India has always had a special place in my heart and I have been visiting this wonderful country regularly for over a decade. I love the people, the colours, the spices and of course – the music. There is nothing quite as tranquil as the drone of a tanpura or moving as the characteristic bends on a sitar. I knew after qualifying as a music therapist that I wanted to travel to this country I consider my second home, to work and to experience its culture. I have now lived here for almost 2 years, and while my experiences have been mixed I must say that they have overwhelmingly been positive.

During my time here I have had the good fortune of working with Music as Therapy (MasT) International on two different projects, the first one at ARMS (Autism Research and Multidisciplinary School) and the second at Shraddha Center for Special Education. ARMS, which received introductory training from MasT back in 2015 (through Alastair Robertson and Somesh Purey) reached out to the organisation last year asking for additional guidance. As I happened to be living in Hyderabad around that time, I was entrusted a workshop by MasT, to address their questions and concerns and offer them some guidance when it came to establishing goals and planning sessions. The staff at ARMS always amaze me. It was indeed a pleasure to hear them passionately talk about the changes they had observed in the students since their first MasT training and their firm belief in the power of music to enhance the lives of their children. While facilitating the workshops, I learned a lot from them myself, and their attention to the students’ needs and care for them was admirable.

During the entire planning and delivery of the workshop I was guided by Alexia Quinn of Music as Therapy. Her vast experience in organising training programs, working in different countries and adapting to their respective cultures was invaluable in seeing me through in my own endeavours here in India. Therefore, when I was contacted by Shraddha Centre for Special Education last year requesting training in music therapy I did not hesitate to ask Alexia if the project could be delivered under the wing of Music as Therapy International.

The training took place once weekly for 6 weeks with me facilitating 3 music groups, each consisting of teachers of different ages and musical abilities. Four teachers observed me carrying out the music groups and were slowly guided and encouraged to take over the leadership of these groups. The teachers completed their training just before Christmas and we had a combined Christmas and graduation party to celebrate their success.

Working in a different country with both language and cultural differences can sometimes be challenging. For example, time works differently here. Indians themselves often joke saying that they operate by “IST” (Indian Standard Time) where 5 minutes doesn’t necessarily mean 5 minutes. It can be anything from 15 minutes to an hour after the scheduled time. Such delays can be due to anything from slow traffic to tea breaks in the middle of a music therapy session. One learns to have patience, to wait and to take things as they come. In India I often come across the expression “chalta hai” which roughly translates to “It works”. The power plug may not fit exactly into the socket, but it works good enough, most of the time. There might be 10 children travelling in an auto-rickshaw (three wheeler taxi) meant for four, but it works, it gets them to school. This transfer to most aspects of Indian life. I have learned to accept things not being by the book and even see the charm in it. Despite this laid back atmosphere, the teachers and I always managed to get things done more or less on schedule – chalta hai!

The project with Shraddha taught me so much, both about myself as a therapist/trainer but it also gave me a deeper understanding of the true essence of music therapy. When delivering training in such a short time to individuals who are not necessarily musically trained, one has to really look at what music therapy is beyond the music itself. Music may be the tool, but music therapy is so much more than just playing music. Music Therapy is about non-verbal communication, about unconditional acceptance of each individual as they are in that moment and the therapeutic bond formed between the client and the facilitator. Delivering this introductory program has made me appreciate these aspects of music therapy even more. The most rewarding part of the training for me was to hear the teachers themselves affirm the benefits of the sessions, having observed a change for the better in the students. As a music therapist I sometimes worry that others might not understand or appreciate what can be achieved through interactive music, and it pleases me to say that music has always seen me through by helping my clients, sometimes a lot and always at least a little.

It has been an amazing journey and I feel I have grown immensely, both as a therapist and as an individual. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work with two such different schools, one that has developed the knowledge and expertise to carry out music groups having received training years ago to do so, and another that is just about to start their journey. My vision here in Hyderabad is to bring all the schools trained by MasT together so that they can support each other and learn from each other’s experiences. The teachers themselves, through such an arrangement, could become much better at facilitating sessions given their familiarity with the local languages and culture. This would be in addition to what they have learnt from each other and their training. My hope is that they will become fully self-reliant and continue to grow and build on the legacy founded by Music as Therapy International. One exciting step towards this goal will take place this month when ARMS will undertake a “training the trainers” program and deliver an introductory training program for an assisted living centre outside of Hyderabad. This time, I shall assume a more passive, advisory role while one of the teachers at ARMS takes charge of the training. By supporting the trainees to become trainers themselves we can ensure that Music as Therapy continues to grow and that as many individuals in need as possible can experience the remarkable benefits of interactive music.