Charity Music Event for Learning Disabilities & Autism

Last year, I received a call at home to let me know that a service user in the team I worked in had tragically died. I had worked intensely with her, as had our team for several months which of course meant an attachment had developed. She loved music…she loved dancing and I found that none of my conventional psychology models worked with her partly due to her cognitive deterioration but also simply because she engaged with music. Once I found that singing to her was the only thing that helped her process the intensity of her own inner pain so I encouraged the use of music for her. The only drawback was that we didn’t have a music therapist or staff comfortable with this approach to see it as a valid intervention.

She was a was a polite, kind and musical soul but had emotional and physical health issues which were not fully understood in the context of her disabilities. Her death was another accident which occurred because people with learning disabilities can have serious problems such as a stroke or infection which may go undetected, or dementia which may not be easily picked up due to pre-existing cognitive issues.

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At the time I did what I needed to do in a clinical, functional and I supposed professional manner. I supported other service users to grieve her loss, I provided staff support, I comforted my distressed colleagues, I wrote an article advising services how to manage personal and professional grief, I basically continued being a psychologist in spite of all the grief, anger, loss and guilt I felt.

I found myself very soon after this tragedy leaving the service perhaps because of my own unprocessed emotions. I found myself moving onto more of a management post where I felt I can perhaps influence service planning and delivery more, to include  music and arts more in hospital settings. I also began to plan a charity event for learning disabilities and autism, to raise awareness of music therapy and to encourage the local  community to celebrate the lives of people with incredible gifts who happen to also have learning disabilities.

 

 

The charity event, in partnership with Hope n Mic and Otakar Kraus Music Trust was soulful! The children performing* really took me back to when I first worked in learning disabilities. It took me back to my first voluntary job when I left university with a vague sense of how I was going to become a psychologist. During this brief voluntary job, a little deaf and mute girl with big anxious eyes held onto my little finger for the entire day during a visit to the London Eye! She was barely 7 years old, and I don’t think I will ever forget her anxious little face. We didn’t speak the whole time, but somehow we developed an attachment, a trust and sense of emotional safety.

All the songs I sang on the charity event were in some way related to eye contact and gaze, something very relevant in Autism which I hope the audience took away through my explanations. I hope you enjoy one of the songs below where I was accompanied by Keval Joshi on tabla and Amith Dey on keyboard. Many thanks to Hope n Mic for this wonderful event!

*Photography used in this blog are by Salam Jones, Hope n Mic

 

 

Fire as Metaphor for Psychic Pain

 

This Bangladeshi song, originally sung by Nilufa Yasmin (1948-2003) for a film in 1975, was performed in Harrow, London 2018 whilst accompanied on tabla by Keval Joshi.

The song describes the distress of a woman who is involuntarily leaving her village. She describes a fire which continues to burn with no one here to help. Metaphorically, she is referring to the burning sensation of emotional pain which she is expressing in a term called ‘somatisation’. Interestingly, in British South Asian women, there tends to be high rate of somatisation, namely a physical description of pain located in the body. South Asian women often describe a burning in their chest or in their liver which psychologists believe to be a culturally normalised way of experiencing and expressing anxiety and stress.

She goes on to describing how despite building a home by enduring a lifetime of sorrows, this home is now burnt to ashes. The final part of the song describes a possible attachment figure who she has lost or leaving behind. She describes this individual as one who bears a mountain of pain but remains smiling, she resembles him to a flower which bears the pain of its thorns but continues to radiate a fragrance. She asks where she can now search to find such a person.

A simple rural Bangladeshi song from an era long gone but by no means forgotten.

 

“Collective Cries” Translation of a Tagore Song

This song, written by Rabindranath Tagore was presented as “Collective Cries” for Change of Arts Festival, 2017. Introduced by comedian Sindhu Vee, this devotional peace song was translated & recited by myself prior to singing the full song in Part Two    accompanied by Piyas Barua (Tabla) and Amith Dey (Keyboard).

This event was organised by Hope not Hate in memory of Jo Cox, British MP who was murdered in 2016. This performance was one of several performances with the theme ‘More in Common’ and took place at Amnesty International, London.

 

Healing Through Music

This musical opening at the start of NHS North East London Foundation Trust’s AGM in September 2017 was performed by myself and accompanied by Yousuf Ali Khan (left) and Louise Elliot (right) from the Grand Union Orchestra. The picture slides in the background feature staff across NELFT including Administrators, Psychiatrists, Nurses and Human Resources staff whose smiles were captured when they talked about how much they loved music!

This Bangladeshi song is about being in love and seeing the world as beautiful. I used this song as an example to demonstrate how light hearted mood and positive beliefs can be created through specific types of music which can help us to appraise the world and ourselves positively.

 

 

‘The Squatters’, A Lalon Shah Song

A Psychological Interpretation of a Lalon Shah Song

This performance was my interpretation and analysis of a song written by the late Bangladeshi songwriter, spiritualist & social reformer, Lalon Shah (1772-1890). I have often listened to this song and wondered what he was referring to when he wrote ‘Tumar Ghoreh Bash Koreh Kara?”. The more I engrossed myself in this song, its lyrics and Lalon’s own biography, the more I was convinced that he was referring to psychic structures.

 

Performing as a ‘Professional’ to ‘Service Users’

At the the prospect of performing to ‘service users’ to communicate the genius of Lalon, I was a little apprehensive. My anxieties lay in the power difference which presents itself when a ‘professional’ finds themselves in the minority, going as a guest to an event organised by those whose lives I would normally be arranging through my clinical assessments, reports and recommendations. I wondered what Lalon Shah would have made of this divide between ‘professional’ and ‘service user’ and the power difference it creates between us. Lalon was critical about the concept of caste based hierarchies and religious divisions. When asked about his own religion, he replied that he saw no colour or caste in people, meaning that he saw no reason to associate himself  through labels of religion or nationality.

