TOKYO – Kyoko Wada discovered music therapy while undergoing treatment for osteoarthritis, and decided to make it her life’s work. She now helps people young and old find joy and improve their behavior through the power of music.
“Let’s play together!” Wada, 37, gives her directions with a smile, and participants start singing while playing various percussion instruments, such as drums and wind chimes. The song is “Hamabe no Uta,” a song associated with summer.
Wada’s job is to calm elderly people, physically disabled people or children who have development disorders, and bring out their hidden talents. More than 100 kinds of musical instruments are used in her therapy, including drums and bells. She selects instruments based on participants’ ages, symptoms and how many members there are in a session.
If people sing songs that bring back memories, their brains are stimulated. If they perform as part of an ensemble, their social nature will be nurtured. Therapists need a wide knowledge across fields such as psychology, medicine and social welfare when selecting songs and planning methods for playing.
Wada has been especially fond of music since she was a child. After graduating from the literature department of a private university in Tokyo, she was active as a singer-songwriter. However, due to osteoarthritis of the hips suffered since her school days, she became disabled in both of her legs in her 20s.
While struggling with it for about five years, and having five operations, she heard about music therapy. Wada had long felt music has the power to change people’s minds and behavior, and decided music therapy is what she wanted to do.
At the age of 31, she entered the Toho College of Music. After four years there, she obtained certification as a music therapist from the Japanese Music Therapy Association and started work as a music therapist at a nursing home and several other places.
She rejoices not only when people suffering from dementia express themselves, saying things like, “I want to play drums,” but also when paralyzed elderly people with few words strive to play a musical instrument.
“I’m encouraged by their satisfied expressions when they finish their performances,” Wada said.