so grateful for the compromises the teachers have made over the past few weeks to accommodate the project and we appreciate it will be tricky for them to fit the sessions into their busy schedules going forward. We feel confident, however, that the staff can really see the benefits of using the alternative approaches we have aimed to introduce, and hope that their belief in these techniques will result in them making the effort to ensure they carry the sessions on.

    The staff training session last Friday was another very positive one. There was certainly a healthy amount of debate during the session, with lots of chiming in from virtually all present, which left us feeling exhilarated and exhausted in equal measure. Jenny and I are both are optimistic that this passion for challenging the opinions and ideas which emerged indicates that the staff are engaging deeply with the concepts and methods we have been hoping to embed over the last few weeks.

    Again, we were impressed last week with how they have taken on the ideas and suggestions which have been presented and are each developing their own individualised, confident and effective styles of leadership. As we enter the final week here, all of the staff members are now running the full sessions themselves.Bridge Centre Our main task over the last few days has been to put together a staff handbook, which will hopefully serve as a useful resource once we have left. We have finished the English version and are now waiting for the text to be translated into Georgian. All being well we should have it printed and made into booklets in time to present a copy to everyone at the final staff training session on Friday.

    Our last full weekend in Georgia was partially spent exploring the ancient and beautiful churches of Mtskheta, the old capital of Georgia mentioned in Jenny’s last blog. On Sunday morning, I also successfully negotiated the tirelessly trafficy streets of Tbilisi (I have definitely become a much more assertive roadcrosser after a few weeks here) to reach the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a modern, majestic and mammoth construction with striking views over the city. Unfortunately I arrived slightly too late for the Sunday morning bell-ringing…

    This evening we will be joining a large group of staff from the school and Parents’ Bridge Centre for a farewell dinner at a Georgian restaurant. Apparently there is going to be traditional dancing in addition to the obligatory supra (which literally translates as “tablecloth”, but means feast), which will be a lovely way to mark the (almost) conclusion of a successful project. We will certainly be there with bells on!

    I feel privileged and thankful to have had the opportunity to work on this very stimulating project, with such adept and adaptable staff, in two very warm and welcoming settings. We look forward to providing ongoing support to the staff once we are back in the UK, and hope to return again soon to this city of contrasts, khatchapuri and crazy consonant clusters.

    Isabel and Jenny

  • Two orchestras and a… festival? - Project Georgia Week 4

    Last week ended up being a bit more of a mixed bag, despite the positive start that Isabel described in our last blog entry. As the week went on, it emerged that our intention for each staff member to run at least one activity in their groups had not reached one of the teachers, and also three other staff members were off ill for at least part of the week. On the plus side, the two groups at the Parents Bridge day centre seem to have fallen well into place; as Isabel mentioned in the previous blog post, it has been a bit of a challenge to understand what would work in this particular context, but we seem to have now got two groups that are appropriate, enjoyable for all involved, and will be sustainable after the project. The week was tied up with a very positive and productive staff workshop, again with our translator, Eliso, present. The staff gave us some fantastic feedback, and we were again impressed by what they had observed in the sessions – they seemed to be noticing everything that I hoped they would notice, which is very encouraging!

    The positive Friday feeling continued as we went to see not one, but two performances by different orchestras after school. The first was by the Para Orchestra, a group which rehearses twice a week at the Parents Bridge day centre where Isabel and I have been working. The orchestra comprises of a group of service users and two members of staff – Giorgi as conductor, and Aliona on piano. The service users play different parts on a variety of percussion instruments, while Aliona (who also works at the school, and is partaking in our training programme) plays a piano accompaniment. Their repertoire includes Mozart’s Turkish Rondo, a Tango, and various Georgian pieces. The service users seem to really relish playing in this group, and have been working hard towards the performance. They played each of their pieces twice on the steps of Tbilisi Concert Hall in glorious sunshine, and the thrill of performing was evident on the faces of many of the orchestra members. The Tango was a particular highlight, featuring two very talented soloists from the orchestra – one singing, one dancing.

    The Para Orcherstra performs

    From this performance, Isabel and I went on to the Djansug Kakhidze Tbilisi Centre for Music and Culture, via a café where I cursed myself for not learning the Georgian word for 'help' as I managed to get locked in the Ladies. Thankfully I was released from my lavatorial prison fairly promptly, and we made it to the venue on time for a performance of the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra. The building was stunning inside, and our seats in the centre of the balcony were incredible given that they only cost us the equivalent of about £2.70! The programme consisted of two pieces by Shostakovich – Concerto for Violin and Symphony No. 5, with Roman Simovic as the soloist. By an interesting coincidence, he is currently the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra; Isabel works for their outreach department back in London. Now, time for a slightly shameful confession; in all my years as an orchestral musician, I had never actually gone to see a professional orchestra play before this evening.  Why did no one ever tell me it would feel so good to do so?! The power of the music was palpable, tingling electricity in the air, and I left the hall on a total high and with an appetite for more.

    Tbilisi Centre for Music and Culture

    The rest of the weekend passed quickly. Yesterday morning was our first group of this week, and Isabel and I were pleased to see that the two staff members had taken on most of our feedback from the previous week. This penultimate week is unfortunately slightly disrupted due to both the school and centre being closed for a national holiday today called Mtskhetoba - we haven’t really managed to get a straight answer from anyone about what happens, but it seems to be some sort of festival where the old capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, is celebrated. However, I am confident that despite this break in the week, we will continue to see progress in our work as Project Georgia 2014 approaches the ending stages.

