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.

S1 4:4:2016_02
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.

S1 4:4:2016_03
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.

S1 4:4:2016_04
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.*