As a music therapist I have often had the opportunity to observe in my clinical practice the importance of knowing, respecting, and employing the kind of music that belong to the patients’ cultural roots. This aspect has been stressed by music therapists/authors from different countries, since the first books on music therapy were written till the present time. Among these we can quote: Gaston, 1968; Benenzon, 1985, 1988; Millecco, L. A., 1977; Leinig, 1977; Barcellos, 1992, 2004; Millecco, R. 1997; Bruscia, 2000; Brown, 2002; Wigram, Pedersen and Bonde, 2002. They all consider the employment of this kind of music extremely relevant to the development of the therapeutical process.
Some of these authors refer to patients in general while others refer only to geriatric patients. But there are some who focuses their studies with all kind of patients on a cultural approach (Ruud, 1998 e Stige, 2002). There seems to be a consensus on this issue as other authors who do not consider cultural roots a relevant aspect, make it very clear through their treatment reports the importance of using music connected with the patients´ background culture.
As a teacher and therefore responsible for the formative influences in the development process of new music therapists, I consider it important that students live and learn from experiences whenever possible, some aspects of therapy that will be present in his/her later professional life, instead of learning on a purely theoretical basis. Thus, it is our task to offer them experiences like feeling ‘the way how' music which springs from cultural roots can be used to unleash the students' own resources.
As a human being I have always remained alert to detect the "why" and "wherefore" that kind of music can set into motion those inner contents. Recently, when I had a chance to visit my home town, in the southernmost area of Brazil, close to the border with Uruguay, I could confirm the importance of these statements. I was an adolescent when I left that region so I have lived a much longer period in Rio de Janeiro than I lived in the town where I was born.
The fact that Brazil is a country of continental extension determines that this nation does not own a single type of popular music, as it is often thought of abroad. Internationally, the samba rhythm seems to be the most characteristic kind of music in the country, due to the fact that Rio de Janeiro is its best-known city to foreigners. Actually, this is the gengre of music most heard and most sung in this city, either performed by their Escolas de Samba [Samba Schools] or in the Rodas de Samba (a circle of about 200 people who sing sambas from either famous or new composers); in a word, this is the ever-present kind of music throughout the life of the cariocas, the name dubbed on Rio de Janeiro dwellers. However, the five most important regions in the country have each their own particular gengrers of music.
Though I have been immersed in the samba culture for a long time, I must confess that this is not the gengre of music that lies at the center of my sonorous/musical identity.
To render this issue the clearest, we must begin by settling that there are very great differences between the two mentioned regions: my borderland town in the southernmost reaches of Brazil, among large plains and broad extensions of grassland fields, whose main activity still is cattle breeding, and Rio de Janeiro, with its swashbuckling natural landscapes of sea, mountains, and forests.
However, these differences are not limited to geography or to main economic activities. We must also highlight the links that exist between my town and the neighboring country, as refer to language, a blending of Portuguese and Spanish that is nicknamed Portunhol [Portspanish], to cuisine habits, to the way of dressing, to the weather itself – a climate much colder than that of Rio de Janeiro – and, finally, to the music, which could not help but being strongly influenced by that of its neighbors. Even acknowledging all those changes that are being introduced nowadays by television networks, which to a degree have allowed for the ingress of usages and gengres of music from the farthest regions of Brazil, my generation and the former ones still have listened to and danced the Spanish-sung tangos and boleros, the most often performed musical gengers in the radio broadcasting stations to which we had access during the period in which I lived in the frontier land. Therefore I acknowledge that surely it is the tango that most moves and mobilizes me and I understand perfectly the reasons why this genger of music shaped the center of my sonorous.
Recently I could substantiate once more, by means of a practical real-life experience, the relevance of observing cultural aspects while working with a patient. A person very close to myself, fairly aged and completely lucid, with whom I shared the cultural roots, was placed under the care of a hospital in Rio de Janeiro. I considered important for her to be tended by a music therapist who was acquainted with her cultural background but who was not aware of her musical preferences. It was a particular emergency situation so the music therapist was called upon urgently to take care of the patient being the circumstances such that would not afford leeway for a previous interview. Therefore, I stayed in the hospital room and kept suggesting to the therapist the singing of meaningful tunes that belonged to the patient's long lifetime. Being both a violin player and a lyrical singer, she also shared with me the characteristic of coming "from the same frontier" one day I left myself.
Slowly, I kept mentioning the tunes I knew to be of the patient's preference, all the while she herself began to choose the songs that she wanted to sing. It was a rather long session, about one and a half hour, all along with the patient in her hospital bed. I could observe that she immediately accompanied the music therapist, singing, chanting, most of the time only humming the tune without spelling the lyrics of those songs. All the same, the lyrics of tangos and boleros were the only ones kept intact in her memory and they were sung entirely in Spanish, a language that is not spoken in Brazil. Broad gesturing followed the performance of same tunes and it was quite perceptible the satisfaction experienced throughout that period of activity, though the patient had not sung those songs for a very long time, nor had she any other recent contact with them. It was like if a jewel box had been opened and that from it slowly were being taken out necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, all set with precious stones. And how very precious they were!...
According to the Brazilian music therapist Wrobel,
Reminiscences are always mingled with the elderly life stories. They usually bring to the music therapy sessions the songs that belong to different stages of their existences. Melodies, rhythms and lyrics are fixed on their musical memories and some of these songs are eternal, uniting past and present times. For instance, marchinhas, (Brazilian march style Carnival songs) were very popular in the forties and fifties of the last century, and are still sung not only by older adults but by the younger generations as well. Their words, funny and satirical, describe the social customs and behavior of that period in big towns and the patients enjoy very much singing them. I consider marchinhas similar to ballads, tangos and boleros, the kind of music that make the patients feel alive and maybe eternal while they sing and recall their memories. We, music therapists, when working with the elderly, must be up to date with these eternal songs because it is a repertoire that never dies.
The employment of such tunes that belong to the cultural identity of the elderly, particular of those dwelling far away from their native grounds allows most of the time the possibility of the religare of such people with situations from their past and the reconstitution of important events connected to their life stories.
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