Wyomia Goveya on Music Therapy

Fareed Curmally: What made you take up music therapy?

Wyomia Goveya: In 1992 the year before gaining my LTCL Diploma and BHMS degree, I began teaching the piano to children and preparing them for the Trinity college exams. My penchant for teaching music, medical background and a desire to help others empower themselves led me to explore teaching music to differently-abled children in special schools in the mid 1990s. I became greatly inspired by the book ‘Music Therapy’ by Juliette Alvin, and gradually began to introduce music therapy facets into my teaching activities. I came to realise that children with special needs can express themselves better through music, drawing on strengths and abilities that tend to be otherwise neglected. I strongly felt that I should know more about music therapy but it took awhile before my dream could materialise.

In 2000 I began exploring courses in the USA and UK and secured admission at a University in the USA for September 2001, but my future was about to take a different turn. 

One day while speaking with our Trinity College representative, Anthony Gomes, told me that Trinity College was sending Cressida Nash, to work with the cello section of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra in April 2001. He gathered that she was also a trained music therapist. I was excited to hear this and expressed a need to meet her. Anthony organised for us to collaborate while she was in Mumbai. She told me that she had a Nordoff-Robbins Diploma in music therapy and encouraged me to apply to their training program, which was now a Master’s course. In fact I had the application form with me at home so her visit was providential, so to speak!

I applied to Nordoff-Robbins and got accepted – they had just 1 place left. Later I was privileged to receive the DeSouza Trust Goa scholarship from the British Council, which helped towards my training in London.

FC: What did the training at Nordoff-Robbins entail?

WG: The training helped me grow from a musician and clinician to a music therapist. It closely integrated clinical and academic aspects – concepts of music therapy and the Nordoff-Robbins approach, clinical improvisation, clinical assessment and evaluation, musical resources and consolidating musicianship skills to mention a few.


FC: Tell me something about Nordoff and Robbins.

WG: The Nordoff-Robbins approach developed from the pioneering work of Paul Nordoff – an American pianist, teacher and composer and Clive Robbins – a British special class teacher in the 1950s to 1970s, over a period spanning 17 years. The first Nordoff-Robbins training program was established in London in 1974. In 1991 a new Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre opened in North London, which to this day is the hub of music therapy services, training and research. Today Nordoff-Robbins is the largest Music Therapy Charity in the UK, serving 1000s of clients every year. The work has also spread to other countries, including the USA with a dedicated centre in New York.


FC: What is music therapy?

WG: Music is an intrinsic part of us – we have pulse and rhythm in our heartbeats, our breathing, movements and speech. We have tone in our speaking and singing voices. We therapists believe that everyone has an innate ability to respond to music, and this responsiveness remains, despite illness or disability. It is this innate musicality that we use to draw clients into shared music making with us, whilst also working with the difficulties affecting their wellbeing. 


FC: What happens in a session? 

WG: Our approach is client-centred. In a session, each client is given the time and space to express herself or himself in whatever way they can – by playing simple percussion instruments, singing or moving. We listen carefully to the client’s initiatives and create a rapport by improvising music to meet him at his level. So it is a co-creative endeavour for therapist and client and over a period of time a musical relationship is established. By participating in this relationship, positive changes can be nourished, in a safe and creative way. 

FC: What kind of music is used?

WG: We try to find the kind of music that reaches the client and starts the response. Much of our music is improvised, because then it can be tailored to each client’s needs and abilities. But we also use pre-composed music or may compose music with the client or work together towards a performance. 


FC: How can music therapy help?

WG: We focus on what the client can do, rather than on his or her disability, and by doing so can work holistically. Music therapy can help the client in a variety of ways depending on his or her needs. For some, over a period of time they will begin to develop their language skills. For others with different needs, the opportunity given to communicate on her or his level, to share, to interact and socialize will result in a decrease in anxiety levels or frustration or isolation. 


FC: What type of clients do you work with? 

WG: Since I enjoy working with children and young people, I have pioneered music therapy in special schools and centres here in Mumbai. In England I have worked in a variety of settings including special schools, day centres and residential care homes.


FC: A word of advice?

WG: For those who are passionate about music-making and interested in helping people, do not hesitate to train as a music therapist. There are plenty of courses to choose from. In Delhi there is a Post Graduate Diploma offered by The Music Therapy Trust India, founded by Dr Margaret Lobo in collaboration with her Trust in the UK.