Nigel Osborne in Ukraine – blog 2


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Nigel Osborne in Ukraine – blog 2

Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Edinburgh, Nigel Osborne, MBE, has been working in Ukraine since last Autumn. All those who have been his pupils, sung his sublime music, worked with him in the Summer Music Camps for children in the Western Balkans, explored the use of music and technology for disability, know his immense skills and knowledge in working with children who have suffered trauma from war, both during and after. Nigel is now sharing these skills in Ukraine, training students, doctors, psychologists and musicians, lecturing as well as working on the ground in children’s shelters and hospitals. This year his 75th birthday will be celebrated around the world.

Opera Circus has been privileged to work with Nigel since 2003, commissioning two operas, producing concerts of his music, working with him delivering some of the human aid work in wider Europe, the UK and India as well as developing music projects for mental health and well being for primary schools and others.

Nigel now works in Ukraine for 2 – 3 weeks every month. We managed to raise some funding to help him and his team with travel, accommodation and food and will do so again over the next couple of months.

With Nigel we are partnering with Kings College London and Ukrainian academics and artists in creating a network of collaborators who are researching the importance of Art in War, from multiple angles. More news on this soon.

Nigel has written this blog from Ukraine with detailed information as to how the training is developing there.

I have worked directly with approximately 500 of the most traumatised children in Ukraine. In university courses I have trained 30 students hands-on in community arts interventions and raised consciousness and increased understanding of these methods among roughly 50 auditors (including both first and second semester) in three major universities in Lviv and Kharkiv.
I have contributed to in-service training of approximately 100 professional psychologists and psychotherapists and some psychiatrists in Lviv and in universities in Cherkasy and Kropyvnytskyi. In theory, if the work has been of use, it has reached a further approximately 5000 children
If the intervention in schools is able to go ahead (and so far, so good), it will reach every child in Ukraine.
Nigel in Ukranie

The Old Year

Some time has passed since I last reported on work in Ukraine. And at the same time, the war has unfolded in some worrying ways. After a social atmosphere of cautious optimism, following Ukraine’s military successes in the summer and early autumn, winter was very hard and challenged morale in an otherwise resilient people.

It was not a harsh winter by Ukrainian standards, but the attacks on power installations and constant power cuts meant for most Ukrainians bitter cold and long, dark days, with poor or non-existent electronic communications. The constant air raid alarms became tediously repetitive and numbing; it was not really a question of fear, but more of emotional saturation, as productive days were halted or spoiled by the nagging wailing of sirens. The alarms sound whenever aircraft take off in Belarus or Russia heading in the direction of Ukraine. It seems that this is manipulated by Ukraine’s enemies. Some of this aerial activity is clearly “crying wolf”. It is a win-win for the aggressors: people are worn down by the alarms but are now frequently ignoring them – which makes them sitting ducks for whenever the wolf strikes. And no alarm can come early enough to warn people effectively about hypersonic rockets. Recently in Kharkiv I narrowly escaped the effects of smaller rockets fired from nearby Russian positions – once again, too near and too fast for any effective warning.

It seems to me that the war is moving into a “Syrian” phase. In Syria, Assad and Putin successfully terrorised civilian populations, with little or no reaction from the West. Ukraine is different, the Russians do not have the control of the air to deliver cluster or incendiary bombs, the West has taken some action and Ukraine has strongly supportive neighbours, like Poland, who will not let them down. Nevertheless, the emphasis of missile and drone activity now seems to be on targeting civilians.

The winter was a very hard time for children. It was when the two-thirds of children under 15 driven from their homes in Eastern Ukraine had either to adapt to cold seasons of refugee life abroad, or if orphaned or separated from their families, to find homes in shelters like the ones we look after in Lviv and Kharkiv. It was also the time when a quarter of children in Ukraine had to adjust to life without one or more of their parents; another quarter of Ukrainian children had to come to terms with the traumas of having directly experienced shelling or bombing and the human consequences. It was the time when the deeper traumas in many children began to surface.

