What Does Music Therapy at Hope North Look Like?

Wajolowu! (“Welcome” in Acholi)

We are now more than halfway through our music therapy program at Hope North School, with less than three weeks left before we head back home. Hope North is a very special place. We love seeing how hard the students work every day, and how committed they are to their education and future. Besides leading our music therapy program, we are teaching six English classes each week, so we are BUSY!

View inside the Senior 2 classroom

Both of us love living here in this community. We are eating incredibly delicious food, we take morning walks everyday, and we wash our clothes by hand on Fridays!

The music therapy program is well under way. Students now understand what a theme is, and they offer great suggestions for each class. We encourage students to think about what these themes might sound, look, and feel like when playing, singing, improvising, or writing music as a group.

Let’s take a closer look into one of our Senior 1 (Freshman) Group Drumming classes:

On April 4th, 2016, students chose “peace” as the theme and focus for the session. We encouraged students to think of various ways to lead the drum circle, and prompted them to switch instruments if they wanted to vary their sound at any point.

Deciding on a theme…

The “layer game” was introduced to encourage individual rhythms from each student. We first got the music going by playing the bass drum, and then each student added his/her rhythm one-by-one until everyone found the groove. In previous weeks, we noticed that students were playing only one or two rhythms as a group, but in this session, we heard each student’s unique rhythm blending together into one song.

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Taking turns leading the circle…

It was wonderful to see students leading the drum circle in different ways. Volunteers moved to the middle of the circle and took turns changing the dynamics, gesturing for only certain instruments to play louder than others (i.e., motioning for just the drums to solo), and directing the group to play high in the air, low to the ground, or from side-to-side.

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Changing dynamics…

Students also incorporated dance and movement while leading by dancing individually in the middle of the circle, dancing with other students, and dancing with us. Several students supported each other by cheering, and we saw many laughing and smiling.

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Dancing together…

We discussed the music before bringing the session to a close. When asked how they felt after this session, students reported feeling “relaxed,” “friendly,” “united,” “happy while dancing,” and “joy.” One student reported hearing “peace” (the theme), and when asked how, the student said he heard “friendly walking and dancing.” Students said that they saw “joy by the look of happy faces,” “dancing and imitation of dance moves,” and “laughter.” One student expressed interest in continuing to play next week (alright!).

It is great to see more and more students volunteering and thinking of new and creative ways to lead the circle. We are impressed with their insight and feedback after each session.

Most days we are joined by Gladis, the daughter of one of the teachers here at Hope North. She is one and half years old and always comes prepared with her own drum. We see her smile the most when she is playing music or dancing! Here she is getting ready to join the circle.

Gladis (Shaker and Drum)
Our youngest member of Group Drumming!

At the end of these six weeks (soon approaching), we will host a music show for the whole school to provide an opportunity for each class to showcase the music they have created over the course of the program. Stay tuned for footage!

We are now shifting gears a little and have started planning the continuation of music therapy at Hope North after we return home. Five teachers have committed to take over leading each of the Senior classes and the Vocational class. Each teacher is observing this week, and will then actively participate and co-lead with us during the following two weeks. We will be leaving instructions on how to facilitate each class, and we will be checking in to answer questions and stay updated. This is how music therapy will continue at Hope North! The instruments that we donated and the commitment from the teachers ensure that this program can offer an alternative means of expression, foster unity and connection, decrease stress response, and provide positive coping skills for the students long after we return home!

It is hard to believe that in a little over two weeks we will be on a plane beginning our journey back to the US, that we won’t be in the Pearl of Africa among such wonderful people, making music. Both of us know that this will not be our last time at Hope North, however, and this is comforting.

Stay with us for more posts and updates!

~Ashley-Drake & Haden

*All photos used with consent.*


Music Therapy at Hope North!

A shot of a Hope North sunrise

Greetings from Hope North!

As we are writing this, a storm is lingering over the school. The rain is falling ferociously and loudly onto the tin roof. It is almost too loud to think. But, the rain is needed, and we have been desperately waiting for some cooler temperatures. Fingers crossed that we get our wish!

