Tapping the healing power of music for all

Mr Swingler conducting a train-the-trainers programme as Mrs Carmee Lim (foreground, wearing a blue scarf), operates a wireless switch to make music with the Soundbeam set.
Mr Swingler conducting a train-the-trainers programme as Mrs Carmee Lim (foreground, wearing a blue scarf), operates a wireless switch to make music with the Soundbeam set.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Soundbeam can be used by those with physical disabilities to translate movement into music

The therapeutic power of music has been documented widely in academic research. But not everyone can play an instrument and enjoy making music.

Enter the Soundbeam: a system which uses sensors that detect movement and translate it into music, allowing even those with learning or physical disabilities to create a tune just by moving a finger.

Soundbeam equipment consists of wireless switches, a controller and sensor beams, and comes with pre-loaded musical pieces that allow a user to make improvisations, and explore a range of genres such as blues or classical music.

First produced in the late 1980s, the technology has since been adopted by more than 5,000 centres all over the world, such as eldercare homes and children's hospices, in countries such as Canada, Russia and China.

Mr Tim Swingler, director of The Soundbeam Project, the British organisation which has been developing the Soundbeam for educational use, said there is no "incorrect" way to play the Soundbeam. It is designed such that any movement will produce a harmonious musical sound.

"Traditional music therapy doesn't involve the client in an especially critical role in the music that is happening... but Soundbeam can give that expressive and creative freedom to the client," he added, noting that while most people tend to get "tense" about moving freely to music, many groups with Down syndrome that he has worked with in the past tend to "fly with it".

Having completed a series of pilot programmes that reached out to more than 100 beneficiaries over the past two years, Singapore social enterprise I'm Soul Inc - the first to bring the Soundbeam here for therapeutic purposes in 2014 - is looking to extend its reach this year.

I'm Soul Inc is the exclusive distributor of Soundbeam in Singapore and one set costs between $5,000 and $9,000.

I'm Soul Inc chief executive Michelle Lee said: "For children with learning challenges, every day spent waiting will delay their development further.

"We want to augment the services of therapists by providing means to access music at home with their families beyond passive listening."

I'm Soul Inc introduced a new corporate social responsibility programme this year that will allow firms invested in deeper engagement with charities to come on board, and work with it to conduct music programmes.

There will also be a public forum on Saturday on the therapeutic power of music.

Mr Swingler, former Raffles Girls' School principal Carmee Lim, and Mr David Chiem, chairman and group chief executive of education firm MindChamps, will be speaking. Mr Swingler will also be conducting a Soundbeam workshop.

Ms Neo Siew Hiong, general manager of Parkinson Society Singa- pore, said the programme that I'm Soul Inc conducted last month for seven people was beneficial.

"They were happy to have been involved in the process of creating music," she said.

•To sign up for the forum and workshop on Saturday, go to bit.ly/UTPMFSG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Tapping the healing power of music for all'. Print Edition | Subscribe