Interestingly, when I took part in this event, I no longer became a ‘professional’ but simply an individual who was part of a beautiful event organised by kind and caring souls. We seemed to connect very easily possibly due to our shared acceptance of each others’ emotional journeys.  I realised that I was no longer the professional and they were no longer the service users. Rather, we were part of a system which continues to create divisions, power differences and social hierarchies through all the multiple labels we give ourselves and each other. Like Lalon, perhaps I too take a critical view of these labels which divide us and create anxieties about ‘the other’.

Creativity in Costumes

Significance of Kingsley Hall & Survivor Stories

This performance was organised by the Friends of East End Loonies (FEEL) which is a self funded, progressive mental health group campaigning for arts and holistic care for individuals with lived experience of mental health difficulties. The event included pictures/paintings submitted by service users, performances celebrating survivor stories and a whole day of stalls and workshops. Kingsley Hall itself was home to one of the most radical non-restraining, non-medicalised psychological treatments through the provision of therapeutic communities for individuals affected by schizophrenia during the 1960’s. In addition, it is also significant as it is where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visit to the UK in 1931.

 

Survivors of an Abnormal World

My performance consisted of a short presentation which included singing a song written by Lalon which I understood to be referring to internal conflicts within the psyche. I believe these ideas Lalon talked about are very similar to theories of personality and psychopathology developed later in the West by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The audience received it amazingly well, engaging in both the music as well as the meaning. I found myself feeling utmost respect for each person I met. They were survivors of an abnormal ‘mad’ world which is often cold and cruel. Perhaps we are all survivors, but however we choose to describe our experiences, music brings us closer to each other and reduces social, cultural and political divisions. I experienced this for myself as a participant in this event. Thank you Loonies!

 

‘Collective Cries’: A Bangladeshi Peace Song

A Bangladeshi devotional song for peace, written by Rabindranth Tagore will be performed on 17.6.17, 7.30pm at the Human Rights Action Centre, Shoreditch  in memory of Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016. This FREE Change of Arts Festival organised by Hope not Hate, aims to bring together members of the community who would not otherwise meet. Jo Cox’s maiden speech to parliament was “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. This performance by Sidrah Muntaha aims to spread messages of peace and highlight how we collectively hope for a more humane world.

This performance will be accompanied by a slideshow of emotive and personally symbolic photography taken and forwarded by members of the Bangladeshi community. These include the following:  Salam Jones, a Carpenter, Writer and Critical Thinker with a passion for photography and charitable causes, Pushpita Gupta, who is actively involved in supporting different faith communities that are victims of sectarian violence in Bangladesh, Dr. Sakti Das, a Professor of Urology who has carried out exceptional humanitarian work in different parts of the world including surgical procedures in Haiti and Afghanistan, Dilawar Hussain who has participated in charitable work in Palestine, Hena Ahmed, a Social Worker, involved in helping a charity that has developed a Mental Health Support Centre in Sylhet, Bangladesh which is being supported by mental health professionals & finally Dr. Muhammad Ahmedullah, a researcher and historian who has travelled extensively and immersed himself with numerous communities around the world.

This performance will be part of an evening of other short acts, entertainment and plays by various artistes. For details, please see  Change of Art festival.

The Introverted Artiste and his God

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Music as an ‘Object’ of Attachment 

Musicians and artistes differ in their approaches and passion for music. However, most who I have observed appear to receive some sort of cathartic release through their art. With the exception of those who enter the music industry for popularity and glamour, artistes tend to be interesting in terms of their relationships with music. Their attachment to their art seems to be almost like an attachment with a person. In Psychology we often refer to ‘object relations’ theory, which essentially describes how individuals relate to others in relationships as linked with their initial early attachments with primary caregivers. But I wonder how this may be linked with artistes whose art itself may become an ‘object’ to which they attach their needs, their hopes, their aspirations and their dreams.

Spiritual Connection Through Music 

So when I met Mr. Mehboob Nadeem during his Indian Classical Summer School course at SOAS University, which I eagerly enrolled for a few years ago, I wasn’t surprised by his passion and dedication for music. However, what did surprise me then and in subsequent courses with him was his attachment to God. I experienced him to be incredibly spiritual, and when I first heard him sing a Sufi song (“Yah Gharib Nawaz”) I was taken aback by his spiritual connection with Islamic mysticism.

It is interesting how little we know of the internal world of such artistes who appear to be somewhat introverted. Those who have their needs met through their attachment to God and their art perhaps have little need for worldly interests. Perhaps there is something ultimately divine in Indian Raga. It is said that such music represents sounds of nature and in Hindu scriptures, Indian Raga is believed  to represent Ultimate Truth. Each note (Sa Re Ga etc) is considered to correspond to the different chakras, and thereby each note is thought to activate different energy channels which have a direct effect on the mind and body.

Divine Faith Vs Logical Reasoning 

I am not sure how much I believe or understand the above. There is no clinical evidence for it, but somehow listening to Mr. Nadeem singing  a Sufi song and now listening to this sitar recital makes me wonder. What is it that we don’t understand in the West about music and its spiritual source? What is it we don’t understand about the internal workings of such introverted artistes? Perhaps they themselves don’t know  and are simply gifted with talent and an innate connection which ‘logical’ people like myself will never truly comprehend.

I often search for suitable music to use in relaxation exercises and I find Indian Raga both soothing and energising. There is a lot more to learn about this, and perhaps genuinely gifted artistes like Mr. Nadeem can help us clinicians and students of music to try and understand in order to make Indian Raga more accessible for the mainstream public.