I continued my work throughout the winter and spring, visiting every month for two to three weeks. I still made the surreally normal journey from the many shades of grey of Edinburgh to the crayon colours of Kraków waiting for the “speedy boarders” on my Ryanair flights, wondering if there will still be speedy boarders on the last plane to Armageddon. The train from Kraków to the Polish border town of Przemyśl is also a surreal normality. Commuters to Bochnia or Tarnów complain, with the impatience of Western privilege, about delays as if this were an ordinary train, and not a train bound for the frontier of a potential World War Three.

All of this changes when the train arrives in Przemyśl. In the darkness and swirling mists of black late autumn and winter nights, this evocative little border town becomes the stalking ground of ghosts of war. There are refugees huddled in waiting rooms, volunteers from aid agencies in yellow or light blue gilets, wandering spirits silhouetted in the gloom, and the usual Polish Latin script platform signs are pasted over with Ukrainian Cyrillic. I stay in a “last-chance-saloon”-of-a hotel, where journalists, aid workers, arms dealers and the hangers-on of a war gather. There is a grizzly lineage of such places – the Commodore in Beirut, the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. I avoid conversations.

On frosty winter mornings I would join the queue for the train to Lviv. This is the only line with the right gauge for a train to be able to enter Poland from Ukraine. It means that much diplomatic, defense and security traffic must use it too, so there can be significant delays to passenger services. Although the real border is 13 km to the East, beyond Medyka, passengers pass through the Polish border at the entrance to the platform, a small doorway at the back of the station marked innocently in Cyrillic, as if a note on the parish notice board, or a secret portal in a sci-fi novel, “train to Ukraine”.

There can be long queues in the ice along the walkways. There are probably now as many people re-entering Ukraine as leaving. It is a very modern migration. People wear sensible travel clothes – fashionable anoraks, jeans, leggings and wooly hats. Nearly everyone has a smart rucksack, as if commuting to work in the Edinburgh New Town or the City of London, and most have big suitcases on wheels.

The Ukrainian border guards usually board at the real frontier and stamp passports on the train. They are mostly glamorous, fierce-looking young women in army fatigues. Considering it is the frontier for a major war, it is all relatively informal.

Many-cultured and architecturally biodiverse Lviv has become a “home from home” for me. I enjoy walking the cobblestones through a city of so many histories and know that if am ever feeling “down” (which is very rarely), I can always cheer myself up with “Mrs Szymborska’s” strogonov, and a glass of red wine at the Vienna Coffee House – the heritage of Austro-Hungarian times.

At Christmas, I completed teaching my semester-long course in Music and Creative arts in the Community for students at the Lviv Ukrainian Catholic University and the Kharkiv Arts University. It was designed to introduce students to elements of practice in Music in the Community useful in the current situation in Ukraine, and to present and explain recent developments in the biological, psychological and social sciences that help us to understand, navigate and develop the work.

1.The Caravaggio effect Art, mind and body. Bio-psycho-social model overview 2. Janusz, Friedl and the Colonias infantiles Music, creative arts and trauma overview 3. The shadow of Indra Music, creative arts and the autonomic nervous system 4. Eros and Psyche Music, creative arts and the limbic system 5. The Gautama Buddha a) Music, creative arts and psychobiology b) in the community 6. Tesla’s egg Music, creative arts and electrical brain activity 7. Shiva’s drum Music, creative arts, breathing and movement 8. The Titan of wisdom Music and cognitive psychology 9. Hestia’s flame Music, creative arts and psychosocial/biosocial interventions 10. Einstein’s violin – music, creative arts and thought 11. Renoir’s umbrella Music, creative arts and wellbeing 12. The return of Robert Fludd a) Music, creative arts and medicine b) Music and health technologies
20 students participated fully enrolled and a further approximately 40 as auditors
I continued to supervise the students on placement in children’s shelters in Lviv, and in hospitals, shelters and recently-liberated villages in the Kharkiv region. All agreed we should make a film of the children’s songs and include mobile phone clips we had recorded during the process. I invited students and young artists from Lviv, Kharkiv, Uzhgorod and Cherkasy to make professional arrangements of some of the children’s songs to complement the children’s own performances. The reason for this was to demonstrate to the children that their creativity was “valued”, could naturally enter the space of art, and have a profound effect on other people. It is part of a process of building self-belief, self-respect and self-confidence, as well as offering children “reward” and a powerful way of expressing themselves and communicating. This became a film dedicated to the Ukrainian New Year, culminating in the well-known Shchedryk song. I guess we worked with around 200 of Ukraine’s most vulnerable children.