We arrived at Hope North on 17 March after much anticipation. Ronnie and Monday accompanied us in the lime green Mizizi van, with all our instruments in tow. As we drove along the dusty roads, adults and children from local villages waved to us and smiled brightly. Frequently, you can hear “Muzungu” (white person) yelled in the distance. As we approached Hope North, a group of students greeted us with music and dance. Immediately, we felt welcome. We got out of the Mizizi van and began mimicking the dance moves. Ronnie had told us along the ride that we better prepare ourselves for initiation into the village. This was it! We were becoming part of the Hope North family! What a loving experience this welcome was. We moved towards the center of Hope North and noticed a few teenage girls dancing a traditional Acholi dance, blowing a whistle to signal changes, while young men played drums, shakers, and large gourds. This was a perfect and beautiful example of how music is part of everyday life in Uganda. And we were so happy to be included.

Ashley and Haden outside the guest house (note: the malaria hand)

Throughout the next few days, we were very busy organizing for the start of our six-week music therapy program. We met with the head administrator, Ray, and worked out a time to meet with students daily. Each day, we will work with a particular senior class. The senior classes range from Senior 1 (S1) to Senior 4 (S4), with a Vocational class, as well. So, on Mondays we meet with S1 for group drumming; Tuesdays we meet with S2 for group singing; Wednesdays we meet with S3 for group drumming; Thursdays we meet with S4 for improvisation; and Fridays we meet with Vocational students for songwriting. We also designed our program to have a music and relaxation session open to every student at night as a way to help them relax after a full day of work and school.

We are in the middle of our second week of programming, and the students seem to be enjoying music therapy! We have high attendance for our sessions, especially at night with our music and relaxation group. One night we even had 85 students attend! It is very rewarding to hear students verbalize their experience in music. Many students tell us they feel happy, relaxed, united, and loved after different sessions. We see a few students taking special interest in making sure the Lalela Art Centre (where we conduct sessions) is cleaned, swept, and mopped, while also taking good care of the instruments and accounting for them all at the end of the day. We love this because they are learning about responsibility, and learning that if they take care of the instruments, they will last a lifetime!

As much as the students are learning from us and music therapy, we are also learning a tremendous amount from them, too. We have learned to speak slower and simpler so that students have time to process and translate (if needed) what we are saying, so that we can be fully understood. We are also busy learning names, personalities, strengths, and areas for improvement. There are about 100 students in the school, so you can imagine how much there is to learn! We also working on learning Acholi (one of the many local languages, also stemming from a specific tribe). We know how to say a few things: welcome, thank you, good morning, thank you God, thank you for the food, you’re welcome, how are you? and I’m good. Perhaps we will be fluent in Acholi by the time we return to the states.

This week, we started teaching English to S1 and S2 classes. Their teacher, Burton, is a wonderfully smart and caring person who has a tremendous amount on his plate. We were more than happy to jump in and offer to teach a few classes a week. Much like in music therapy, it is humbling to see students grasping concepts and actively learning! Students take their schoolwork very seriously and it shows- they are brilliant! One thing we have enjoyed doing is grading their assignments and seeing what creative sentences they develop. Sometimes we have students come up to the board and write down examples, or explain the lesson to the class, reinforcing that they fully grasp the concept. It is also fun for us to give back in other ways outside of music.

We are enjoying Hope North and Uganda immensely! We are still amazed at how green and lush the earth is. We recently traveled north to Gulu for a day of relaxation and found the city to be charming and much less busy than Kampala. We even got to go swimming and eat ice cream (!!!). We know how important self-care is, and for us, getting away for a day provided us with the opportunity to take our therapist hats off, and just be Ashley and Haden. We are getting into a groove here, too. We typically like to wake up before the heat sets in, and start the day off by taking a walk. It is a nice way to spend the morning.

