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Garage band sessions a hit as music therapy

They’re big fans of the late Bob Marley but it doesn’t stop at that for disability service users Nigel, Anaru and Barney – they also have a regular jam session in a double garage on the outskirts of town.

Every Friday the trio belt out reggae numbers like ‘No Woman No Cry’ with a bit of back-up from Raglan musos Dave Ward-Smith and Tom McCormick.

Barney’s the lead singer, Anaru’s on drums and Nigel’s back-up vocalist cum bongo drummer, and each week they’re learning something new about rhythm and songwriting to add to their new-found musical skills.

But while they’re having fun this is also music therapy at work – or neurogenesis as Dave calls it, referring to the growth and development of neurons in the brain.

“Look at them all fizzing,” enthuses their caregiver as the three budding musicians take a break from their two to three-hour session.

No-one needs tell either Tom or Dave the benefits of music to the brain.

As well as having an interest in sound production and organising “heaps” of gigs in Raglan, Tom’s a psyche nurse who’s seen the “brilliant” effects of music therapy through his work at the Henry Bennett Centre at Waikato Hospital.

For his part Dave’s had personal experience of music helping him “come back” to normality after a serious hang-gliding accident in Wainui Reserve eight years ago. “I was nearly dead,” he admits without exaggeration.

Describing himself as a “brain-damaged osteopath” who’s gotten a lot better, he reckons he healed with the help of a guitar brought to him in hospital by a friend.

He re-learned to write music, and is convinced it helped him recover emotionally too. “I re-wired the brain,” says Dave, who’s now committed to helping others with similar disabilities. He’s researched the science of brain damage and has had success, he adds, using hypnotherapy to help repair people’s “broken” brains.

Now Dave’s delving into the music therapy side of things which he hopes will encourage Nigel, Anaru and Barney to “push the limits”. Research shows it has certain positive effects on neuropsychiatric disorders.

Meantime the three are having a ball learning about timing and rhythm, Dave says. One of the three has drummed a bit before, another’s had a guitar and that’s about it. But they can already write some lyrics of their own.

Dave explains that while speech comes from the left side of the brain, music is “multi-sided” meaning it can help make the “connectedness” of brain neurons.

The work may take time and patience but Dave reckons he gets way more out of it than what he puts in – “for example, a hug from these guys”.

He’s spurred on in his endeavours by some success in teaching a deaf woman and a Down’s syndrome girl – both locals – to drum. “It’s good for their intellect and it’s good for their soul,” he says.

E Symes

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