Music for Life®

Music for Life® - an explanation by Annie Mawson


"Sunbeams  ventures into a world where doors are closed, and with commitment and passion, tries to find the appropriate musical key to unlock a knowledge that is there from the very first heartbeat."


This is our philosophy at the Sunbeams Music Trust, which brings music to people of all ages with special needs throughout Cumbria. But let me take you back in time to Samuel....... "When King Saul  was seized with a deep melancholia, David took an harp and played it, and the melancholia departed."

Beautiful words, ancient and modern alike, separated by three Millennia, but the message remains the same, - the "power of music to heal". I believe that we can all be touched by the healing influence of sound, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually....  and at Sunbeams we have daily proof of the powerful transformative effects of music and Music For Life®. Although the power of music to heal and to alleviate illness and distress has been recognised for centuries, it is only in the 20th Century that systematic research into the reasons for its efficacy has really begun. Its appropriateness as a therapy for people with mental health problems for example, has since been well-documented through time-based research, in the USA since 1944, and by Juliette Alvin, the pioneer of the Therapeutic use of Community Music in the U.K.

the Therapeutic use of Community Music is now a real and bonafide method of improving health and well-being, however difficult it is to measure the consequences of "the power of music to heal". BUT, the long-term aim of any therapy is surely to overspill and generalize the effects into everyday life. Hence our concept has evolved through our work, of "Music For Life®". When one realizes that the acoustic nerve in the foetus is fully developed at four and a half months, and at the other end of the 'time-scale', the hearing is the last sense to die, the importance and impact of Music For Life® becomes far-reaching and profound.  One of the inspirations behind the founding of Sunbeams Music Trust was a gentleman with Downs Syndrome called Johnathon, who was 17 when I first met him in 1977. He was a remarkable person, commanding great respect from all knew him, not least because his passion was Gilbert and Sullivan Opera: he knew every single song, from every score. He died in 2001, literally listening and singing along to Radio 3 highlights of G and S.
Real Music For Life®.

Music For Life® is based on my passionate belief that Music can transcend politics, finance, bureaucracy; that it has the ability to help people communicate when all other strategies have failed.  I think of the most moving rendition of the Northumberland song, the Blaydon Races, by the gentle sweet voice of a frail old lady, who hadn't spoken for three years since she had suffered a stroke. The utterance of her first words in all that time was powerful testimony to the fact that if the ear cannot perceive the sounds, the tongue cannot pronounce them.
And I think of the shy young girl who chose to be an 'elective mute, locking herself away into a world of silence, and communicating only through singing for 19 years. After all that time, the confidence gained from her music helped her to overcome the emotional blockages, and I received the dramatic phone call from a voice I thought I would never hear -"When's my next gig Annie?" - Real Music For Life®!

I have always believed that music is something in which everyone can partake, irrespective of their ability and inhibition. In music, I have seen young people gain in stature, and in width of outlook, because it opens up channels of communication, without the barriers of language. I have watched elderly people suffering from dementia become totally animated and confident, concentrating and singing, and no longer agitated or "wandering".

Great sensitivity is essential when the powerful effects of music can help to reaffirm identity, raise self-esteem, and give people a voice - literally. Music can lead to such breakthroughs in communication, satisfying a need for security and self-confidence. Young people have found outlets for their inner natural exuberance in music which can similarly alleviate problems of shyness, sensitiveness, fear, unsociability, even problems of defiance, temper and sullenness. People of ALL AGES at Sunbeams, young and old alike, have been motivated to "find" themselves in music, and thus develop their self-esteem, whilst reticent "moody" isolates are encouraged to become increasingly outgoing, as the music provides a therapy for personal conflict.

We now use Music For Life® for people with a wide range of Special needs, including problems of mental health, cerebral palsy, down's syndrome, autism, sensory impairment, emotional, mental and behavioural disturbance and profound multiple disability. We use Music For Life® to encourage creative responses with children who exhibit negative, challenging behaviour, habitual and stereotype responses and self-injurious gestures. We use Music For Life® with people who are severely language deprived, to improve their personal development and quality of life.

By by-passing some of the functions necessary for decoding speech, music can make a deep impact on people for whom a verbally saturated environment can only add to confusion and further isolation. I think of the lady with such severe Alzheimer’s that she didn't know her own name , or recognise her family, but who took hold of my Celtic harp the first time she saw it, and played it with a beautiful technique. Afterwards she said, very poignantly: "Well, I don't remember why I know that I can do that!"

The medical staff, the carers and I all knew we were witnessing something very profound and moving, encapsulating music as an expressive art, which speaks directly to the emotions.

Real Music For Life®.

We have many similar wonderful Sunbeams 'stories' - living proof of the healing power of music, which can unlock the strongest of defence mechanisms. And each time, it is like standing on "perceptive tip-toe", trying to detect what is on the brink of being called into existence for the very first time. And always, it is very humbling, very moving, and very profound.  I firmly believe that if our lovely Sunbeams people are prepared to sing, and make music, and expose their vulnerability to others, then we should listen with respect and learning, in an atmosphere of love and enthusiasm, and full attention to their beauty, and the beauty of sound…

"At Music For Life®, there are never any wrong notes,
only the person's notes; notes aren't moral."

                                            Annie Mawson – Founder and Chief Executive of Sunbeams

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