8 Sep 2017

Music used to treat post-traumatic stress in Christchurch

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 8 September 2017

Music is being used to help Christchurch children suffering from the psychological effects of the earthquakes.

New research shows four out of five children in the city are experiencing some form of post-traumatic stress.

The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra was keen to help and this week teamed up with Banks Ave School.

It introduced the kids to the magic of music, culminating in a concert involving the whole school.

Lucy Prattley learned all about staying in time and how to get the best out of their giant plastic drums as members of the orchestra took them through their paces.

"The drummer guy, he said to turn the drumsticks up the other way so it makes it louder... you just tap on the side and then in the middle and out the other sides as well, it makes different noises, [it's] pretty cool."

Each classroom was allocated an instrument or was instructed on how to make their own.

Some were using their voices or their hands to make music while others were learning the power of song.

Pippa Archibold said with just a week to perfect their routines ahead of the big concert, handling their nerves was all important.

"My stepmum told me this morning that everybody's going to be really nervous and to just pretend no one is in the audience, pretend no none's there and you're doing it all alone, because I'm quite scared and I get stage fright."

At a school that sits on the edge of the residential red zone, you don't have to look far to find reminders of the carnage caused by the quakes.

A violinist with the orchestra and the head of its community engagement programme, Cathy Irons, said music was a great way to restore confidence in the kids, many of whom come from families still struggling to get back on their feet emotionally and financially.

"Initially when we first come they might be a little bit tearful, they might be a little bit scared of what's going to happen, a little bit tentative.

"By the end they're really trying hard and they're relating to other children, they're relating to us and not only that but they're sharing their music with their parents, with the audience, with their community."

Earlier in the week, the school received a visit from the Canterbury University researcher, Kathleen Liberty, who discovered just how many Christchurch children were showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

School principal, Toni Burnside, said Ms Liberty was impressed with the difference the orchestra had helped to make to the children's behaviour in just a week.

Post-traumatic-stress manifested itself in a number of ways, she said.

"You get children who aren't sleeping and we have a lot of really tired children, you get children who aren't eating... you get a lot of attachment disorders, where children don't want to be away from their parents and are really weepy, we have toileting issues."

Ms Burnside said a lack of support from the Ministry of Education meant schools like hers had to tackle those issues by themselves, or with the help of neighbouring schools.