    Until next week,

    Jenny and Isabel



  • Magical moments, mountains and just a touch of mayhem - Project Georgia 2014, week 3.5

    Last weekend Jenny and I took a trip to Kazbegi situated in the mountains in the north-east of Georgia. After waking up to the most beautiful sunrise over Mount Kazbek for two mornings we felt refreshed and ready to tackle week four of the project. Escaping Tbilisi for the weekend also allowed us the time and space to reflect on the project so far. It felt quite poignant for me that I spent the day which marked the midpoint of my time in Georgia climbing up to the Gergeti Trinity Church situated at an elevation of 2170 metres.

    Gergeti Trinity Church

    The groups at the Special School 198 and the Parent’s Bridge Centre are now well and truly in full swing. Last week Jenny led the sessions to demonstrate some ways of working therapeutically with music, with the staff observing and supporting the students. It was great to see this different approach bringing out new reactions both in the students and the staff and encouraging some really wonderful interactions between different combinations of individuals in the group. The photos below from one of the groups at the school hopefully captures at least some of the spirit of the sessions.

      School 2

    Things are also going really positively at the Parent’s Bridge Centre although the format of the sessions still need a bit of tweaking. It has been tricky setting up the work here as it’s been hard to unravel and understand exactly what goes on already and to decide on the best way of working in this setting. The fact that lots of people seem to attend on some days but not others needs a more open and flexible approach than at the school, but I think we are finally getting there and there have been some magical moments mixed in with the slightly chaotic ones!

    Bridge Centre 1

    Bridge Centre 1

    Jenny led the second staff training session at the school on Friday. There are six members of staff regularly attending these training sessions, half of whom work both at the school and at the Bridge Centre. It was great to hear the different staff members’ thoughts about the week and the presence of our very able translator, Eliso, allowed us to talk to the staff in much more depth about the sessions. We have been so impressed with how quickly and naturally the staff are adopting the new approach.

    Teacher training 1

    On Monday morning we went to school expecting that Jenny would still be leading the beginning and ending of the session and the staff just one activity each, but one of the teachers came in with a plan for the whole session and proceeded to lead the group confidently and already in her own style. We were so delighted!

    In other news, we continue to be well-fed with khatchapuri and creamy cakes, well and truly baffled by the language, and continually welcomed by the generous Georgians we meet on our daily adventures around this intriguing city. In summary, all is well.

    We look forward to seeing what the rest of this week brings…

    Isabel and Jenny

  • Cake, car horns and consonants - Project Georgia 2014, week 3

    Well, as of yesterday morning I am officially one week into my time here in Georgia – and what a week it’s been! I feel like I have had a crash course in Georgian culture, attempting to ‘catch up’ with Isabel who had already been here for nine days when I arrived. Perhaps the easiest thing to adapt to has been the cuisine. Georgians seem to share my penchant for good cake and Turkish style coffee. I also seem to be becoming partial to two local specialties in particular – lobiana and churchkhela. Lobiana is baked bread with a spiced kidney bean filling, and is fast becoming our staple lunch choice from the bakers across the road from the school. Churchkhela are strings of walnuts covered in several layers of solidified grape juice – they look a bit like knobbly brown candles, but thankfully taste much better than they look. I spent my first weekend here in Tbilisi exploring the city, and visiting the market was a particular delight for the senses; abundant neatly arranged piles of tomatoes, pomegranates and peaches, surrounded by aromatic spices, fresh herbs and huge rounds of salty cheese. Not quite so pleasant an experience has been getting used to the huge volume of traffic in Tbilisi – a cacophony of car horns provides an almost constant soundtrack to the city, and crossing the road is always a nerve-wracking and time consuming affair, thanks to the somewhat wild and unpredictable nature of the driving tactics.

    The biggest challenge thus far, however, has definitely been the Georgian language. The combination of a unique 33-letter alphabet, additional sounds to those utilised in the English language and a perhaps unparalleled fondness for consonants results in what is definitely the most difficult language barrier to manoeuvre that I have encountered thus far in life! Despite this, Isabel and I do seem to be managing to communicate successfully with the staff on this project. This is largely due to the help of those who are able to translate for us, and the patience of those who wait while we look up words in our Georgian-English dictionaries. We held our first staff workshop on Friday, with a translator, and the response was very positive – everyone seemed excited and keen to get stuck in and learn more, and I was impressed by the sensitivity, enthusiasm and intuitiveness of the staff group as a whole in their approach to this new style of working.

    We have also now began running a number of different music as therapy groups taking place at both the day centre and at the school. These seem to all be going down well with both staff and students. Working cross-culturally as a music therapist in settings such as this brings a whole extra set of considerations to the sessions – what roles of music are recognised within our respective cultures, and how might these roles affect the work? This is a question I have been considering since before beginning the project, and one I am still learning how to answer. However, I was offered an interesting insight into the role of music in Georgian culture upon our visit this weekend to the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Instruments. The guide showed me a book of Georgian folklore, in which each story features music being used to cure various anthropomorphised diseases, perhaps suggesting inherent healing qualities in this context. I will leave you with a quote from the book, whereby the Small Pox disease is banished from a village;

    “In the room where Small Pox was having a rest, a young lady surrounded by small kids was singing a song. When she finished singing, she started to retell some story, and afterwards the kids resumed singing. What did they sing! Small Pox was delighted to hear a song in his honour again:
                    Lullaby, lullaby,
                    Batonebi have arrived,
                    You are welcome, batonebo, lullaby,
                    Leave us, may your path be blessed,
                    Leave us peacefully, lullaby.”

    Small Pox had never heard children sing in his honour. He was moved to tears. “My little ones, you are so good to me, you have sung wonderfully! I don’t need anything, I’ll just take the song with me”.
                    Small Pox kissed each child with love and gratitude and flew back to his kingdom happily.”

    Until next time,




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