Berklee today

OCT 2015

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

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Fall 2015 23 ture." Roa was well prepared for the exploratory project in that much of the research he has done for his MT classes has focused on helping those suffering from PTSD and other effects of war. ACR's reintegration program was created for ex-combatants who have not committed crimes against humanity or violations of international humanitarian laws and are seeking to re-enter Colombia's economic and social life. All participants have to be offcially certifed as demobilized from illegal armed groups. They are offered such benefts as access to education, job training, psychosocial support, and limited fnancial aid. Those in the program must commit no offenses after demobilization and participate in 90 percent of the activities scheduled by ACR (in- cluding the MT sessions conducted in July by Villa and Roa). "The fve-week program was designed to provide insights and recommendations and act as a foundation for including music therapy services in ACR's reintegration process in the fu- ture," says Wacks. "For its part, ACR will arrange future intern- ship opportunities for Berklee music therapy students, and the Music Therapy Department will provide the best possible rec- ommendation to ACR on how to incorporate and design a music therapy program within their reintegration process. ACR would also hire music therapists to lead and facilitate the program." The fve-week program is a component of a wider collabor- ative project that is connecting Berklee to the MT community in Colombia and ACR, as well as to non-governmental agencies such as Mercy Corps to help sustain and expand the work. Music Therapy in Action By the time the fve of us from Berklee met up in Ibagué in late July, Villa and Roa had been conducting MT sessions with demo- bilized warriors and victims at Ibagué's ACR building for more than a month. Their efforts to rebuild a sense of community through interactive MT activities were clearly working at the session Wacks, Link, and I observed. It began with a drum circle as participants entered the room. Each picked up a hand drum or percussion instrument, and played along to an established rhythm for several minutes. Icebreaking activities contin- ued as Villa and Roa playfully introduced the members to each other. Seated close together in a circle, the participants were in- structed to ask the name of those to their left and right. The names were then sung to a simple melody in call-and-response style, frst by the introducer and then echoed by all. Other group-singing and rhythmic-clapping activities loosened up the crowd to the point that soon, most were smiling. In one activity during the hour-long session, Villa and Roa led the game Tingo Tango (similar to wonderball) where a ball is passed around as music plays. The person holding the ball when the music stops draws from a pack of cards that poses simple questions, such as, "If you were to go to a desert island, what would you take with you?" One young girl said that she'd take only friends and family to the island while others men- tioned a range of material items. Through further interactions, the participants began sharing with the group more personal insights regarding their lives. During a directed meditation as ambient music played, Villa calmly recited thoughts for all to ponder with their eyes closed. After more group singing to well-known songs, the session culminated with a scarf dance. Led by Villa, the participants danced gracefully waving their arms, the whole group linked together by holding opposite ends of chiffon scarves. "It was quite confrming to witness how quickly music up- lifted the human spirit, created a safe container for expression and helped to humanize the individuals and the community as a whole," Wacks observed. "Esteban's and Ana Maria's comfort with the population and familiarity with music and the culture enabled the participants to build trust quite quickly—that's the cornerstone of any therapeutic process. The participants appeared to be relaxed, refreshed, and hopeful as they left." "The reactions of the participants and the way we've con- nected during these sessions is powerful," Villa says. "The en- ergy we put out comes back amplifed by the participants." "Feeding off their energy is very important," Roa added. "I've learned that there is a performance aspect to what we do. The facial expressions that we put forward and the energy that we give and receive from participants really drive the session. From there, we can improvise to best ft the objectives of those we're working with." Feedback Loop "We have had great classes and supervisors at Berklee," Villa says, "but when we got here it was time to just go and do it. Being in the situation is one of the best ways to learn. We get to see right away what works and what we have to adjust. Even when you're working with the same group of patients, they will be different from day to day. Their needs change according to what is going on in their lives. So you can have a plan and a structure, but if it isn't working you need to have the tools to ad- just for what's required at the moment." "We are still students," Roa adds. "We haven't fnished our training yet so we are out of our comfort zones. My [Berklee] ad- visor told me to welcome chaos because that's when you will learn the most. We had a protocol and many things planned, but then everything changed. The people at ACR took our plan apart, and we had to be fexible." The nature of the service Villa and Roa were providing to the re-entrants was often cathartic for all parties. "There was one person trying to reintegrate into society," says Villa. "She came to the sessions and really enjoyed them, but didn't express her- self very much with the group. I saw a transformation in her. She'd been somewhat shy in the session—even while partici- pating. But then afterwards she would tell me or Esteban some- thing very big and personal that comes from deep inside her. I feel we made a big connection with her." The overarching mission of ACR is to enable the na- tion's entire population to progress on a path toward peace. Components of the strategy to achieve this goal include ad- vising demobilized persons on how to access legal and social benefts and to gain the skills needed to enable them to become productive participants in Colombian society. ACR anticipates providing services for six and a half years before a participant can realize full reintegration. They have noted that MT has the potential to drastically reduce that timespan. "The reintegrators emphasize that it takes a while for the people to open up and talk about past issues," Roa states. "In the second session we did, there was an activity that opened up a huge box. People started sharing very personal, heavy things. Later I found out that this is unusual. The music has created a safe space for them to express themselves. One person had gone through some very harsh circumstances—which I 'm not permitted to talk about. But she made a connection with her daughter through some of the songs. She expressed things with the rest of the group, even though they were all strangers." "We were all strangers before the music," Villa adds. "The participants didn't know us. But then for one hour we were able to really connect. People were trusting and shared a lot of things that were very important to them and have affected their lives. It was huge." Ana Maria Villa (center) leads a scarf dance activity. Mark Small

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