I also continued offering courses for professional psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. I completed a four-part course in Lviv, based on some of my own peer-reviewed and published articles and books – to make the course both personal (as requested) and as scientifically accountable as possible.

I was invited to present similar “Continuing Professional; Development” courses in Cherkasy and Kropyvnytskyi, and this has led to a number of new initiatives, including work with severely wounded as well as traumatised soldiers. I believe that in total in the region of around 100 professionals were involved in these training sessions.

The New Year

The new year marked the beginning of a new phase, a sort of “Phase 2” in the project. As far as the universities were concerned, my first semester courses were now done and dusted. From now on I would depend for work with children on those students who wished to carry on voluntarily. Fortunately, of the 20 students fully enrolled on the main part of the course (we had a further 40 registered auditors), 10 elected to continue as volunteers, which gave us two viable teams – one in Lviv, one in Kharkiv. Others would have joined us, indeed most of the cohort, if their second semester courses had allowed

Also the Lviv National University invited me to offer a course of lectures in second semester, along the lines of the first semester course. The idea was to offer a Music and Creative Arts in the Community course but with more of a focus simply on music. A very special and useful aspect of the National University course was that it was attended by a mixture of students and staff. And the staff also became willing participants in the placement work with children. This made a team of a further 20 highly-skilled people, with the opportunity to work towards more ambitious musical creativity.

It is neither practical nor ethical to ask young people to give ongoing open-ended voluntary commitments to this demanding work, particularly amid the uncertainties of war. So I decided to organise Phase 2 as a series of short projects that volunteers could sign up to, one at a time, knowing precisely when the beginning and end points would be and precisely how much time and commitment would be involved. Another attraction of a project-based approach was that their end points could be linked to performances. In work with children’s mental health, particularly in times of conflict, performance has special value. This is not only because of the issues of reward, self-belief and expression described above, but also as a channel for more focussed creativity and as a stimulus for important issues of motivation.

The Phase 1 – Phase 2 cycle could begin again, with a new intake of students in semester 1 of academic year 2023-24

There still remained the question of what “themes” the projects would have. It was important that there should be a consistent flow of therapeutic intervention. By a happy serendipity, just before Christmas, I had dinner with Viktor Ruban, an extraordinary Ukrainian Renaissance man, former go-go and ballroom dancer, turned contemporary dance choreographer, scientist and scholar, and an expert on somatic, dance and performance practises as well as movement based arts and therapies. We were talking about how children were processing the experience of the war, and Viktor told a story of how he had been at the post office in Lviv the day before. The post office was empty, but then a lady with a small boy arrived. Opposite the door there was a table covered by a cloth. The little boy ran to the table, looked underneath, ran back and said, “Mummy it’s all right! There are no monsters here!”

This triggered a conversation about monsters, good and bad, how young children in Ukraine were trying to understand the war in terms of monsters, and sometimes believed they could protect their parents from these monsters (which of course they all deal with regularly on their phones). This is how the Monster Opera idea was born.

Monster Operas

Returning to Kharkiv in the new year I was delighted with the progress my students had made. Working independently in Kharkiv Hospital number 16, Veronika, Lena, Daniil, Tigran, Mikolay, Taisya and Asya had established an intimate and trusting creative relationship with the children, in this case mostly adolescents.

My visionary colleague Julia Nikolaevska, Professor in the University of Arts Faculty of Music, joined Veronika, Lena, Daniil, Tigran, Mikolay and myself in the hospital for the first Monster Opera workshop. The project is of course aimed at younger children, but our creative group responded with humour and irony. The first monster, created by the girls – was an elf (a girl) with “rayyduzhnym volosyam – iridescent hair – long fingernails and red lipstick; she drinks cocktails and appears on instagram” – a “cool” monster – a monster the girls might themselves secretly want to be. The melody the children composed is beautiful and wistful – in a dreamy Mixolydian scale, more common in Western European folk music than in Ukraine. The melody reminded me of my mentor, Ewan MacColl’s song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.

