Boy playing drums

Music therapy brings kids and families into harmony

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Be honest, you couldn’t help but finish that sentence. And chances are you didn’t just say the words, you sang them.

Such is the incredible power of music and its ability to engage the brain. June 21 is World Music Day and music, specifically music therapy programs, have so many kids and youth at Holland Bloorview tapping their feet and clapping their hands.

Music has been an important part of the hospital’s care for almost 70 years. Currently, Holland Bloorview offers a myriad of programs for in-patients and out-patients that use music as a means to be social and expressive.

On any given day at the hospital you’ll find adapted music education such as individual lessons on piano, electronic keyboard, percussion, violin, voice, guitar, and the ukulele.

Or there’s music therapy ‒ individual or group sessions where traditional instruments and our Virtual Music Instrument are used to encourage the development of social, motor, communication, and sensory skills.

One of the most magical things about music therapy is that kids who take part enjoy themselves so much, they don’t realize it’s helping their recovery.

Music’s ability to transform

Celebrating World Music Day is Team Leader of Music and Arts, Heather Keating, who loves all of the hospital’s music therapy programs.

She is forever amazed at music’s ability to bring about transformations.

She has witnessed remarkable transformations at Holland Bloorview Rocks – the hospital’s annual rock concert that gives kids with disabilities the chance to showcase musical talents, and tap into their inner-rock stars by performing live on stage in front of family, friends and fellow musicians.

“I’ve seen kids who feel their identify is defined by their disability, transform into indentifying themselves as musicians and having this talent and skillset that they can explore and share with others,” said Heather.

She’s also been blown away when the curtain has been drawn. “There’s always that stage fright…you never know how your child is going to respond in that performing environment,” said Heather.

“So when you get to see them go up, they can blow you away and steal the’s very emotional to see.”

Across all of the hospital’s music programs, she has also seen kids blossom because of a feeling of belonging that they have never experienced before.

“They all start as individuals making music, but when they come together and see how the music sounds as a group, they feel that they’re part of something bigger…it’s a sense of community that’s so meaningful to them,” she said.

Music’s allure for kids with autism

While music has had such positive effects on kids with all kinds of disabilities, she’s especially taken aback by the effect it can have on kids with autism.

She’s seen music bring out brilliant smiles, surprising senses of humour, and once-hidden personalities.

She’s seen kids who are extremely shy make eye contact, and kids who shy away from physical contact suddenly want to connect with fellow musicians through high fives.

She’s seen kids with autism who struggle with engaging in conversation, and struggle to find their words, happily and proudly sing out the lyrics to an entire song.

Heather believes music can also be so freeing,. Many kids and youth at Holland Bloorview have busy schedules filled with appointments and therapies. It can be very structured.

But when the music starts, they are in charge, they are in control. “It’s a feeling of ownership that’s so special,” said Heather. “They can just be who they want to be. Music gives them that permission to just be themselves.”

With so many benefits and such a remarkable impact, Holland Bloorview’s music programs and music therapy will undoubtedly play on.