Rosie Axon playing a bongo

Rosie Axon

Alumni. Music Therapy.

After studying MA Music Therapy, Rosie Axon became Founder and Director at Chiltern Music Therapy, a not-for-profit organisation that provides music therapy to people of all ages across the UK.

What one thing inspired you to do what you do now?

The first music therapy job I had after graduating was at the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability, working with patients who had suffered catastrophic brain injury. One of the patients I was working with was a young man whose team and parents thought he might be beginning to emerge from his coma. I was asked to do a Music Therapy assessment to see if there were any changes in his responses from previous assessment sessions. I was next to his bedside as I began to play and sing, entraining (synchronizing) with his breathing rate and altering the auditory and musical stimuli.

As the session continued, I began to notice him moving his fingers in a different way. I held a small drum to his fingertips and let him explore the feel and sound of it, then placed it within reach of his fingers. I began to leave pauses in the music, telling him he could play the drum. I noticed his fingers moving again in the pauses, seeming to reach for the drum. In the next session, I noticed him again reaching for the drum and upon finding it and moving it, it made a sound and he smiled. We kept practising the same thing with other members of the team there and all agreed it was his first purposeful movement and that his consistent responses showed he was able to engage. We were all overjoyed and being able to show his parents the video from the session was a hugely emotional and memorable experience.

Over the coming months, I continued working with him and saw him truly begin to flourish. Emerging from his coma, he began to open his eyes, move his hands and feet and eventually vocalise too. The experience has always stayed with me and really inspired me to set up Chiltern Music Therapy. I felt that the impact that Music Therapy could have on an individual was underrepresented, and many people and families who could benefit, simply didn’t know it existed.

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your time at ARU?

That learning as a mature student can be such an enriching experience. To study a Masters after a very different career in the music industry was so rewarding and I really valued being around peers and professionals with such diverse and varied life experiences.

“Music Therapy really taught me to value my own experiences and supported me to become an independent and creative thinker.”

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

That no matter how different and varied your life and job experiences are throughout your earlier years, there is always a career out there that will make the best use of every experience you have had.

What are you working on now?

Along with my Co-Director, Rebecca Atkinson – also a graduate of ARU – we are transitioning Chiltern Music Therapy away from the traditional hierarchies of other companies, and into a self-managing organisation inspired by the Buurtzorg model. Much like my Masters at ARU, it’s a learning journey, but it is continually fascinating and empowering to see how things can work in very different ways than we expect. We currently have a team of over 50 Music Therapists and Community Musicians working across England, helping over 2,300 people each year with our youngest member being just 30 weeks gestational age and our oldest 98 years old. It’s a true privilege to work with people across the lifespan and certainly puts a lot of life’s usual worries into perspective. It’s a career I continue to feel passionately about over 10 years after graduating.

Where now