The youngest boy in the group invented a monster called Shtein. He is a “pale monster. He scares dogs and cats; he is angry and gloomy and no one wants to be his friend”. Is this the mirror of how he sees himself? He is very pale, probably because of his haematological challenges. But if this is the case, then it is not necessarily so very discouraging. The melody is upliftingly gutsy and resilient, in a defiant E Aeolian modulating to bright G Ionian and back. The boy relished singing it with gusto.

Another young boy, maybe 9 years old, strayed into the group. He was very physically active, so we encouraged him to show us the rhythms of his monster through movement. He crouched down, making himself small, then somehow managed to move very quickly on tiptoe. Lena, who is a composer, musician and ballet dancer, assumed the same crouching position with her violin, and succeeded somehow in following him at lightening speed “on point”. This extraordinary event produced words, a rhythm and a tune: Li-li-li-li Li-li-li-li Lii-li-put Li-li-put – EEEBEEEBEEE EEE. The word is a Ukrainian language tribute to Jonathan Swift, meaning a Lilliputian, or little person, who, according to the song,“hides in dark corners”.

On another visit to the hospital the children composed Skelit u shafi – Skeleton in the Cupboard. The figure of speech has roughly the same resonance in Ukrainian as in English. We experimented with different approaches to harmony. Daniil, who like Lena is a gifted composer, suggested sliding diminished chords and the children immediately abandoned all other choices, and enthusiastically signed up to the harmony of Hammer Horror: “The skeleton in the cupboard talks a lot; he knows interesting secrets and spreads them around. He plays the guitar, but no one cares”. The song evolved into a kind of parable – if you gossip and betray trust, then no one wants to listen when you have something worthwhile to communicate.

We also started work on the Monster Opera in shelters for children from recently occupied villages in the wider Kharkiv region. The comorbidity between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has only recently been recognised in the scientific literature. It is manifest among the village children and indeed among many of the children we work with in the shelters. It presents projects such as ours with a dilemma. Some of the most valuable things we can do for children require calm and concentration. In Ukraine, this is not difficult to achieve: children are brought up to accept adult authority, and with the right words and appropriate tone of voice, order can be restored. On the other hand these children need to have a space to “let go”. Psychotherapist Dr Anastasiia Shyroka and I have often discussed this. In the words of psychotherapist Merriam Saunders: “punishing a child with ADHD for difficult behaviours is ineffective and counterproductive because they don’t have the luxuries of regulating their emotions and behaviours like a neurotypical child would”. The solution we have agreed upon, which we consider suitable for the Ukrainian context, is that we give the children a lot of safe space to express themselves, and use the music itself as the “discipline”, as the focus for children’s activities, and as a channel for their impulses.

Working along the lines of these principles we composed a monster song as a highly activated group improvisation, beginning close to the children’s level of arousal and energy, then moderating it as the session unfolded. This was mostly successful and our improvisations produced a monster polyphony

Grrr Grrr Grrr Grrr GRANNY! GRANNY!
Creeper POW! Creeper POW!

The Kharkiv opera (Monster Opera 3) will be performed on 10th June.



Colleagues at the Lviv National University, where I have been running a second semester course on Music and Creative Arts in the Community, proposed that for student placements we should work with the children of soldiers. The university has a club and care group for the children of members of academic and administrative staff who have either volunteered or been conscripted for military service. One of the paradoxes of hi-tech modern warfare is that knowledge and skills cultivated in ivory towers are at a premium in a more-real-than-real world. Most of the children have not seen their fathers, and in some cases mothers, for more than a year.

The Dean of Arts, Maya Harbuzyuk, was very keen on the Monster Opera idea. I knew that the Faculty had a distinguished history of Shakespeare scholarship, so I proposed working with Shakespeare’s monsters. Given the limited time, I thought it would be helpful to present the children with a narrative template they could elaborate and adapt for themselves. I suggested A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with monsters in an enchanted forest (Ukraine), and The Tempest for monsters by the sea (The Black Sea). As an aggressive Shakespearean monster who invades this paradise I suggested Colbrand the Giant, the Danish warrior mentioned in Henry VIII and King John. By coincidence I live in what may be the historical Colbrand’s village – Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders, originally Colbrand’s Path. I may even live in his house – my cottage is built on the precise site of a Viking longhouse.
I had initially proposed Caliban as the rightful inhabitant and defender of the land, but Shakespearean scholarship in Lviv does not favour post-colonial interpretations, so we agreed that Prospero should be the protector – the children also preferred to have a wizard as their friendly monster rather than the idea of a half-man half-fish.

