Amina Hussain is Principal Flute Player with Manchester Camerata and the orchestra’s newly appointed resident Music Therapist. Last week she won an award at the Association of British Orchestras for demonstrating the unique power of music to improve lives. She talks to Quays Life about the joyful unexpectedness of her role.
How did you first get involved with music therapy?
Amina: “I first saw music therapy in action when I started working on Music in Mind – Manchester Camerata’s music and dementia programme. I was a supporting musician then from the orchestra, and we always worked with a music therapist in the sessions. I loved the sense of freedom that came with improvising and I was witnessing pure, visceral joy in the people living with dementia as we all made music together. I was constantly curious over how things worked the way they did and eventually I realised that I wanted to apply to train to be a music therapist myself. I didn’t know if I’d even get through an audition process, but it was a now or never decision so I went for it. Amazingly, I got on a course and two years later I qualified with a Masters in Music Therapy through Nordoff-Robbins”.
What do you most enjoy about this work?
Amina: “It’s such a privilege to be with people who are living with their challenges every day and to share in that experience with them. I love the not knowing what’s coming next quality to music therapy sessions, as it’s all led by the participants. It can take you down musical directions you might not expect and you have to keep up!”
What does it mean to be the resident music therapist at Manchester Camerata? What does your role involve?
Amina: “It’s a really exciting moment in time to have created equal positions of music and healthcare through this role. It really demonstrates the high value that Manchester Camerata places on both aspects of how music actually serves people. The role involves me consulting on all things music therapy related and co-leading on the Music in Mind programme, of course, but also enabling other ideas for better practice and musical connections across the orchestra too”.
What would you most like people to know about the Music in Mind programme?
Amina: “Just how joyful it is! There is sometimes a bit of fear with the unknown, with feeling judged because of a diagnosis. But anyone who comes to Music in Mind who has felt this, has discovered that they can be themselves here and accepted regardless. It’s a real sanctuary to be amongst people who understand, alongside all of the music-making and buckets of tea (laughs).”
What does it mean to you to have just received an award from the Association of British Orchestras in recognition of this work?
Amina: “It’s amazing! I’m so proud to be part of creating change in what orchestras do and to have that recognised is the icing on the cake really”.
Can you tell us a bit about String of Hearts and how you use music therapy to reduce isolation?
Amina: “String of Hearts was set up with my incredible colleague and friend Lucy Geddes, in December 2019. We work in the local area of Trafford, Wythenshawe and Manchester where we live, with older adults who feel isolated for so many different reasons. Because we set up just before the pandemic, we quickly found we couldn’t run live music sessions and the majority of our participants are digitally excluded, so we set up a Telephone Music Hotline and did music over the phone – and over Zoom where we could manage it.
“The Music Hotline still runs today and helps us continue to reach people who are highly vulnerable and housebound. As the pandemic eased and we were able to go live again, we’ve found that our sessions have really helped people reintegrate back in to everyday life after a really traumatic period of isolation. And lots of our participants now, inform the direction String of Hearts goes in and ideas for future projects. We showcase the talents of our participants as much as we can, as we want to promote positivity in ageing, and they have talked and sung on radio and TV. They are all amazing people!”
How does your music therapy work relate to your orchestral work as Principal Flautist with Manchester Camerata? How do you manage the two musical identities?
Amina: “I find that the music therapy work brings me much more musical clarity and alertness on stage, everything feels much more technicolour as a result. And having been an orchestral player for 25 years now, all that technique and facility comes in so useful in therapy sessions when it comes to creating a sense of ease. Between the two roles, the challenges and rewards of each really balance the other out”.
What advice would you give to people who would like to learn more about working in music therapy?
Amina: “There’s lots of information and articles online about music therapy, what it’s about and where you can train. Lots of music therapists have websites with great information about how they work. It’s definitely worth doing some research of the different types of music therapy that exist too, as there are different approaches that may resonate more with your particular philosophies. You are also very welcome to get in touch with me too directly if you’d prefer an actual chat.”
How can people find out more about Music in Mind and String of Hearts?
Amina: “Our weekly dementia music cafes run at the Monastery in Gorton on Wednesdays and fortnightly on Mondays in Wigan at the Museum of Wigan Life. These are free to attend, drop in and for anybody who lives with dementia and their carers.
For further information in Music in Mind have a look at our website www.manchestercamerata.com For String of Hearts you can have a look at our website www.stringofhearts.co.uk