Music for Everyone

The challenge of people with special needs

AutorIn: Shirley Salmon
Themenbereiche: Theoretische Grundlagen
Textsorte: Artikel
Releaseinfo: International Symposium: Guadalajara, Mexiko Feb. 1999. Music Education and Music Therapy
Copyright: © Shirley Salmon 1999

1. The disabled person is challenged by his or her disability:

This is the challenge disabled (disturbed, abused) people experience when structuring their own individual development. As Georg Feuser has pointed out physical, biological as well as the environmental conditions influence development - a Trisomie 21 is not a mental handicap but describes a chromosomal starting condition of a system's evolution. Another person with Cerebral Palsy or someone who is deaf will experience different (biological) starting conditions as well as environmental influences that will affect his or her development.

The internationally known dancer and choreographer Wolfgang Stange founded and directs the London-based Dance Theater Company AMICI (friends) which consists of people with and without disabilities. One of his goals is for everyone "to find the truth in themselves by overcoming the limits set through their handicaps and finding creative expression".

We know too (from Maslow) that the unfolding and development in all human beings is only possible when certain basic needs are satisfied:

  • the need for security, protection, order and lack of fear

  • the need for love, attention and belonging to

  • the need for respect, recognition and praise

  • the need for self-realisation.

New views on development and the resulting respect for the competence of the child, seeing the child as a competent partner are fundamental to our work. Feuser says that what we see as a "handicap" and dismiss or despise in a person and usually look at as deficient, is the expression of competence; the expression of competence to integrate life-impairing (bio-psychological social) conditions - self-compensatory and self-regulative - into the system for the survival of the individual existence in its environment. This means that every form of handicap, psychic and also physical illness is human and humanly possible and under certain circumstances existentially necessary. For the human being it is as »normal« to be "handicapped" as it is »normal« not to be "handicapped". Not to be "handicapped" is not a sign or attribute of »normality«; we just claim it as a social attribute by the means of our defining power. "Handicap" defines »normality« in the same way as non-handicap; »normality« here does not refer to a social code of norms, but to the logic of human development under existing starting and environmental conditions of a person in his biography. (G. Feuser: The Relation between the View of the Human Being and Inclusive Education - "There Are No Mentally Handicapped!" ) And, according to Milani each child, likewise the disabled child has his own normality which one has to discover and amplify. This can be done through music and movement.

Views of development have changed radically. It is no longer seen as a simple linear process but as Feuser says a"dynamically organized, structural system-change in progress, changing into the direction of increasing complexity and diversification." Or, as a spiral effect of proposal and counterproposal.(Milani). Here "development spirals in a dialogue in which the child effects and responds to interactions compatible with his present competence. The child's new achievements to his creativity lends momentum to the dialogue and it spirals on." (Aly)

In the same way "experience" is not what is presented to the child, but "that which is being assimilated by the child".(Athey) Children possess different capacities and talents in both form and quality (Kokas) which means that the pace of their development varies greatly.

The work ofEmmi Pikler has shown how important it is to attend to, to observe and to influence environmental conditions rather than push a child to the next step, manipulating him into positions in which he doesn't feel secure. In this re-found competence pushing a child too hard can hinder rather than further his/her development.As Monika Aly has pointed out "Intervention programs aimed at stimulating development paradoxically can disrupt independent motor development. They cause insecurities by bringing the handicapped child out of his own rhythm, and, above all, they perpetuate dependence on adults."

Dialogue, communication and interaction between "competent" partners are prerequisites for development and learning. Furthermore development is dependent on the quality of the relationship we establish and takes place in a cooperative togetherness. (Feuser) Here we can establish three stages: contact, encounter and relationship: (K. Schumacher)

Contact is a reaction to a stimulus and means the beginning of perception. Contact is the moment of reaction which still leaves open the possibiltiy for the child to use the chance of an encounter or relationship or to retreat and close up. Eye-contact has many qualities and is the most obvious sign of the ability to make contact or to avoid it.

Encounter (Begegnung) is the moment of good fortune that can't be planned, is short but of long and intensive effect. The human encounter refers to that moment when 2 people meet (sometimes just for seconds) and are open for each other. One may get the impression of having a short insight into the other person.

Relationship needs time. It is the result of contact and encounter and it must be formed. In each new situation it is formed according to new needs of closeness and distance of the two people involved. As long as the relationship exists it must be given form. When there is no more form then a type of symbiotic relationship with too little distance can result or else the relationship is ended. (K. Schumacher 1994. transl. Salmon)

2. The challenge to society by disabled people.

The 2nd challenge I refer to is the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) challenge that disabled people present to us, to society as a whole. Through their presence they challenge our perceptions of each other, our view of human potential. They challenge our opinions on the fundamental rights and values and, of course, our views on education. And these views and opinions are determined by our perception of disabled people:

Let me quote Feuser again:

When I meet a "handicapped" person, look at him and ponder, what he could be like, I describe myself: my perception of the other person. Whether I use the arising chance to know myself - that is a different matter.....!

