Try Everything: A story about finding voice
This post is the first in a series of stories about things that have actually occurred in music therapy sessions. Personal information about the individuals in questions has been removed or changed in order to protect client privacy. But I wanted to share some anecdotes to demonstrate what music therapy is capable of. Talking about research or theories or interventions can sometimes seem a little abstract; the best way to understand music therapy is to see it in action. I hope these stories serve as the next best thing.
If you've seen the Disney Movie Zootopia, you might have recognized the title. If not, or if it's been a while, you might need to take a second to listen to the song that this story's about:
Mark (name has been changed) was a bright young man I worked with in a previous job. His parents signed him up for music therapy services because of a speech impediment, with the hopes that singing could be a way to address the issue. As sometimes happens, Mark's speech impediment was much less severe when singing than when speaking-- but generally he refused to sing. In fact, most of the time he refused to talk at all, avoiding communication when he could. Working with him I quickly realized that for Mark, the speech impediment wasn't the real issue-- it was his lack of confidence.
Often when I would ask Mark to try something new, after failing the first few times he would become frustrated and quit. Sometimes he would start goofing off instead, trying to hide his insecurities.
But I had a secret weapon-- Imagine Dragons, his favorite band. We played as many Imagine Dragons songs as I could learn-- and he sang along because he knew and loved those songs. Over the course of several months, he became more comfortable singing in front of me. And I pushed him-- to try new instruments, to play the recorder, to sing even when he didn't "feel like it". I could get away with a bit of pushing because when it came down to it, we were having a ball. And, over time, Mark's parents noticed that he was speaking more often around the house and with other people.
Around the time that I stopped working with Mark (I had to move because of a personal situation, but I arranged for him to continue services with another music therapist) we spent time recording a lot of the songs we had worked on. It was meant to provide some closure to our time working together-- but I also wanted the recordings to help build his confidence in his own voice.
When Mark looked through my book of lyrics sheets and asked if we could do "Try Anything", I don't think he put too much thought into it. He implied that he'd chosen it as a joke on his younger sister, who is a fan of Zootopia. I was surprised by his choice, but kept my thoughts to myself as we practiced and then recorded the song.
When you record sound using the GarageBand app on an iPad, you have the option of changing the sound during playback-- making it sound robotic or changing the pitch or other silly things. Every teenager I've ever used that app with enjoys messing around with the options during playback and Mark was no exception.
Except this time.
Playing back "Try Everything", Mark paused with his hand over the screen of the iPad and went silent, listening.
I messed up tonight,
I lost another fight
I still mess up, but I'll just start again
I keep falling down
I keep on hitting the ground
I always get up now to see what's next.
For Mark (who also had ADHD) to sit still for very long at all was unusual, but he sat listening to his voice singing those words as if he'd never heard them before in his life.
Birds don't just fly,
They fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it wrong.
I won't give up,
No, I won't give in
'Til I reach the end
And then I'll start again
No, I won't leave
I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail.
Neither of us said a word. We just sat and listened to the recording all the way to the end, and then sat in silence for a few moments more.
Finally I asked Mark what he was thinking.
Mark wasn't the sort to really share his emotions freely, but he looked up at me and said, "Could you please email this to me? I want to keep this one."
And I knew that he'd gotten the message.
Song lyrics can have a lot of power. I've mentioned a few times now that we sing with a different part of our brain than we speak with, and that we process singing with more of our brains than words alone. One of the amazing things about being a music therapist is that you can see those moments when the words on the paper become more than just words. And you get to be there when people discover their voices-- and that their voices are something special.
(Try Everything lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company)