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 Music is a great teacher, especially for the young. It has the unwavering ability to tap into our emotions and reward us with understanding. While we listen, our bodies and minds awaken and absorb. Interestingly it is music from our youth that is remembered as we age. It is a lifelong educator, confidant and as music therapist Meredith Drinkell shares, a gift that connects families and children to each other and the world around them. 

Meredith Drinkell has a laid-back demeanour which is well suited to her role as a music therapist. She fluently shifts from talking to singing in a beat. Her voice hints at her bachelor of music in jazz with a flit of vibrato. It is one thing for her to dabble in music, playing gigs here and there, but Meredith has committed herself to using it as a tool to better the world, in only a way music can.   

Meredith believes that music is something we are inherently tied to, that it gives us something that we cannot source elsewhere.

“There is a reason why music is often considered the universal language – it transcends culture, race, sexuality, status etc.”

“Without music I don’t feel that we have another language or medium that is as inclusive or allows us to express all that we need to,” said Meredith.

For two years Meredith has been working for Sing&Grow which is a specialised music program, designed with purpose to help children and families connect and develop. Prior to that she has worked as a music therapist across the lifespan and in a variety of fields including aged care, mental health, community and disability work. While at Sing&Grow Meredith’s understanding of the importance of music in early childhood has deepened.

“Music is one of the only stimuli that assists all areas of child development and often simultaneously. It’s often very subtle, but very powerful. For example, when a child is dancing to songs by The Wiggles, they are developing their gross motor skills, self-expression and spatial awareness all at once; playing with percussion instruments assists in the development of fine motor skills and concept development.”

Meredith observes how incredibly powerful singing can be for the development of language and communication in young children- and the crucial building of a positive connection between parent and child.

The subtle tunes and melodies of music activate the deep circuits of the mind and body. As human beings, the simplicity and complexity of music, allows for creation, experimentation, enjoyment and emotion.

“It sets in motion the rest of a child’s life and their journey into adulthood and beyond,” said Meredith.

It also gifts us with the great capacity to remember. Music sinks into our memory in ways that are hard to identify or explain. Despite the many hours devoted to studying the meaning, rhyme and reason of this, researchers do not have certainty about how it lives in our mind- but we remember it, and dementia patients can remember it, when they remember little else. In that regard, it is a vital strand that connects young children with thoughts, ideas and establishes their long-term memory storage. The often-repetitive element of music helps children to extend their vocabulary, it helps their pronunciation skills and it helps them retain important information. It is powerful. Especially for those who may suffer from a lisp, a stutter or certain forms of autism. It is an outlet for these children. Australia musician Megan Washington sings beautifully but has long had a stutter. It was music that helped her to communicate and express herself so powerfully.

As Meredith explains: “Music can be very powerful for people who have learning difficulties. Particularly as it can assist in all five areas of development that are outlined by the AEDC. For example, for those children who experience challenges with speech and communication, music can be used to practice and discriminate between sounds, aid in the development of receptive and expressive speech and language skills, improve choice making, communicate information/knowledge and develop an understanding of patterns of language.”

These are some of the golden moments of Meredith’s work, watching the break throughs and being part of the positive change.

“I love seeing how sessions are able to provide a space in which parents and children can have fun and play together. This is the most important thing, as it impacts everything else for a child to have a healthy and happy life.”

And so it goes, for these children, life will not always be easy, nor will it be kind- but if they find music that speaks to them and soothes them, they will find something restorative- something that cannot always be said, but dreamt and philosophised.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” - Plato  

Article by Sinead Halliday

To learn more about Sing&Grow and music therapy visit http://singandgrow.org/

Meredith recommends the Sing&Grow CD: "It has lots of songs that are fantastic, with a combination of traditional children’s songs and others written by our music therapy team." Meredith also recommends the Sydney band Tiptoe Giants, and Kinderling Kids Radio.