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Music Therapy – Giving Every Child a Chance to be Heard

June 21, 2017

Casa Pacifica Music ProgramAround the world, music is celebrated for its beauty and power of expression. It is the universal language, understood and loved by all, regardless of their differences. At Casa Pacifica, we tap into the power of music to bring a sense of empowerment and hope to the lives of struggling children.

For years, Jill and Tom Ball have run Casa Pacifica’s music program as an extension of the non-public school and campus-based therapeutic programs. The course is offered as an optional elective to youth with an interest in developing instrumental and vocal skills.

“Kids come in with all levels of experience. We’ve got kids … that already play an instrument or sing, or have toyed with writing music, (and) we have kids that come in with zero experience and learn it,” Jill said. “They’re here because they want to be here. The music itself, the participation and the improvement, is motivating.”

Whatever their level of experience, students are drawn to the program by a shared love for music and its ability to provide them a sense of belonging and emotional release.

“Music has always been a part of my life, and it continues to inspire me and push me to become a better person. Listening to music allows me to get out of my head and just escape to my happy spot,” one student reflected. “The music program at Casa Pacifica has allowed me to express myself using different instruments as well as surround (myself) with fellow music lovers.” 

Casa Pacifica’s music program is structured to meet California’s academic standards and offers students a wide range of educational resources, from vocal and instrumental instruction to theatrical performance opportunities. That said, Jill and Tom’s primary focus with their students is not merely on musical training, but rather, the way that training can be utilized as a therapeutic outlet for the children they work with.

“As a music therapist, your outcomes are more based on, ‘are they achieving their therapeutic goals?’ Whether or not they learn an instrument might be incidental,” Jill explained. “Most of the time it’s a behavioral issue that is keeping (a student) from being successful (in a regular comprehensive campus). Quite often with our kids it’s anger management issues, … dealing with frustration in ways that are maladaptive. Our goal is to help these people be able to move back into that community setting.”

Jill and Tom work with their students to achieve a variety of behavioral and therapeutic goals, specific to each individual child. The program provides a wide range of teaching opportunities. Students struggling socially learn to collaborate with others, conduct themselves appropriately, communicate clearly, read non-verbal cues, and cooperate with authority figures while accepting direction. For other students, the focus may lie more in developing a sense responsibility, focus, or self-confidence. Still others benefit primarily from a development of fine motor skills which comes along with learning to play an instrument.

“Really, it’s driven by the youth,” Jill noted. “You kind of assess where that student is at. What reaches one may or may not reach another. It’s individualized on their needs. Which is true about any therapy.”

Many children in the program utilize music as a healthy outlet to express themselves and cope with their hurt and frustration. The social aspect of the class also teaches them how to interact with others in a more positive way.

“I’ve seen children, who don’t have any idea what collaboration means, learn the beauty of team work in what you would call a drum circle. I’ve seen kids that closet emotion and have no other outlet of expression (be able) to express themselves, either lyrically, melodically, theatrically or rhythmically,” Tom said. “A lot of these kids who don’t have a whole lot of other order in their life … have found a voice in which they can be reasonably articulate, and it’s appreciated by both peers and mentors.”

The power of musical expression also allows students to develop a greater sense of self-worth, as another youth in the program noted, “The music program at Casa Pacifica never fails in brightening up my mood. Jill and Tom boosted my self-esteem in (allowing me to) really let go and sing my heart out ... I am so grateful for the confidence the program has given me.”

Jill and Tom’s depth of care and dedication to their students has had a massive impact in the lives of so many youth, and the life lessons the children in their program take away extend far beyond musical comprehension.
“Jill and Tom always find a way to make music fun and interesting. They are very supportive and always try to give a new perspective of music,” one student said. “Music is a big part of my life and I am grateful (to) the music program here for help(ing me) find a way to learn new coping skills.”