Thinking Outside the Box with Music

“I enjoy praising your name  to the music of harps,because everything you do makes me happy, and I sing joyful songs.” (Psalm 92:3-4, CEV)

A curious conversation began because of something I had been noticing while we worshiped as a family at church.  Our 9 year old who has a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder (among several other) was really challenged by the loud, energetic contemporary music at our services.  Over time, we found that she could wear ear plugs, and eventually became desensitized to the volume.  And she became further engaged when she could sit in one of the front rows, using pens from the chair caddies as drumsticks where she would drum along during each song.  While it brings little grins to those who affectionately watch her during worship, it brings a huge smile to our face knowing that we have found new ways to adapt and include her in corporate celebration each Sunday.

All of this prompted me to introduce the topic of “Music Therapy & Christian Worship” during one of our weekly #SpnMin TweetChats last week.  To understand the wider implications of this conversation, it helps first to know what music therapy is.  A recent news story from a Chicago ABC affiliate gives a good overview.  While it may seem to be a superfluous endeavor to the untrained eye, this type of therapy has been proven to aid cognition, improve behaviors, draw out speech, grow motor skills, and enhance many other areas of the patient’s life.

Interestingly, I wondered how we, as Christians, could enhance our inclusion while also offering some of the benefits of music therapy.  The conversation blossomed as we explored these possibilities with our guest, music therapist Sarah Sendlbeck.  As a springboard, we talked about an article I had previously shared on a “therapy choir”.  That lead into what we might be doing in Sunday school classes to incorporate some music therapy components for our special students.  Sarah suggested wonderful things like writing a melody together as a class to help reinforce the lesson through song.  She also talked about involvement by singing familiar music, using instrument play, puppet play and adapting it to suit to unique needs of the children.

Our conversation then left the classroom and dreamed of the possibilities of music creating an inclusive environment in the wider congregation.  “Wouldn’t it be SO cool if we could get worship teams to do a song where you could include the kids with special needs on percussion?”, I fantasized.  “That would be amazing! They could do percussion, shakers, all different accessory instruments,” responded Sarah.  Then everyone participating in the conversation began to imagine how it would break down barriers for the congregation to be a witness to such sharing through music.

Much to my surprise, Sarah also mentioned that bell choirs are also a terrific way to get church members with unique abilities involved in music.  While I thought this might be challenging, she set me straight by explaining that simple songs can be used, color-coded music used and specific chords orchestrated as well to make it very possible for this to be a successful opportunity.

Finally, no conversation about music therapy would be complete in this day and age without including talk about the iPad.  Many terrific applications are available.  It almost seems that there are endless possibilities for exploration and enjoyment of music.  And use of this tool could include public sharing of music or, if a child needs to privately self-soothe during a church service, earphones can be plugged into an iPad while the child enjoys the benefits of music.

The point of sharing all of this with you is to open the possibility of a fresh approach to inclusion through music.  We tend to become so set in the way that we worship.  Even introducing new hymns to a congregation can cause them to become unnerved.  But imagine the joy of building bridges in a variety of ways through God’s gift of song.  It could truly become revolutionary in drawing together the average church-goer with those who need their acceptance!

What do you think?

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