It is possible to read too much into a run of synchronous moments, making a series of coincidences out to become more than just that. But the following examples took me rather by surprise over the last few months. Could there be a link to working in the fluid medium of music where, as both musicians and therapists, our antennae are particularly open to apprehending such moments? The examples also seem to have a curious life of their own, a kind of internal logic, something again that we find so often in the music therapy process with our patients/clients working through similar patterns over time, their internal patterns synchronising with the external world of shared music-making. I would appreciate any of your ‘readings’ of the following. You may think they are all just pure coincidence or maybe there are other connections at work. So here goes…….
The first two examples occurred in the context of a summer music therapy school in Assisi. I was re-reading James Hillman’s essay (1972)On Psychological Creativity – as one does on hot Italian afternoons (!) – and thinking about some of the themes from his essay on the way to supper. It came as quite a shock that a colleague began at supper to talk about Hillman’s writings in relation to creativity and what he described as Hillman’s views on bellezza, a beautiful Italian word that I don’t think the simple translation of ‘beauty’ justifies. Our conversation led on to the English poet John Keats’s views on beauty and truth. We were also both aware, although we did not voice the connection, of the beautiful phrase by Keats "The Vale of Soul-Making" that Hillman uses at the head of this particular essay. His second opening quote is from Jung so on return home out came from the shelf his late writings on synchronicity.
Is this first example what Jung (2003, p. 144) describes as "a meaningful coincidence in time"... with the "coincidence of a certain psychic content with a corresponding objective process which is perceived to take place simultaneously"?
The second example from Assisi I feel was even more synchronous, occurring within a closer connected frame of time and space than the supper example. [Jung (2003, p. 134) in fact places causality and synchronicity on a horizontal axis of a cross-like shape with space and time on the vertical]. For a few years I have been leading groups on the theme: ‘D’alscolto ad suonare’ (From listening to playing’) using my Guided Imagery in Music (GIM) hat to move from some listening to articulating individual and group responses in improvised music-making or other artistic media such as drawing of mandalas. Nothing unfamiliar about this you might say. One morning I used the first track from one of Helen Bonny’s beginning programmes called Quiet Music. The group listened attentively, sitting in a relaxed position, to Debussy’s Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane. The large group then divided into smaller ones to explore ways of using their own music to articulate any common themes or images that emerged during the listening. During this process a member of one group began to improvise spontaneously on the old English folksong Greensleeves, singing the melody and working out the shape on various tuned percussion instruments. None of the group knew Bonny’s programme and that Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves ends this selection Quiet Music. I was quite startled when this group went on to play their own arrangement of this lovely melody as their musical response to the listening activity. Of course we then had to end that session with moving, playing and singing along to the VW version!
I am suggesting that these first two examples can be considered synchronous in
that internal events (in the first my thoughts on Hillman and in the second the
group listening activity) connect with later external events (in the first my
colleague’s comment and in the second the improvisation on Greensleeves). The
final example presents a different order of events but was no less startling.
During one afternoon’s practical music therapy teaching session in Bologna I was
searching for a way of helping a trainee therapist to be more aware of slow tempi
and silences when working with people who need a great deal of time and space
to form connections of any kind. We played out different ways of developing this
skill in practical musical terms. What intrigued us both the next morning were
lines from a poem by Rilke that I read out, lines which I came across in the next
section of the book I turned to the night after the teaching session. The lines from
a poem entitled The Man Watching use the imagery of the rest between notes
which seem, in the watcher’s eyes, to be held in tension or discord. Rilke (2002) talks of
a kind of reconciliation in the gap with the beautiful song then moving on.
One of the collective pleasures of music-making appears to be ways of being truly present in the moment. A single sound can, at one and the same time, be both a summary of previous expectations and a prediction of things to come. This seems close to Keats’s Vale of Soul-Making and to what Hillman, in the same essay as mentioned above, describes as a:-
‘method of amplification.’ ….. ‘By revolving around the matter under surveillance, one amplifies a problem exhaustively. This activity is like a prolonged meditation, or variations on a theme of music, or the patterns of dance or brush-strokes. … This permits levels of meaning in any problem to reveal themselves, and it corresponds to the way the soul itself presents its demands... (Hillman, 1972, note 24, p. 31).
Reflecting on this quote from Hillman, his reference to meditation, these apparent synchronous moments and the way that music can be both in and outside of normal time frames helped in choosing a passage to introduce one of the days of the last European GIM conference that we held recently in the UK. I wanted to find a short piece of text that referred to this feature of simultaneity in music. For a few years I have been inspired by the writings and recorded talks of the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue. I first encountered his writings when leading a residential weekend for music therapy students at the same centre where the GIM conference was being held, The Ammerdown Centre just south of Bath. In a section from his book Divine Beauty O’Donohue (2003, p. 63) writes:
Music arises from the realm of simultaneity. It takes us to a level where time becomes a circle. Here one thing does not follow another in a regular line of sequence.7
John O’Donohue continues describing that one of the strengths of music is this integration in the present moment now of all joys and sadness of the past being played out alongside what we not know will happen in the future. It is very much a non-linear process, as are what I am calling synchronous moments described above. O’Donohue (2003, p. 63) describes how music "plays out of this profound simultaneity." And later in the same passage: "Music draws us into transfigured time through the sonority of distilled feeling." 8
To follow the lines from Donohue I wanted to find some English music that
played out of this place of "profound simultaneity." The great English composer
Henry Purcell is not represented in the GIM repertoire as yet. Like Keats he also
died at an early age (Purcell, 36; Keats, 26). To end my introduction to
the particular day of that conference I decided to play Purcell’s Fantazia in five
parts ‘on one note.’ This piece was written for a friend who badly wanted to play
in a concerted piece for viols but could not in fact play. Purcell presented him
with this piece and invited him to play the single middle C throughout. Around it
Purcell weaves all manner of contrapuntal devices, ideas imitated in different
directions, fast and slow sections, use of chromatic harmonies, all demonstrating
a bravura range of compositional skill and all held together by this one note.
What an inspired music therapist Purcell was in allowing a friend to be part of a
larger and very beautiful musical whole. One can only imagine what pleasure he
must have felt. Benjamin Britten (another great English composer and amateur
violist) is reported to have said how much he enjoyed playing this same
sustained C, just as did Purcell’s friend.
We are all aware how time and space take on very different properties when
making music with people. We enter very much into the realms of the non-linear
where O’Donohue points we are more in touch with the circularity of time. We are
aware that such realms can also be described in transpersonal terms. Working
regularly in such spaces may, I am proposing, make us more sensitive
and aware of the possibility of synchronous moments. Rather than reduce such
moments to a causal line of coincidences are we able, perhaps, to be open
enough to explore other meanings?
The line quoted by Hillman is from a letter by John Keats to Keats’s younger brother and wife, George and Georgina Keats, dated February 14-May 3, 1819. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, page 712. W.W. Norton & Co. – 1962, 1968 and 1974.
Hillman, J. (1972) On Psychological Creativity. In The Myth of Analysis. Norhwestern University Press.
Jung, C.J. (1955/2003) Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle. East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.
O’ Donohue, J. (2003) Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. London: Bantam Press
Rilke, R. M. (1994/2002). The Man Watching (Robert Bly, Trans.). In David Whyte, The Heart Aroused. London: Spiro Press.
Bunt, Leslie (2006). On the Synchronous Moment and Simultaneity in Music. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colbunt091006