Judith’s interest in the relationship between music and healing was originally sparked while she was a music school. After her first Alexander Technique lesson, she experienced greater improvements to her playing than anything prompted by her clarinet teacher.
I was first introduced to Nik when he was about 5 years old. His mother told me that he had a diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome and suffered from a high level of anxiety. She was exploring many things to enrich his life, and thought that music may be one of them. She mentioned that he was likely to sit in a corner of the room with his back to me, hands over his ears, rocking back and forth, for three sessions; then he would be OK. She was right!
As usual I just sang and played a whole bunch of songs to see how he responded, and then I noticed that his rocking pattern coincided with the rhythm of the song that I was playing on the piano, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
Seventeen years have passed now, and Nik knows all the words to at least 500 songs that I have taught him, and probably many more that I don’t know. It is obvious he has a fabulous memory. While he still struggles with anxiety and other aspects of his disability, I received an incredible Christmas gift from Niklas on December 25th, 2020, which also was a Friday. Now Friday is one of the two days a week that he does music so I was thrilled when his mother phoned me to ask if I could do music with Niklas.
In the words of one of his favorite songs, I answered, “Always.”
Here is a video of Nik singing “Always.”
I first met Shaylen in a music class I taught for three- and four-year-olds at a local Montessori School. What immediately struck me about him were the sophisticated questions that he would ask during class. He was quite clear about not accepting answers that did not make sense to him — answering him was a genuine challenge I appreciated.
Several years later, when his parents asked me to teach him piano, I was thrilled. It quickly became apparent that he had perfect pitch, and that he memorized very easily which seemed to be natural gifts, along with spelling and math. He was interested in astronomy and liked Harry Potter.
We have now been working together for about eight years. His family is supportive of his music, upgrading his instrument from electronic keyboard to grand piano. He also has taken up the cello, which he plays in the local orchestra. Shaylen has become very fond of J.S. Bach; when I asked him why, he talked about the patterns that he saw in the music and how they engage and challenge him.
Video of SB at recital.
Notice that his feet are supported by a box. I have had several boxes of this kind made in different sizes. These help my students balance, focus, and absorb what they are learning, instead of struggling to get comfortable. I also use foam wedges to help the children sit easily.
Leena had studied with other teachers for about six years, loved Broadway musicals, and had memorized an enormous amount of material. Her mother reached out to me to help Leena overcome some vocal tension that had recently begun to affect the quality of her singing. Good listening “mom!”
Experience has taught me that a young student’s natural tendency to sing out with enthusiasm – often hampered by poorly written vocal material — can harm the developing voice. So, in our first lesson together, I asked Leena a lot of questions. I got her to sing a simple song, and then did more detailed work to find out her vocal range. It became clear that she had strained her voice doing a middle school musical. I examined her part, and immediately noticed its awkward lyric setting. Once Leena knew what to look for, she could deal with this challenge more easily and not strain.
It also turned out that Leena had stopped playing the piano. Once we had talked about how useful her piano skills could be, together we expanded her lesson time to include piano as well as singing. She learnt how to play the chords and melodies to the more lyrical songs I chose for her, and now she can accompany herself.