Some other tidbits: At Hope North, we are getting quite good at pumping our own water and washing our clothes by hand. We have also named the giant (no, really, he is huge) lizard that lives in our ceiling, Vades (a spin on Darth Vader). The food lovingly prepared for us by Rose is authentic, healthy, delicious, and gluten free (!!!). We are well fed here. Rose’s daughter, Akiki, AKA Mary, hangs out with us most days when she is back from school. She has one of the brightest smiles we have ever seen. She is thirteen but laughs as much as a toddler. Her innocent spirit is very much alive. And, she can dance like no one else!

Haden pumping water for laundry

The rain has stopped now. All that lingers is the sound of crickets and birds happily chirping away after a bath from Mother Nature. We see students sitting and working on assignments. It is quiet and still here. Every time we mention how welcome and taken care of we feel, the typical response is, “that is what Ugandans are known for” We are truly lucky to be part of the Hope North family.

Stay tuned!

“The most basic human desire is to feel like you belong.” -Simon Sinek


First Stop: Roots Retreat and Camping Resort!

Our home at Roots Resort, aka our “banda,” and one of the guitars we purchased for the program!

We arrived in Uganda last Monday night, March 7th 2016, after over 24 hours of traveling. As soon as we stepped outside of the airport, we received the best greeting from Monday Collins, Ronnie Mpagi, and Stephen Onek, all three of whom we have been in close contact with in preparation for this journey.

We have been staying at the beautiful Roots Retreat and Camping Resort in Entebbe for the past week, and we have been eating delicious food, getting to know some amazing people, and soaking in the sun. Roots Resort is gorgeous, and we feel right at home.

View from the restaurant of Roots Resort

For breakfast there are omelettes or hard-boiled eggs, and African tea, which is made with hot milk. Our favorite lunch is called Chicken Choma, which is boiled curry chicken, rice, and a curry stew.

Chicken Choma!

Dinner is either tilapia (the whole fish with scales and everything), or pork, with chips (french fries). The water is smoked, which makes it taste like a campfire, and the jack fruit is sweet and tasty (like melon, with the texture of al dente pasta). We have also met Roots, Mizizi, and Stephen, the cats that live at Roots Resort. Every day they emerge just when we’re about to eat, and they follow us back to our banda each night.


Everyone we have met has been so welcoming and wonderful. Monday Collins, the art facilitator at Hope North has been with us every day, and will accompany us to Hope North School. He has been our right hand man, and has become a great friend. We would not be where we are now without him. Ronnie Mpagi has been essential with organizing instrument deliveries and all other logistics for the program. Stephen Onek has been our tour guide here at Roots, and has greatly aided in our transition to life in Uganda. And of course, none of this would be possible without Okello Kelo Sam, the founder of Hope North, owner of Roots Resort, and a true inspiration to all of us. We are proud and honored to be a part of his family.

There is a wonderful sense of community here in Uganda that we have not quite experienced before. We have seen people share with each other, help each other out, and connect with one another, even if they are strangers. This culture seems more welcoming, creative ,and loving than we have seen back in the US.

We ordered many instruments for our music therapy program from the best instrument makers in the area. Every day we have seen more and more of them arrive, and it is very exciting. We have a set of large and small drums made with snakeskin and cow hide, fiddles, shakers, a large xylophone, and a set of adungu (a Ugandan style guitar) that we will pick up on our way to Hope North.

On our third day in Uganda, we headed into Kampala to purchase guitars. We rode in several taxis, but our favorite was riding on the back of a boda (a motorcycle taxi). Kampala is busy! The traffic can get congested, but little by little it keeps inching forward until the few and far between traffic lights turn green. In Kampala we bought two classical guitars, as well as gig bags, pics, straps, strings, tuners, and capos, in addition to harmonicas and recorders. We cannot wait to give these instruments to the students at Hope North!

We will most likely drive to Hope North on Wednesday, March 16th 2016, and begin setting up for the program. Stay tuned for more updates!