With the children we decided there would be two monsters – one good, one bad, Prospero and Colbrand – giant puppets that the children would design and help build themselves. There would be three operatic roles – Oberon the King, Titania the Queen and Puck the elf, performed by university students – a chorus of children and placement volunteers, two Ukrainian traditional musicians from the university and piano and percussion.

In our workshops, the children quickly subverted the story. The opera begins with the King singing about the enchanted forest: “A great, enchanted forest, beautiful music, the unicorn and crocodile are playing and the birds are singing”. When the King and Queen quarrel, the children insisted it was because the King wanted to go to the forest and the Queen wanted to buy new shoes instead. They composed a rather catchy “He will….he won’t; she will….she won’t” duet.
In the Shakespeare play, the King plays a trick on the Queen. In the children’s version, the Queen is angry about the shoes and tells Puck to play a trick on the King. Puck agrees to steal the King’s beloved army and spirits them away to the mountains. This proves to be an unfortunate trick as the giant Colbrand suddenly appears on stage threatening mayhem and claiming the forest and the sea as his own. The plot unfolds with Puck agreeing to bring the army back and Prospero defeating Colbrand in a Monster battle.

There is another duet between the King and Queen – this time “He will….she will”, where the Queen agrees to go to the forest to celebrate, and the King offers to buy her new shoes – dancing shoes, of course!. Then there is a celebration of “victory” – a word very important to Ukrainians just now, and can be heard with regularity on radios and street corners – peremoha

We performed the Monster Opera number 1 on 9th May in a beautiful, recently refurbished theatre on Fredro Street. There was a large and enthusiastic audience, the show was introduced by Maya and the Rector of the University, and I saw the children’s mothers and carers smile and laugh for the first time. I was very grateful to Kateryna Kostenko, who doubles up as both professional pop singer and lecturer in musicology (only in Ukraine!), who really galvanised the musical performance, and to Olena Litovchenko, choreographer, for leading the movement and drama. Olena was some years ago a top-flight ballerina, but had a severe injury that put an end to her career. She step by step found her way into community dance and movement as a choreographer and animateur, realising that she could put her knowledge and skills to very constructive purpose, and be just as creative as she ever was in a ballet company. In the Monster Opera she danced on stage again for the first time,

The work in the Levandivska shelter continued in Phase 2 with two projects; a Monster Opera, and Lesya’s Travels which I will describe below.
I have always considered this shelter and shelters like it to be high priority. Early in the war, Levandivska took in many children from Mariupol, Zaporizhia, Kherson and Bakhmut as well as children orphaned or made homeless in occupied territories in Eastern Ukraine. Up to half of the children I worked with in the autumn are still there. I encourage donors to assist these shelters. Any help is de facto strategically targeted – towards support for the most damaged and deprived population of children in Ukraine. I am very happy that Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA), of which I am a proud member, has donated a very smart vehicle (valued around £22K) with a portable office and wheelchair lift to the Ukrainian NGO Little Wins, which services 30 shelters around Lviv. EDA will deliver supplies for the children. The charity has also donated a hardy vehicle, capable of reaching the frontline villages, to colleagues in Kharkiv – both vehicles were sourced by the remarkable David Hamilton, former Chairman of the Scottish Police Federation. I have to say I am very happy with the synergy between our work with children and the larger humanitarian picture. For the kind people who have donated to our therapeutic work, it is a significant, and I hope welcome, added value.

Anastasiia (our psychotherapy lead) and I were very happy with the Monster Opera sessions in the shelters. One little girl, who is very bright, but overwhelmingly hyperactive, managed to multitask in sessions combining moderately disruptive behaviour with flashes of sharp focus and creative brilliance. Anastasiia and I felt the sessions were achieving the balance we had been working for – of release and creativity, and excitement and calm – emotional, cognitive, motor, autonomic and endocrine journeys capable of helping the children to regulate the effects of trauma on their minds and bodies, and to flourish and grow.