Labelling and catagorizing a person as mentally disabled, deaf, blind ... is a process of registering the "symptoms" that we can see. We interpret a person's "nature" by summarizing the "symptoms" that we can observe thinking that "observable symptoms" are someone's "nature" or "inner being". We mistake our limits of understanding as the limitation of the other person whom we try to understand. And then we see his "nature" in the mirror of dominating social norms with all their expectations.

Fredi Saal - a disabled person who only escaped euthanasia by the Nazis by chance - recently described it this way:

"No, not the handicapped person himself experiences himself as abnormal because of his handicap - he is experienced by the others as abnormal because a whole realm of humanity is rejected, segregated. In this way his existence poses a threat. The point of departure is not the handicapped person, but rather the way in which one experiences oneself. One asks oneself how one would react if one were to become handicapped oneself and transfers the results of such deliberations to the handicapped person. In this way one gets a completely distorted image, because one doesn't see the other person, but rather oneself. This results in paradox behavior: One projects misery onto the other person, and avoids his or her presence for this reason." (quoted in Schönwiese)

For many people contact with a disabled person forces or encourages them to experience sometimes seemingly enormous boundaries between them - the differentness and the strangeness. This contact may question feelings of security, control and dominance. It makes us look at how secure we feel within ourseves and towards other people. How much space do we need, how much can we give? It asks us which boundaries and which universal togetherness exist.

But I am sure that many of you may well have experienced the feeling of getting to know a person who is disabled - the feeling that you know atleast a part of their inner being, where you no longer see the handicap or no longer register it as being particulaly important in your daily or weekly encounters, experiences or relationship with this person.

In education and therapy with disabled people I see there is the danger of using music only as a medium, as a means to improve some underdeveloped skill or to diminish a perceived deficiency. While music may be used to further other areas of development it seems important to me not to forget the basic right to music as a means of enjoyment and participation. This was apparent in my work with family groups over a period of 10 years in which parents (usually the mother), brothers, sisters and even friends all joined in our sessions. These joint activities not only offered different approaches to music and movement for all the participants but allowed families to often experience each other and, more importantly, their child in a new, competent light. Activities often included singing, movement games, rhymes and stories with instruments. Spending enough time on experimenting, improvising and sometimes practicing was very important - for the parents as much as for the children. Much of the work with instruments was pre-metric, pre-rhythmic or pre-melodic for those children who had not yet developed sense of rhythm and melody. With others it was possible to develop instrumental accompaniements to songs.

There are increasing numbers of projects outside of schools involving teenagers, adults or older people with or without handicaps. One of these cultural projects in the community (in Austria) calls itsself "Spiel Raum Musik" and is a music workshop for improvisation. It is an artistic project involving creative-musical encounters (over the period of a week with an open performance at the end) as part of cultural education for people with and without handicaps (professional jazz musicians). The initiator, Stefan Heidweiler, a graduate of the Orff Institute speaks of "The creative exchange of experience between music-making people". Artistic media are particularly appropriate for handicapped people, especially those with cognitive learning problems because speech and intellectual reflection are not of importance but rather creativity, spontaneity and feeling for form. Music is communication and expression for the participants who choose from a wide range of instruments - traditional, Orff Instruments, ethinc instruments, unusual sound makers (e.g.Kazoos, organ pipes, household objects, self-made instruments)

In a different project in Graz a group of adults with different disabilities chose to work on and perform part of Leopold Mozart's Children's Symphony, at an open-day at their institution supported by a group of amateur musicians. They were participants in weekly music sessions that offered a range of activities with music and movement. Some of the weekly group decided not to perform in public, the others were very motivated, especially finding instruments like water whistles, that they could play in spite of any physical handicap.

In this particular institution this was one of the first and few integrative projects. I referred to some of the particpants as "disabled" but the use of society's labels always detract from the individuality of the concerned person, from his being as a subject. In the social context labels cause the opposite result of what we intend when we talk about inclusion. Is it possible to acknowledge someone whom I classify as "mentally handicapped" as a fellow person of equal rights and value? This is the basic dilemma of inclusive education. When I perceive a child as "mentally handicapped" and think he is the way I perceive him to be, I have segregated him, even if he visits an inclusive education class. (Feuser 1996)

Integration has been a fashionable word for some time now. Along with the concept of "Life-long-learning" many countries have been concerned with the joint living and learning of disabled and non-disabled people. In many countries disabled people have the right to non-segregation and children participate in inclusive classes. We know that each person needs another in order to develop his potential, that the human being is not self-sufficient - he/she needs another person to develop his individuality, his person. The "I" grows through the "you", the "self" grows out of the "other". We have to undergo this dialectic process in order to become and remain a person. (Petzold 1995) The fundamental need to develop within a social context is a right we all have. In this way "Inclusive education (.......) is not a luxury but a cultural necessity and an ethical obligation of the importance of a human right" (Feuser 1996).