~Ashley-Drake and Haden

Benefit Concert February 22nd, 2016

Sing Out! International is proud to be hosting a benefit concert at don’t tell mama Piano Bar in New York City on Monday, February 22nd, 2016, from 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM. Come and enjoy a night of music in the heart of New York City’s theatre district!

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Sing Out! International’s Founders, Haden Minifie and Ashley-Drake Estes, will be performing, in addition to family and friends, including William Minifie, Colby Minifie, Paula White, George Heath, Mariana Aslan, Anna Dziechowski, Javier F. Urrutia, & Ethan Cullinan, with Michael McFrederick on piano.

Proceeds from this concert will benefit Sing Out! International’s music therapy program taking place at Hope North School in Uganda this March; funds will be allocated specifically to purchase instruments that will be donated to the school at the completion of the program.

don’t tell mama Piano Bar is located at 343 W. 46th St. (between 8th and 9th Avenues), New York, NY. $12 cover, 2-drink minimum (non-alcoholic available).

Seating is limited!

For reservations, please call 212.757.0788 (after 4 PM), or visit www.donttellmamanyc.com

You are cordially invited to enjoy music by a group of talented musicians, and support a music therapy program to heal former child soldiers, abductees, and orphans of Uganda’s civil war.

Sing Out! International hopes to see you there!


Connecting with Okello Sam

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Okello Sam of Hope North & Haden Minifie of Sing Out! International

It was wonderful connecting with Okello Sam last week in Brooklyn to discuss details for Sing Out! International’s upcoming program at Hope North in Uganda this March! It was exciting to collaborate in planning the program, and to play a little music as well. Haden Minifie and Ashley-Drake Estes are grateful to Chip and Norma Lee Chartoff for offering their beautiful living room to meet. Chip and Norma handled the set and lighting design of Okello’s show, “Forged in Fire,” performed in May 2015, where Ashley-Drake and Haden first met Okello Sam.

Sing Out! International is in the process of creating something exciting to share with all of you soon. Stay tuned…

Benefit Concert Recap

Ashley-Drake Estes and Haden Minifie at Sing Out! International's Benefit Concert on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 in New Paltz, NY
Ashley-Drake Estes and Haden Minifie at Sing Out! International’s Benefit Concert on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 in New Paltz, NY

Sing Out! International hosted a benefit concert in New Paltz, NY on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 at Snug Harbor Bar & Grill to fundraise for its upcoming music therapy program at Hope North in Uganda this February. The concert was a big success! Sing Out! International was able to raise over $1,000 for its program at Hope North.

Ashley-Drake and Haden of Sing Out! International are so grateful for the musicians and bands who played throughout the evening. The concert featured local bands including, Dominique and Caitlyn, The SUNY New Paltz Music Therapy Club, The Honey Company, The Black Horse Riders, and Snowbear.

There were many local businesses who supported the event with gift certificates that were raffled off at the end of the evening. Sing Out! International thanks The Antiques Barn, The Bakery, Barner Books, Bikeway Bicycles, Cocoon, The Cheese Plate, Dohnut, Eden, Fleet Service Center, Himalayan Arts, Jack’s Rhythms, Jar’d Wine Pub, Karma Road, Kosiner Brothers Hot Dog Cart, Lagusta’s Luscious, Maglyn’s Dream, Manny’s Art Supplies, Moxie Cup, The Mudd Puddle, New Baby New World, P & G’s Restaurant, Rhino Records, and Ryan E. Cronin Art and Wares! It was wonderful having so many prizes to raffle off that evening.

The benefit helped raise awareness of the work Sing Out! International is striving to do both currently, and in the future. Sing Out! International plans to host additional events to fundraise and inform even more people how the power of music can heal those who have experienced trauma.