The origins of the second project go back to a number of serendipities and to the Croatian island of Brjiuni, off the coast of Istria. where I work as “house composer” for Ulysses Theatre. Lenka Udovički, artistic director of the theatre has close links to Ukraine, This led last summer to a “retreat” for Ukrainian women artists on the island – men of course can only travel abroad with special permission from the army. During the course of the retreat, various artistic exchanges were planned. For one of these exchanges, Lenka was invited to direct a production at Lesi Theatre in Lviv. I was very happy that Lenka wanted to work with her “house composer” who was of course, serendipitously, part-based in Lviv anyway. Lenka and I chose to base the production on the poems, plays and letters of Lesya Ukrainka, an early Ukrainian modernist, proto-feminist, poet of courage and resilience, and author of a “symbolism” based on passion and visceral sensation. Lesya suffered from tuberculosis of the bone, which put an end to her life as a pianist and invaded her whole body, riddling it with extreme pain that forced her to travel the world in search of warmth and dryness. With the children, we agreed we would base a project on Lesya’s Travels – to C…….*, San Remo, Kutaisi and Cairo.

By coincidence some of the children in our group are displaced from the Black Sea coast and its hinterland. We began writing songs about the Black Sea. One boy, maybe 11 years old, recalled happier days, travelling with his family from Zaporizhia down the Dnipro to the Black Sea: “Black Sea, Black Sea, Sea, Sea, Sea, Sea. We all go down to the Black Sea, Sea, Sea. We came here as a family….. to rest and swim in the Black Sea, Sea. You in the sea, me in the sea – we all go down to the Black Sea, Sea”. A little girl, maybe 8 years old said she would also like to write a song about her home near the Black Sea. She returned the next session with extraordinary lyrics, that seemed to me unlikely to be the work of such a young child. But it was clearly in her own hand, and the care staff reassured me she had done it unaided: Chorno more, chorno more, place more, stovle more, sumne more, heiyahei!. “Black Sea, Black Sea, the sea is crying, the sea is sad, the sea is cold. Heyahey!” She nikole chorno more ne lutilo tak vid gorya – a to bulo vorozhi korabli “Never before has the Black Sea roared with such grief – and those were enemy ships. Heyahey!”.

We continued following Lesya’s journeys to San Remo. The children decided to make fun of what little Italian they knew: Mama mia pizza, Mama mia pizza, Mama mia pizza, parliamo Italiano, then Mama mia pasta… and Mama macaroni….not the kind of cultural stereotyping we would necessarily want to encourage among young children – but it led to interesting discussions about the Italian language and how we make Italian food. For Georgia and Egypt we showed the children pictures and videos. The children came up with a simple refrain – Hori, hori, richka “Mountains, mountains, river” which we intercut with a Georgian song in the same rhythm – Tarnanina, nina O”, For Egypt, there were “Egyptian people, a donkey, buildings. People ride on camels. There are palm trees – it is a warm land – high palms, green palms – all grow in Egypt”.

Luckily Lenka was able to find time in a very tight schedule to come to work with the children. She suggested a physical theatre approach, using the group and the same untearable white fabric as she was using in the Lesya Ukrainka production to make trains, boats and aeroplanes, the sea, deserts, rivers and mountains. The children premiered Lesya’s travels at a psychotherapy conference in the main hall of the Sheptytski building at the Ukrainian Catholic University. Its second performance will take place in Lesi Theatre, together with Monster Opera 2, on 1st June – International Children’s Day

The camps

I have also started working in children’s camps. In January I was in Irshava in trans-Carpathia, and in March in Slavske in the Carpathian Mountains The great usefulness of these camps is that the organisers bring children from brutalised areas for respite and therapeutic activities in a beautiful and peaceful environment. The Slavske camp was organised by Art Therapy Force and Art Dot, the NGOs to which I am most closely connected in Ukraine. It was of modest size, with 50 or so participants. I was impressed by the combination of professionalism and a light touch in organisation. In their creative work, the children chose to channel their feelings, thoughts and hopes through the nature surrounding them: “in the Carpathian mountains and forests, we make camp, we search for mushrooms, and light a fire to warm our hands” or “Mysterious nature, from East to West. The birds sing, in the language they choose. Magical air fills our lungs, and we feel we are alive again.” The camp ended in a way we sometimes forget can happen – the whole group bonded as a big, loving family. It was the first time most of the children had experienced bonding of that kind. I am still receiving emails from the older children – to which of course I always reply.