Inclusive education has to concern itself with each individual. Volker Schönwiese, Professor in the Education department of Innsbruck University who also has a physical handicap emphasizes that an integrative educational concept also requires that the teachers be willing to confront themselves with the actual child in question and not with the images which they might have of handicapped children. He writes that people often act towards us handicapped people in reaction to images which do not correspond to the reality of our existence. These images sometimes even stereotypes are passed on by friends and relatives but also by the medical and educational world. If we are to provide "Music for Everyone" we need to avoid labels and to look at competencies. In elemental music it is no hinderance to have people of differing talents and skills in one group in fact it provides a broad basis for experience and learning: As Wilhelm Keller ponted out:

"Elemental music enables so-called normal, talented and handicapped to play together in one group without any participant being under or over-challenged. The music should be adapted in the sense of tasks and roles to suit the possibilities of the group instead of the group having to adapt to a fixed musical form." (Keller 1974)

According to Georg Feuser (Bremen, Germany) inclusive education means thatall participants work, play and learn together, in cooperation with one another, within one theme, activity or task, according to their own individual capabilities (physical, emotional, mental, social ...) at that time and at their own developmental level.

In addition there are 2 aspects necessary for the realisation of this concept:

a)Cooperation within one theme/ task or activity means that people work together. Nobody is excluded as a result of his or her disability. The subject, task or theme is presented so that it is accessible to everyone.

b) Inner differentiation is also necessary in order that each person learns at the level appropriate to his/her development. This enables contact with the subject/theme, satisfies needs, motives and interests and offers opportunities for active participation. The momentary perceptive, intellectual and (Handlung) capabilities of the indiviual determine the type and amount of help in this process of cooperation

The work of Wilhelm Keller, Wolfgang Stange and others has shown that inclusive education with music and movement can be realized in integrated groups. The goals and conditions of this concept can be applied at all levels of music education.

3. The challange experienced by educators

Finally I want to mention the challenge that we, as educators face when defining our goals and finding suitable contents and methods.

One of our goals will be artistic: to open up music, encouraging receptivity to music , finding ways of leading people to it in many forms and helping them to approach it and participate in their own way. Here we may follow further goals such as:

  • experiencing harmony (in an aesthetic sense)

  • discovering and developing individual musical, movement and vocal skills

  • supporting participation: alone, in ensembles, performance

  • providing means for improvisation, creative, artistic expression

There is of course also the challenge of finding the "right" instrument - one which is interesting as well as physically possible for the individual. In addition to elemental instruments we use traditional instruments - in a traditional or elemental way as well as unusual instruments (organ pipes, kazoos, home-made instruments). New developments in technology have made possible new types of instruments that allow even the severely physically handicapped to participate in individual and creative ways e.g. MIDI creator, synthesizers, specialized computer programs etc. (cf. Drake Project, Ireland)

Other goals seek to further and support personal and social development through music, movement and language. Herecreative activities with music and movement can play an important part in the lives of all children - non-disabled, disabled, emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children - enabling us to "reach" these children through artistic forms of expression rather than everyday speech. Here we find further goals such as:

  • strengthening self-confidence and self-awareness

  • improving contact and communication

  • furthering areas of learning

  • developing individual interests and skills

Finding suitable curricular contents for inclusive groups implies finding a common goal, task, piece or theme that can be divided, individualized to provide tasks and roles at different levels. It can often mean for example finding a common language for communication, experience, learning and creative expession as is the case with deaf children.

However, when looking at the curriculum and methods it is not always a question of us challenging the child, but also of the child challenging us.On both sides challenges can be verbal or non-verbal and may be presented, e.g., through the sound or shape of a particular instrument, through music, movement, play materials or actions. We may be disappointed when the child does not respond to our challenge, but do we repond to his/hers? e.g. a child's negative response may have very different different reasons. That is, the child may mean:

I don't want to / I am unable to / I am so interested in something else that I haven't noticed

These force us to examine our own verbal and non-verbal behaviour carefully. In under-challenging Gertrud Orff says that the child's capacity is underestimated, too little is demanded or the challenges are always the same." In over-challenging too much is demanded of the child too soon. Both under-challenging and over-challenging inhibit learning and development. This is the challenge for us working in groups, finding appropriate tasks for each child.

