Almin

I walked in to a room with about 12 children in it, they were all very shy and not making eye contact with myself and the other volunteers on the Balkans Music Camps 2014. Nigel Osborne began to play his infamous music from around the world game, whereby people choose a country and he plays a song from that country. Many of the children stood up and were dancing and singing, although still reservedly, with more confidence and signs of trust in us. In the corner of the room I noticed a boy in a wheelchair with his head hanging down, occasionally looking up to see what was going on in the room.

This boy was thirteen year old Almin. Almin has cerebral palsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and in my opinion depression that was illustrated by his posture and withdrawal. I knew that Almin could sit up straight as often his Mother and support workers would tell him too and he could, showing me that it was not simply as a result of his cerebral palsy. Almin had recently been a victim of the destructive flooding in the Balkans in Spring 2014, he had also lost his Father four years previously.

When we split into our groups to do individual work I went straight to Almin to ask if he would like to work with me. I had no idea of Almin’s cognitive abilities and although I assumed he would not speak English, I still asked him “Can we make music together?” I was therefore very surprised when he answered “Yes, I would like that.”

There was a small bag of percussion instruments in the room and Almin chose the bell shaker and I played my violin. We went outside and found a small quiet space and began playing together. To start with we improvised together and then I gave Almin a choice of three different styles of music, he chose the Eastern European/ Sevdah scale which I presume was the scale that was most resonant with him. There is a lot to be said by using people’s cultural music when making music together. Almin very quickly realised that I was playing dependant on his movements, when he moved the shaker slowly I was also playing slowly, when he played with the shaker higher in the air I was playing higher notes and when he sat up confidently I was playing louder and with more sustenance.

Almin enjoyed doing this every day, especially when we were performing in front of others. His movements began to be larger and he also told myself and another musician who had joined with us very clearly when to stop and start playing by putting the shaker on his knee. Almin then became more engaged in the group sessions also seeming more engaged, especially if I sat with him and made jokes providing gentle encouragement.

“I’m very grateful for the beautiful days that you gave to my son .. never in 13 years and after all that has happened to us, and when he lost his father was not until the day he met you he smiled, and when you hang out said that he is happy… thank you”

Almin told me how much he enjoyed us making music. His posture and arm movements improved dramatically during our week of sessions but I think this was mainly due to his confidence and sense of worth being increased. I feel that the one to one music therapy experience gave Almin a sense of control that he had been lacking in his life. Due to his cerebral palsy he is a thirteen year old boy requiring a lot of assistance in his daily life, then his Father dying and then the flooding were all things he had no control over. He was also extremely intelligent but in country where disability is still something of a taboo he was perhaps not receiving the attention and patience he deserved. Having the spotlight and the attention he deserved gave Almin the opportunity to be in control of something, the music. He chose how we played, what we played and when we started and finished. He did this with confidence and pride during our final performance.

Almin’s Mother has since written to me saying this:
“I’m very grateful for the beautiful days that you gave to my son .. never in 13 years and after all that has happened to us, and when he lost his father was not until the day he met you he smiled, and when you hang out said that he is happy… thank you”

Almin’s Mother spoke no English but would often give me a hug and a smile and at our final performance was in tears when she saw Almin performing so confidently and happily. Music therapy was definitely something that benefited Almin and I feel would continue to benefit him on a larger scale in the future. I would say that this was partly down to the time, patience and respect Almin was given as part of a one to one relationship but also he seemed elated by the music and the ability to play, make music and be part of a group.