The brilliant charity I worked for, Music as Therapy International, wanted to capture my 17 years of working with them. Here’s the interview!
Taking a look at Jane Robbie’s 17 years working for Music as Therapy International – the experiences, the changes – and what the future has to bring for her and the charity (with special thanks to our Ambassador, Kate Robinson for capturing this story)
Jane has worked for Music as Therapy for seventeen years. She started off as a part time administrator, working with Alexia Quin in her parents’ house in Stockwell, home to the charity before it moved to its current offices. Her role developed into Project Co-ordinator and subsequently Project Manager. Latterly it was focused on how to build support for the Local Partners so she became Support & Development Manager. She was given a great deal of freedom and autonomy in her role. “What I loved about Music as Therapy is that Alexia really gave you the scope to be able to look at what you enjoy doing, what you were good at and then helped you to develop as the charity developed,” she says.
The charity has changed hugely over the time Jane has been involved. When she first started in 2000 all the projects were focused in Romania and they were delivering one or two six-week skill sharing projects a year in different care settings. By the time she left, the charity was working in an array of different countries such as India, Georgia, Rwanda and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as working towards an equal split between international and UK work. Jane comments on the success the charity has had internationally and how it is making inroads now back in the UK. “We have all learned such a lot from our approach overseas,” she says. “And in looking at what can be transferrable to the UK, we can see that the model works here, too.”
“Working with Music as Therapy has given me a real sense of what you can do when you have a very strong leader with a clear vision.”
Music as Therapy, with Alexia Quin leading the team, has had a large impact on Jane’s life. “Working with Music as Therapy has given me a real sense of what you can do when you have a very strong leader with a clear vision. Alexia invites the team to collaborate and listens to our ideas, so it has given me a strong sense of self-esteem and made me feel a lot more empowered than I’ve felt in any other job.”
To her this is very similar to how a music therapist works with a child – observing, listening, using the music to form communication – to empower that child. She believes this is what gives the charity integrity – listening to what people need and responding accordingly. “It is about being able to develop people’s capacity, listening to them and responding appropriately and then learning how to sustain that,” she says.
She adds that following projects up is where the charity really succeeds. “You are delivering a project and then you are continually supporting those people. It is not about what we can do now, but about what our Local Partners can do in the long-term. They take ownership, so our direct involvement decreases as their independence grows.”
This is not without its difficulties in third world countries that may not have the resources to sustain programmes. In Romania there were a lot of changes when it was accepted into the EU, including many institution closures. However, it was clear to the charity’s Local Partners that Music as Therapy International was a constant support throughout all of those changes. “That support is so important in a country that is still in flux,” she says.
Jane remembers the point at which she properly understood the purpose of the charity and the results of its work. When she first started, there was a project in Techirghiol, Romania in a large psychiatric institution for adults, with a mix of differing issues from alcohol problems to acute psychiatric needs. On the fifth floor there were people with such acute needs they were never allowed off that floor. The music therapists were told they could not go up there but they knew the fifth floor had the greatest need for help. Jane returned on a follow-up visit six months later and the whole culture of the place had changed. “The residents they were working with in the communal area were carrying instruments up to the fifth floor patients on this rickety staircase – like a fire escape on the outside – so the people who were bedridden were able to take part in the music sessions. And some of those people who they thought were beyond integration were joining in the communal open groups,” she says. “That is when I realised Music as Therapy had created this bridge between the ‘hidden’ fifth-floor patients and the rest.”
“People who work at Music as Therapy become very invested in it because their opinions are valued.”
Jane was fortunate during her time at Music as Therapy International to see projects from the starting point of identifying need to the point of completion. This was followed by continual liaison with the Local Partners, some of whom they have been in touch with for the last 17 years. According to her, there are many factors that set Music as Therapy International apart from other charities, such as this strong track record of being able to sustain and support Local Partners and empower them, resulting in strong loyalty.
In addition to Local Partners there are steering groups – those in each country who advise what is needed next – and the Advisory Panel of music therapists who help inform about the bigger picture. “I think the charity is brilliant at communication. It is a very people-centred organisation. People who work at Music as Therapy become very invested in it because their opinions are valued,” she says.
The charity’s open source policy provides a platform to discuss different ideas, and there is a real longevity, which sets them apart. All of this is done without any fanfare. As Jane says, “There is not much ego with Alexia. Everyone just wants to work collaboratively towards a shared vision. A lot of thought goes in to the recruitment process to make sure the right person comes on board.” The trust placed in Jane and the autonomy to be her own boss have been simple but effective tools at keeping her loyal to the charity for so long.
“I can imagine being connected as long as I live!”
Jane is staying on as a Trustee to Music as Therapy International, but simultaneously moving into other ventures. She has started running a small lifestyle business called Jane’s Place, renting out a room in her home for different events workshops, supper clubs and yoga classes; an alternative AirBnB. “It was such a hard decision to leave my role at Music as Therapy,” she admits. “I want to run my own business but I am still passionate about it and cannot let go completely, so I became a Trustee. I can imagine being connected as long as I live!” Some of what Jane has seen over the years has been very difficult to process, but she feels fortunate to have had those experiences and she remains fiercely loyal to the charity. “Music as Therapy is Alexia’s baby but I consider it my niece! Even if the charity grows and develops – as we respond to the need that is out there – I have no doubts we will be able to maintain our ethos. We have done it so well for so many years; it won’t be diluted.”