One group of disabled children that is often forgotten is the "socially disabled" - children who have no biological disability but whose behaviour, learning and development are restricted by the limiting conditions of their (emotional) environment. These children are a special challenge and they, too have very fundamental needs. My long experience using music and movement in a residential home for disturbed boys has brought me into contact with many of their problems as well as some of the powerful uses of music.

According to Ivan Illich being healthy means not just being free of illness or injury but much more the ability of an autonomous living being to cope with its environment. The behaviour of these "disturbed" children can be seen as their way of coping with their physical, emotional, social and intellectual environment. The label "disturbed" is, of course, relative and entirely dependent on the culture and norms of any society. But it is a label and as such tends to place all the emphasis (and blame) on the symptoms shown by the child leaving environmental factors unmentioned.

The disturbed behaviour of these children cannot usually be attributed to organic defects but is expression - part of a complex network - resulting from many factors in the family, school and neigbourhood etc. The child is often the weakest link in this system and displays the symptoms we call "disturbed". Music can play an important part in the development and support of these children and their development.

To sum up, I would like to return to thespecial needs and thechallenge they present. I propose that there are universal human needs and rights that apply to us all whether disabled or not. e.g.

  • the right to our own individuality, to be perceived and accepted as an individual.

  • the right to learn in a way that respects our condition, needs and possibilities of interaction with our environment

  • the right to experience music, movement and language and to find our own creative expression.

Finally,I would like to quote the music therapistsPaul Nordoff and Clive Robbins who also write about Music as a means of overcoming the challenge of a handicap:

"Music is a language, and for children it can be a stimulating language, a consoling language. It can encourage, hearten, delight and speak to the inmost part of the child. Music can ask stimulating questions and give satisfying answers. It can activate and then support the activity it has evoked. The right music, perceptively used, can lift the handicapped child out of the confines of his pathology and place him on a plane of experience and response, where he is considerably free of intellectual or emotional dysfunction." (Nordoff/Robbins: Music in Special Education 1971 p. 238)

Lecture held at the 1st International Symposium Music Education and Music Therapy. In Guadalajara, Mexiko. Febraur 1999 by Shirley Salmon; Lecturer at the Orff Institute, University Mozarteum, Salzburg and Music and Movement Educator at the County Centre for hearing impaired children, Graz, Austria.

The Video examples and decriptions and references to these have been omitted for this publication.


P.Nordoff und Clive Robbins: Music in Special Education. 1971

Georg Feuser: The Relation between the View of the Human Being and Inclusive. Education - "There Are No Mentally Handicapped!" (HTML-Version)

Volker Schoenwiese: Children and Youths with Handicaps and their Parents - the Dynamics of Self-organization and Professional Forms of Help (HTML-Version)

Monika Aly: Attending To instead of Intervention - Milani´s and Pikler's Influence on the Therapy of handicapped children. 1997 (HTML-Version)

Chris Athey: Extending thought in young children - a parent-teacher partnership. Paul Chapman, London 1990

Gertrud Orff: The Orff Music Therapy. (English translation by Margaret Murray) Schott and Co. Ltd., London 1980

Gertrud Orff: Key Concepts in the Orff Music Therapy. (English translation by Jeremy Day and Shirley Salmon) Schott, London 1984

H. Petzold:Unfamiliarity, alienation and the ardent desire for bonds - anthropological reflections. in International Symposium Orff-Schulwerk "The inherent - the foreign - in Common. Documentation 1995. Salzburg

Werner Probst Instrumentalspiel mit Behinderten Schott, Mainz 1991

VBSM: Musik mit Behinderten an Musikschulen Verband Bayrische Sing- und Musikschulen (1999)

W. Keller: Ziele und Aufgaben des Instituts für Musikalische Sozial- und Heilpädagogik. in: Orff-Schulwerk Informationen 13, Salzburg 1974

W. Keller: Orff-Schulwerk in Musiktherapie und Heilpädagogik, in: Grundlagen der Musiktherapie und Musikpsychologie, hg. von G. Harrer, Stuttgart 1975/82

W. Keller: Elementares Musizieren von und mit Behinderten, in: Musik und Bildung 12/1984 Schott, Mainz

W. Keller: Musikalische Lebenshilfe - ausgewählte Berichte über sozial- und heilpädagogische Versuche mit dem Orff-Schulwerk, hg. von H. Regner und Klaus W. Oberborbeck, Main 1996

K. Schumacher: Musiktherapie mit autistischen Kindern. Stuttgart 1994

Fredi Saal: Behinderung = Selbstgelebte Normalitaet. Überlegungen eines Betroffenen. In: Miteinander, I/92, pg. 8. Linz

V. Sherbourne: Developmental Movement for Children. Mainstream, special needs and pre-school. Cambridge University Press, 1990


Shirley Salmon: Music for Everyone - the challenge of people with special needs

International Symposium: Guadalajara, Mexiko Feb. 1999. Music Education and Music Therapy.

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