“Living here? Not easy, not easy… sometimes I feel lonely… but music is a kind of therapy, I can break out my stress.“
– Richard Hong, a founding member of the Good Vibrations music therapy group.
When music therapist Sophie Buxton started to think about how she could help senior migrants settle into their community, she wasn’t alone. Kristi Shaw, a community coordinator with Albany House on Auckland’s North Shore, was also hatching a plan. And all it took to turn their ideas into reality was a serendipitous phone call.
“When I started my role, it was like you’ve got all these different cultures in such a diverse area what actually transcends the barrier of language and culture? And I was thinking music and food are big key elements that can transcend difference,” Kristi says.
“Then two days later I get a phone call out of the blue randomly from Sophie and she’s a music therapist looking to do work with new Kiwis and I’m like great, come on in and talk to me!”
Image: Music therapist Sophie Buxton and Mallika Krishnamurthy from the Grief Centre
The suburb of Albany is a diverse community with newcomers making up almost half the population. It falls under the Upper Harbour Board and according to 2013 Census statistics, over a quarter (29.4 percent) of the area’s resident population identify with an Asian ethnicity.
“It’s very easy to isolate yourself from a new community if you don’t know enough of the language to get out and meet new people,” says Sophie. “We wanted to reach out to those people and offer them a fun alternative.”
Good Vibrations meets for an hour and a half every Thursday afternoon during term time. The first of its kind in New Zealand, the group is funded through a grant from Auckland Council and negotiations are currently underway to secure more money. Over the past six months Sophie has taught the group’s members the words to simple folk songs from around the world. “We use songs from different nationalities and we try not to focus on one language too much. It enables you to focus on the sounds and not to worry about being perfect with the words.”
Sophie also teaches simple instrumental pieces and dance movements to remove the pressure of having to hold a conversation. And so comfortable has the group now become with each other, individual members are teaching others songs and dances from their own cultures, including Iran and Korea. “It just opens the doors, the music and the dance, and breaks down the barriers and makes it possible to connect without language and I think that’s special for a lot of people.”
From small beginnings, the group now has the interest of others keen to help migrants integrate themselves into their new community. Social work students from Albany’s Massey University Campus regularly come along to help translate and every week Mallika Krishnamurthy from the Grief Centre rolls up her sleeves, grabs an instrument, and joins the group. “We don’t just deal with bereavement, we deal with all kinds of losses that people face and we are very conscious that there are migrants who have had many losses in their lives,” Mallika says. “You’ve heard Richard talk about the loneliness that comes with migration…so it’s great to have music and movement as a way of expressing emotion…and allowing people to move through it.”
If you’d like further information about Good Vibrations, please call Albany House on 09 448 5363 or visit the Albany Community website.
Left: Parri Roshan Gohar teaching other class members the moves to an Iranian dance. Right: Park Wan Ok and Richard Hong get to grips with percussion instruments.