Power of Music 

Yesterday was a good day. I got to (re)watch the first series of “Choir of Hard Knocks”, courtesy of the uni library. I only needed to watch the first two episodes for my class, but I enjoyed them so much I ended up watching the whole series over the day. After all, half-hour episodes are easily consumable.

The “Choir of Hard Knocks” was a program on the ABC about ten years ago. It followed Jonathon Welch as he gathered and trained an unlikely choir made of people who were homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in some way, for example through addiction. United more or less by an interest in music and singing, that disparate group of people came together. They started in the September of 2007 (I think – might be 2006 instead). By Christmas, they’d busked outside Flinders St Station and funded a trip to a recording studio, where they recorded a CD. They sold 4,000 copies that year. They then went on to sell out the main hall of the Melbourne Town Hall at a concert in March of the next year.

The thing that spoke to me when watching the episodes was how the choir brought the group together. They became “like a family” as more than one member said. It increased their self-esteem, self-efficacy and confidence, gave them a community. Many of the people were disconnected from family and major support networks. Choir provided them with security and something to live for. My favourite moment was watching them hear themselves on the CD – for many it was the first time that they’d heard their own voice played back to them. The expressions on their faces of surprise and delight lifted my heart. The expression said, “Oh my goodness, that’s me!” The other choir members validated them, recognising their newfound talents along with their own.

Jonathon Welch began with a group who were interested but had little to no training or experience. Some needed a lot of encouragement to sing properly. But there was hidden talent there just waiting to be brought out.

There’s something very powerful about music and the communities that form around it. It speaks to us because (whatever the kind of music) we connect with it – the lyrics or tune – in some way. It speaks to the human experience – and just sounds good (subjectively 😉). When that experience is shared it is given a deeper meaning.

These reflections made me think about occupational therapy in practice. After all, the original purpose of watching the series was to focus on two choir members and imagine what we’d need/want to do with them. Last week (or the week before) we talked about group work. Maybe one day I’ll lead a music therapy group as part of my practice…. I think I’d like that.

Today, the choir still exists. There’s now a “School of Hard Knocks“, with a number of different opportunities for disadvantaged people to sing together and create memories and community. The School of Hard Knocks has a few groups in the Melbourne Singers Festival this June.

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