Ella Polczyk-Przybyla, music therapist

Music is a universal language that breaks down barriers of culture, status and ability. Child directed speech, the way we all innately speak to babies, is inherently musical, primed to be received and responded to. Before we have mastered speech we understand music as a means of communication. This is communicative musicality, one of the fundamental principles on which music therapy is based. 

Veteran Kahungunu performer, Dame Hinewehi Mohi, discovered music therapy when her daughter, Hineraukatauri, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy, had a positive therapeutic experience overseas. On her return she made it her mission to deliver music therapy at home in Aotearoa, establishing Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust in 2004. Today they have centres in Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Northland, pairing Registered Music Therapists with those who can benefit from their methods.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, we are lucky to have the resources and expertise of Ella Polczyk-Przybyla, serving our community through music. You might recognise Ella from one of her many musical projects – she plays saxophone, clarinet and sings in a number of local groups, including Nie!, Deep Fried Funk, Soul Choir, Foxglove, and most recently Arahi’s Revelator band. 

Originally from the UK, Ella travelled the world, playing joyfully, exploring cultures, experiencing delivering music therapy across all kinds of borders. She settled in Hawke’s Bay in 2021 and is currently Raukatauri’s only therapist in the region. With demand skyrocketing, that is set to change with a second therapist and a music therapy Masters student in training about to join the team. Currently she works out of Tamatea High School, Havelock North, and Fairhaven School, but takes clients from a huge cross section of the community, currently between the ages of 3 and 62.

Ella and Raukatauri take a humanistic, client-centred approach to therapy. She establishes a relationship with her client, identifies challenges and goals and allows them to take the reigns. Every session is different, depending on the needs of the individual, but Ella supports each one to make music with her using a variety of instruments and technologies.

This is very different, in both its goals and practice, to music lessons. The measure of success is not a performance ready piece, although some clients do perform, but to use music as a tool to improve clients’ health and wellbeing. No musical ability is necessary on the part of the client to participate. The point is not the product but the process. 

Taking a holistic view, Ella sees boosting confidence and self-worth as a starting point from which all other positive outcomes grow. From here she can use music to tap into a whole host of challenges – physical, mental, developmental, emotional and social. Music is processed in a different, deeper part of the brain to speech and so music therapy can be successful in communicating with non-speaking clients. From autistic children to adults with dementia, those who are suffering from trauma, and the developmentally disabled, the scope for music therapy to help and to heal is broad and deep.

Clients find their way to Ella by many pathways. No professional referral is necessary, rather clients often arrive off their own bat, via word of mouth. Social workers, occupational therapists, teachers and Oranga Tamariki often refer clients to her, their confidence built by her past successes. Individuals, together with whanau or loved ones are welcomed to a free consultation in which they assess whether music therapy might be a fit for them. 

Raukatauri prides itself on never turning clients away because of an inability to pay. Whilst the actual cost of each half hour to forty minute music therapy session or review comes to over $140 to deliver, they realise that is not affordable for most families and so they ask parents and caregivers to contribute what they can afford on a sliding scale.

For those unable to make the minimum contribution they connect whanau with private trusts for additional funding. RMTC also operates a subsidy scheme under which whanau can pay as little as $6 per session.  Their Koha for Raukatauri programme allows donors to contribute monthly, and unlike many such charitable subscriptions, is a simple online tool that allows changes to be made in real time. The Changing Lives Through Music campaign solicits one off donations, and their website offers many other ways, both physical and financial, to lend a hand.

Next week is Music Therapy Week. From 14-20 November extra awareness is being brought to the curative power of music and the good things these therapists do.

This year’s theme reflects the growing popularity of music therapy and the lack of registered therapists to meet the need. Billed, Make the Change, Music Therapy New Zealand aims to develop interest in music therapy as a career path.

Presently in Aotearoa, there is one masters programme run by the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria that trains graduates of both health sciences and music to become music therapists. Once the 2-4 full time trimester course is complete, they must register with the professional body of which Raukatauri is a member.

For those, like Ella, who are compassionate, curious and caring, passionate about creative music making, and know how to think outside the box, music therapy could be the pathway to a fulfilling career filled with joy and music.

Photos: WhatisJusy, Jusy Davis


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