The Irshava camp was much bigger – almost like a small city, with over 200 children. But by keeping going non-stop, I was able to work regularly with everyone in groups of around 15 children. To bring these children directly from places like Bakhmut and Kherson region, we had driven buses into the mouth of hell and back. Some of the songs the children composed were deeply moving tributes to home and identity: “Kherson, the red sea*, the desert, green fields, green fields, green fields, kavun** The river Dnipro flows to the Black Sea, the Black Sea, the Black Sea flows to the Black Sea. And we, Kherson’s people are proud and happy. We love our land. We love our land”.

A group from the killing fields of Bakhmut wanted to write a tribute to Ukraine’s soldiers: “Our soldiers are always with us, are always with us, are always with us. You risk your lives to help us, to help us. to help us. We have a song for you. Let the trenches ring with its sound, to uplift the soldiers’ spirits, and help bring victory”. A very intelligent and thoughtful looking girl, maybe 17 years old came to whisper in my ear. “I would like to add – and grind the enemy to mincemeat”***. I told her she had every right to add these words. But I asked her to think about it first – was it how she, clearly a person of humanity and dignity, would really behave? And would she wish the Ukrainian army to sink to the level of its enemies? A song is forever.
She came back to my workshop the next day and said she did not wish to add the words. Our recording of the song was sent by colleagues to soldiers on the from line, and became a “hit” in the trenches,

*This is Syvash Lake, coloured pink by microalgae and crystalline salt deposits ** Kavun is local slang for a “water melon” also slang for a person from Kherson.*** Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s Little Chef, and head of the Wagner Corps, a Putin-aligned private army, has described Bakhmut as a “meat grinder” – sadly the term has caught on on both sides.

Future plans

There are clear plans for September, when a new Phase 1 will begin, with lectures in the Ukrainian Catholic University, in Lviv National University and in the Kharkiv University of the Arts. These lectures will run in parallel with placements in shelters, hospitals, frontier villages, children’s care groups and, we hope, in schools too. The lectures will follow on from this year’s courses relating musical and creative arts community interventions to psychotherapy, psychiatry, trauma informed care and education. At the same time, exploration of the biological, psychological and social mode will continue. The lectures are also intended to be a springboard for interventions in schools.

Prometheus Unbound Supporting children’s mental health through music and creative arts

Cupid and Psyche Music, creative arts and psychotherapy

Atma and Maya Music, creative arts and psychotherapy in education

Vienna.Zurich.Constance Music, creative arts and psychiatry

The man who mistook his wife for a hat Music, creative arts and psychiatry in education

Cadmus and Harmonia Music, creative arts and Trauma informed care

Ares and Aphrodite Music, creative arts and Trauma Informed Care in education

Vishnu and Kali A bio-psychosocial model for trauma informed care; music and the creative arts

The body keeps the score A biological model for music and creative arts in education

On becoming a person A psychological model for music and creative arts in education

Ganesh and Lakshmi A social model for music and creative arts in education

Aristotle’s friendly monsters Eudaimonia

There is a global crisis in children’s mental health. One of the reasons is the aftermath of the Covid epidemic. On average, during the pandemic, 50-60% of children in the UK showed symptoms related to trauma. This picture was replicated internationally, including in Ukraine.

The pandemic was then followed by war.

Support services internationally are failing to cope with this accumulation of mental health problems. In the UK, for example, there are a quarter of a million children in need of mental health care that health services have been unable to support. In Ukraine, mental health-related services are under severe pressure.

Creative arts provide many ways of addressing trauma and other mental health challenges. There is an army of potential practitioners among artists and arts educators that could offer significant support to health services.

Children’s schools would be a good place to start. There are teachers of music and art in most Ukrainian schools, and in some, theatre and dance are also taught.

The proposal is to offer a training to creative arts teachers in how to use their skills to support children’s mental health needs. We are not asking the teachers to do anything new. We are asking them to do what they always do, but with an awareness of how they can help children.

If this can be achieved, Ukraine will be in a position to lead a global movement.

