Clive Robbins obituary

Educationist and pioneer of music therapy for children with disabilities.

Together with the American composer and pianist Paul Nordoff, the British educationist Clive Robbins, who has died aged 84, founded the Nordoff Robbins approach to what they called “creative music therapy”. During their 16-year partnership, they demonstrated music’s capacity for reaching many developmentally and multiply disabled children. They did this by developing improvisation strategies to enable the children to become more communicative, socially aware, expressive and emotionally balanced.

The pair met in 1958, when Nordoff visited the Sunfield children’s home in Stourbridge, West Midlands, where Clive was working. At the time, Sunfield saw itself as a “curative educational community” following the principles of imagination and creativity promoted by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. They set about their experimental musical work with the children there, many of them profoundly disabled, in 1959-60. Appealing melodies, rhythms and harmonies were tailored to each child, who could respond through playing a side drum and cymbal; the sessions were recorded and transcribed. Clive’s contribution lay in setting a direction for his partner’s musicianship, documenting the work and finding a language for communicating their ideas to other professionals.

After touring and lecturing across Europe and America, they were given a five-year research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health in the US. They then became lecturing fellows of the American-Scandinavian Foundation (1967-74), developing training techniques for musicians, publishing and taking part in television documentaries. Nordoff Robbins centres and training programmes were established in Britain, Germany, the US and Australia, and individual therapists worked round the world.