Snowbear Performing at Sing Out! International's Benefit Concert on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 in New Paltz, NY
Snowbear Performing at Sing Out! International’s Benefit Concert on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 in New Paltz, NY

Upcoming Event: Benefit Concert on 11/18/2015

Sing Out! International is hosting a benefit concert 8 PM Wednesday, November 18th at Snug Harbor Bar & Grill in New Paltz, NY. The concert will feature local bands, The Honey Company, The Black Horse Riders, Snowbear, among others, and will feature a raffle with prizes from businesses in the New Paltz community. There will be a $5 cover charge at the door. Attendees must be at least 21.


This event will help raise money for Sing Out! International’s upcoming six-week music therapy program taking place this February at Hope North in Uganda, a vocational and secondary school for former child soldiers, founded by former child soldier, Okello Sam. Both co-founders will be present at the event to share more information about the organization, it’s mission, and movement.

If you live locally in the New Paltz area, Sing Out! International invites you to come and hear some great live music, purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win some fun prizes, and connect with the co-founders to learn more about the organization.

Check out the Facebook event link for additional details: Benefit Concert for Sing Out! International

Sing Out! International’s Movement

Sing Out! International is an organization that wants to create a positive, long-term impact. The organization is responding to an international need for communities to process and cope with traumatic experiences. Music is shared and created in communities around the world, which makes the medium of Sing Out! International accessible to everyone. Our goal is to not only provide a medium for expression in communities around the world, but to train members of the community to continue the music programs that we introduce.

Through Sing Out! International, Ashley-Drake and Haden, two board-certified music therapists, are striving to create an organization that inspires a movement to use music to heal communities around the world. A quick search brought up some different definitions of a ‘movement,’ such as “a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas,” or “a group of people with a particular set of aims.” Synonyms for ‘movement’ include ‘development,’ ‘progression,’ ‘dynamism,’ and ‘undertaking.’ 

Sing Out! International’s first project will take place at Hope North in Uganda, a vocational and secondary school for former child soldiers, founded by former child soldier, Okello Sam. We will lead a six-week music therapy program to foster connection within the community and increase positive coping skills, improve quality of life, and increase expression through music therapy techniques such as songwriting, improvisation, and drumming (read more details about our project at Hope North in Uganda).

Sing Out! International is about making a lasting, positive impact for communities. For Hope North, we will purchase a variety of cultural instruments, and will then donate them to the school at the conclusion of the program. Part of the program also includes time for us to train the educators at the school in some of the techniques in order for the program to continue after we return home to prepare for their next project.

There is a great need to reach out and provide a vehicle for expression for communities that have experienced traumatic events. Sing Out! International can offer the accessibility of music to help individuals find a safe and therapeutic outlet to process their experience(s). 

Music Therapy and Soldiers with PTSD

Check out the following Drexel News Blog article, “Can Music Therapy Help Soldiers with PTSD?” by Rachel Ewing reporting on the efficacy of music therapy.

Ewing reports on a study being conducted this year by Joke Bradt, PhD, an associate professor at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, and a board-certified music therapist. Many soldiers (both current and former) often experience the inability to regulate negative emotions, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bradt is interested in examining the effects of music listening on emotion regulation.

Bradt acknowledges that PTSD cannot be cured by music therapy alone, but the inability to manage emotions may be alleviated by using music to regulate breathing and using music as a source of distraction from unwanted stimuli.

Community Music Therapy (CoMT)

Sing Out! International utilizes a community music therapy (CoMT) approach, which can be thought of as a way of working with individuals in social and cultural contexts.¹Brynjulf Stige, a music therapy professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, is a respected contributor to the CoMT literature. He provides a way for us to visualize the beginnings of CoMT by relating the “roots” of CoMT to the Ficus benghalensis, a banyan tree in Asia, known for its roots that grow from its branches. The Ficus benghalensis continues to grow by developing multiple trunks, thereby constantly establishing new roots.¹ This metaphor describes the continuous growth of ways in which music therapists can work with people in different contexts.

¹Stige, B. (2002). The relentless roots of community music therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 2(3). Retrieved from https://voices.no/index.php.voices/rt/printerFriendly/98/75Ficus benghalensis (1) Ficus benghalensis (2)

(photos retrieved from google.com)