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Inspirem Music Therapy HK
  • Writer's pictureEsther Wong

Blog #7 Challenges working as a freelance music therapist in Hong Kong

It’s been 3months since I came back to HK and work as a music therapist. Hong Kong is actually a place full of possibilities, I’ve been really blessed to be able to plugged straight into the field, connect with many local music therapists and able to find work as a music therapist during this time.

Challenges lie in every corner of this journey for me, there’s a steep learning curve and I am still climbing this invisible mountain every single day.

To be a very successful freelance music therapist, one has to become much more than a musician and a therapist….including becoming a translator, a weight lifter (to have enough strength to lift the 28inch suitcase filled with musical instruments up the staircase to the 4th floor of a school) , a business woman with enough marketing skills, an accountant, an IT specialist, a graphic designer (to design any promotional materials), a counsellor (verbal skills are essence in working with children’s parents and adults), a Cantonese song writer (this is really an extra challenge…the shape of the melody needs to match the tone of the Cantonese language).

Despite all these great challenges, it is such a fulfilling job to see how music can so easily touch, restore, inspire, transform and bring joy to someone’s life.

Today’s session was a great illustration as a typical day for me as a music therapist here in Hong Kong: I was super excited to start a new music therapy group in a primary school, with 8 children aiming to improve social communication skills. Dragging a 28inch suitcase full of instruments onto the HK MTR underground, the lift seems to be far away so I lifted my suitcase down two floors in order to change to the correct Central line…people seems to be curious on those Boomwhackers that are sticking out of my suitcase.

I got out of the MTR, suddenly realized that this school is actually up the hill, I gasped at the sight of a series of steep staircase leading from one street to the other…once I’m on top catching my breath, a long uphill path welcoming me to the entrance of the school (all my hiking experiences have now come into good use...).

8 children welcomed me into the classroom, it is a seemingly impossible task to remember Chinese names that consist of three words including surname, middle name and last name (there’s no short cut to names!). 3x8 children, I have to remember 24 names in total (compared to 8 if it’s in English). I do have the name list on my hands….but my Chinese was bad enough that I can’t even read some of the words. So one of the children genuinely said to me “Miss Wong, seems like you can’t read this word X (he emphasis the pronunciation) in my name!”, another child was getting so tired of my mis-pronunication of his name, “Miss Wong, why are you keep on saying the wrong name, it’s not me…..” He refused to tell me his name, and I didn’t know how to pronounce it by looking at the name list…..I can see he was getting grumpy at me towards the end of the sessions, so I tried so hard to rescue our relationship by asking the social worker at the end of the session, chased after this little boy to say goodbye with his proper name, his face brightened up again before he left. The magic moment came when we started playing together in one of the activity. I was improvising on the guitar with simple chord progression, the children were given percussion instruments to play along with me. No verbal instructions needed, they were following the rhythm, the pulse, the intensity…and then I suddenly stop the music for a few seconds, all eyes were on me wondering what happened, then I restart again and stop randomly at times. I saw the children’s facial expression transformed from the initial shock, gradually to tremendous joy and enjoyment. Particularly for a little boy who was really shy throughout the whole session, didn’t want to talk to anyone or to me at the beginning suddenly started giggling, laughing and enthusiastically playing the shaker on his hand anticipating the sudden starts and stops. It’s such an interesting phenomenon for children to enjoy the silence within the music. I supposed it’s almost like a musical peekabo, the anticipation of something disappearing and appearing out of nowhere again. The excitement and joy seems to come from not knowing, suspension, interruption, irregularity, unstability, tension and release. Aren’t these qualities that lead to a child’s excitement precisely the things that an adult is fearful of and constantly avoid?

Then I offered the chance for someone else to be the leader, to my great surprise, another boy who was also very shy who even refused to try any instruments and hid behind the back of the table during the first half of the session suddenly and enthusiastically put his hands up to nominate himself as the leader of the group.

This is the power of music. Powerful enough to draw someone out of their usual patterns of relating and inspire them to attempt something totally out of their comfort zone.

I left the school, dragging the suitcase down the steep hill and onto a cramped bus, unconsciously smiling at the replayed session in my head full of giggling faces.

The path of becoming a successful music therapist here in HK is not easy, it is a journey of constant learning, equipping, preparing and transforming myself. It is like climbing a mountain that I can't really tell how long it would take to get to the top, the resistance are high and one must have strong will and strong belief in the transformative power of music in order to move forward in this journey.

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