There are those who are the storytellers and then those who are the storyhearers. The people I work with are the storytellers and I am the storyhearer. I hear their story and I listen to how they tell it.
The act of storytelling is a central part of who we are. Stories help make sense of our world and our place in it and we define ourselves by a story within time. We create stories; verbally, oral and written, and non-verbally, through movement/dance, visual symbols and signs/visual arts, and sound making/music. Where there is life, in any form, there is communication. But only humans tell stories.
And what is that story?
“The Best I Can Be”
The Social Worker met with me the day before I met D. and her two younger siblings, to fill me in with their case history. The three children witnessed a violent crime perpetrated by their father against their mother. D., the oldest at the age of 12 was fighting to keep her younger siblings, 8 and 5, together, to not let the system separate them. The Social Worker told me that the two younger ones did not do anything or say anything without their older sister’s approval. And so the Social Worker said that it will be very challenging for me to work with the children individually but that is what they needed, individual therapy. The Social Worker was referred to me because I was trained in Music Therapy. “The kids are not talking.”
The next day they came to my clinic; three beautiful, silent children. They seemed to cling to each other. I spoke to the three of them together. I described the different things we would be doing and showed them the instruments and the selection of CDs. The youngest tentatively moved towards an instrument, stopped, looked at the older sister, who nodded to go ahead, and began exploring. The middle child slowly joined the youngest. D. did not move, looked at me and said, “They’re children, if you want to go ahead and do music with them it’s OK with me. I’ll come but I won’t be doing anything.” Her expression defied me to say anything different. I thanked her and said that I look forward to meeting with them again.
The sessions with the two younger children progressed naturally; they had opportunities to explore sound making, improvising, moving, listening and engaging with me and the music. Over time they expressed a range of emotions and risked showing their fears and trusting the therapeutic environment and me.
D was another story. I let her know that she can use the time in any way she wanted. She chose to bring schoolwork and did it at one of the tables in the room. I worked at the other table in the room. The structure was that I got to speak with her when she came in and before she left. I tried to engage her in exploring the different styles of music I had available in the CD collection. She was not interested. I asked her at the end of each session to bring whatever music she liked to listen to her sessions. At the end of the 5th session, D. turned to me and said, “The music I like, you wouldn’t let me bring here.” “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s Rap”, she answered. I said to her that since this is her time, I would listen to any music that she wanted to bring. She said nothing and left.
Session 6, D. arrives without school work and shows me her CD. I played it and we listened. She said nothing about the music until session 8 when I “played dumb” and asked her questions about rap and the musicians. Exasperated, she finally gave in and began to “teach” me. She had never been so animated. The next session I told her that if she is interested, I can show her how to write her own rap, words and music. Her face lit up. “What do I do first?” I told her to first write whatever she wanted and then we would choose things like the sounds she wanted to go with the words, the beat, and she could even direct me to play certain instruments while she sang the rap and so on. She sat at the table where she had been doing her school work during the first sessions and did not move until she finished writing; 52 minutes. When she finished, she turned over the paper and asked me not to look at it until she came back for her next session. I respected her wishes.
The next session I asked her to read her Rap to me. From a very quiet voice I heard the following: (An exact copy of her original writing.)
My name is —– D.
The best I can be
A fashion like mines
There simply can’t be
I’m not competing
But if I feel like defeating
I’ll mash you up
Now let me tell you something, I’m not a stuck up
The true story about me has never been told
And it all starts off with the “Dubbing Mode”
Just hand me the microphone
And leave me alone
There’s something I want to tell
So everybody better listen well.
Everybody out there say it’s not right
To have a young girl who is ready to fight
Well I’m not so young
So hold your tongue
I might be small, but I was taught well
To have respect, manners and never dwell
Upon the past
For the past is something that just won’t last
It’s not so hard
I played my cards and I played it right!
People look at me and say “she’s out of sight”
But of course, I know I am that’s why I’m
singing this song
To let you know that I am strong
They say an attitude like this won’t last long
Wait and see cause I know you’re wrong
I’m a winner not a loser
Accept me for who I am or be a refuser
It’s no loss to me cause I am fine
I don’t need people to bring me down when I’m
having a good time
O.K. so what do you think
Or do I have to write it out with paper and ink
Just take a look Little confidence is all it took
The things people say or think won’t bring me down
Cause I just look at them skin up my face and frown
I’m the one with the fashion and fame
Too bad for you if it’s not the same
It won’t be easy
But I kept myself busy
And where I am is where I’m at
This is not a miracle but a supernatural fact
D. went on to choose the electronic keyboard with the different percussive sounds and a variety of drums. She chose the beat, composed the rhythmic patterns, and told me what to play, when, and how to play the various instruments. After a few rehearsals, the rap got recorded. She shared her rap with the Social Worker and became an active member of her support team. After a few sessions helping D. and her siblings prepare for court and for the possibility of seeing their father, we had our last session to close and say good-bye. On their way out, D. put her arms around her younger siblings, looked up at me and said, “We’re going to be alright.”
*Not her real name. Details changed to protect her identity