The CPD presentations to psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists will continue, but a strong emphasis will be placed on education and on in-service training for teachers. This will begin in Kropyvnytskyi in June, where I have permission for the Ministry of Education to begin training with teachers in Central Ukraine,
My commitment in Ukraine is to work with children, but if I can be of use to soldiers who are severely wounded or have been diagnosed with PTSD, and I am happy to offer what I can. I cannot write any details about the work. But I have already agreed with the soldiers and doctors that this is an investigation and development that will be guided by them. The experience I have to offer is working with child soldiers in East Africa and some work with ex-combatants in the United States – with Oliver Sacks’ Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and various independent practitioners. In general the United States military is more open to arts interventions for trauma than the UK. Ukraine seems to be more open than both.
Finally with Art Therapy Force we are preparing some possible music-medicine interventions for epilepsy, anxiety and sleep disorders to complement work with trauma. This will be important. It will be the chance to demonstrate a new model for creative arts intervention, stretching in a continuum from arts therapies to arts medicine.
•C…..this is a region in the East of Ukraine which we couldn’t name due to the US financial controls and censorship over UK crowdfunding companies. They are trying to address this.


1. The Human Nature of Culture and Education

Trevarthen, C.; Gratier, M.; Osborne, N. (2014). The human nature of culture and education. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. 5 (2): 173–192. doi:10.1002/wcs.1276. ISSN 1939-5078. (Hoboken, New Jersey, USA). Osborne, N. (2017) Handbook of Musical Identities – The identities of Sevda from Graeco- Arabic medicine to music therapy Editors: MacDonald, Hargreaves and Miell. ISBN 9780199679485. Oxford University Press. (Oxford, UK and New York, USA) 722-735

This presentation begins with an examination of the origins of music and art in human development, from the earliest human societies to the present day, and how art may change human beings and help them deal with challenges in their lives. It goes on to describe a specific instance of the use of music to support children who are victims of war.

2. Music for Children in Zones of Conflict and Post-conflict

Osborne, N.(2009) ‘Music for children in zones of conflict and postconflict: a psychobiological approach. In Communicative Musicality’. Editors: S. Malloch & C. Trevarthen. Oxford University Press ISSN 0077-8923. (Oxford, UK and New York, USA) 331-356 Osborne, N. ( 2012). ‘Neuroscience and real world practice: music as a therapeutic resource for children in zones of conflict’ Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Neurosciences and Music. New York Academy of Sciences (New York, USA) 69-76

In this presentation we examine in detail how music and art may support children traumatised by war, including therapeutic approaches to hearing and listening, the autonomic nervous system, the heart, breathing, movement, the basal metabolism and the emotions. We go on to examine broader psychological and social considerations.

3. Love, Rhythm and Chronobiology

Osborne, N. (2009) Towards a Chronobiology of Musical Rhythm in Communicative Musicality Editors: S. Malloch & C. Trevarthen. ISSN 0077-8923. Oxford University Press (Oxford, UK and New York, USA) 545-564

Osborne, N. ( 2017) Love, Rhythm and Chronobiology in Rhythms of Relating in Children’s Therapies – ‘Connecting Creatively with Vulnerable Children’. Editors: Daniel and Trevarthen. ISBN 9781784502843. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (London, UK and Philadelphia, USA) 1-19
Here we look at issues of music, art and time – how music may relate to frequencies of the body, to ”the window of rhythm”, to the connection to bodily movement and the embodiment of rhythm, and how these connections may support therapeutic musical activity for children who are victims of conflict. The presentation also also considers broader issues of chronobiology and trauma,

4. The Psychobiologist who taught musicians how to sing

Osborne, N. (2020) Imagination, Intersubjectivity, and a musical therapeutic process The Cambridge Handbook of the Imagination ed. Anna Abraham Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK) 635-656 Osborne, N, (2022, in preparation) The Psychobiologist who taught musicians how to sing in Rhythm, Sympathy and Human Being, Oxford University Press. (Oxford, UK and New York, USA)
Colwyn Trevarthen was engaged in split-brain research with Nobel Prizewinner Roger Sperry at Caltech, trailblazing work with Jerome Bruner pioneer of cognitive psychology at Harvard, and has taken a leading role in revolutionising the sciences of child development during his years in Edinburgh. This presentation considers his work in “communicative musicality” and traces the profound effect this theory has had on the use of creative arts in therapeutic work with trauma,