A few weeks ago a new group of students began their three-year process of training in music therapy as members of the new MA in Music Therapy at the University of the West of England. It seems that at the start of each new course the amount of written material handed out is very much on the increase. The students become weighed down with the various university and course handbooks and regulations. During the first meeting of this course I found myself resisting adding to the amount of written material and not handing out the book list for the first part of the course.
For many years I have always liked to start the training with a non-residential weekend, giving space and time for the members of each new group to meet each other and start to gel as a group. We make a lot of music, exchange information on our present work, begin to explore personal and musical backgrounds and generally begin to get to know each other, a process important for trainees and colleagues alike. We look at video footage of a range of clinical work, begin to explore ways of observing sessions and introduce the group to some of the history of music therapy. We have space to enjoy quite relaxed breaks and a chance to visit a local restaurant to eat together. Essentially we try and create a balance of informal and more formal meetings.
As a way for the members of the group to introduce each other early on the Saturday morning I began by picking up two instruments from the music store—a pair of Tibetan hand cymbals and a rainstick. It then took over an hour for fourteen people to select in turn one of these instruments, play one, make some associations if they so wished and to say a few phrases about themselves. There was a great deal of quiet reflection, lovely gaps between sounds and a palpable sense of a lowering of anxiety as we each connected to the sounds. As music therapists we might have expected this to happen. I would not like to guess how many times I have facilitated such an opening circle and obviously each has been so uniquely different. What surprised me this time was that after we had all played I did not launch into my customary attempt to underpin such a process with talk about individual timbres linking to personal identities, Ken Bruscia's notion of intrapersonal and intra musical processes or whatever. Most people had chosen to play the rainstick and in the quiet space at the end of the round I was reminded of the first poem called "The Rain Stick" from Seamus Heaney's 1996 collection of poems The Spirt Level. Reading this poem seemed more relevant than any other words after the experience. Although Sarah Hoskyns and I paid for permission to quote from this poem in The Handbook of Music Therapy (2002, p. 195) I do not want to risk any infringement of copyright and so offer here a meagre paraphrase of the beginning and end of the poem.
Just by turning the rain stick upside down produces for you a kind of music that is unexpected as a listening experience. Does it matter that the music that is made is only the rush of dry seeds falling through a cactus plant? It is as if we enter heaven via the ear of a drop of rain. Let's listen again.
It's rather a lovely poem and I do encourage people to read it. I present it here as the first of a series of different yet inspiring texts.
The next inspiration from a different kind of text occurred on the Sunday morning. My colleague Dr Cathy Warner was scheduled to present some video footage of a young child exploring the wind chimes as a gentle introduction to teaching observation skills. By chance she could not put her hand of this particular video clip but was inspired to show another example of interaction through music. This was not from any music therapy footage but through some beautiful and touching images of a rejected baby camel being reunited with its mother. The footage was taken from a tender Mongolian film called The Story of the Weeping Camel. I don't want to give the ending away but just to note that we witness a ritual involving some local folk music and chanting and that the scenes can tell us a quite a lot about the power of music to form relationships.
So at the next meeting with the students there was much talk of camels and early connections through sounds and music and I had yet to give out the first book list. The students do now have the list but I would like to create a supplementary list and one to which students and staff can all contribute. And on this list would be details of related poetry, novels, films, paintings and all kinds of different texts that are not to be found on the current course reading lists. I would like to contribute the following four examples that have been inspirational to me for their connections to our world of music therapy over recent weeks: another film, a novel, a painting and an ancient myth.
The film is French with the English title The Beat that my Heart Skipped. The adaptation from James Toback's Fingers tells the story of a petty criminal who after a chance encounter with his old piano teacher, now a leading impresario, (our hero's dead mother was a concert pianist) decides to take up the piano again and to audition to his old teacher. Again without wanting to give away the ending I found myself thinking about parental issues, reengagement with the past through the present moment of making music which of course is gone as soon as we make it and so on.... And then there was the inspiring scene when his Asian teacher gets exasperated with him, our pianist talking and gesticulating in French and she likewise in her own language. But somehow we all understand what is happening (there was a collective moment of recognition throughout the cinema) and his next rendition of the phrases of the Bach he is studying is transformed in close relation and resonance to what has just been communicated. The film also inspired me to seek out Bach's Toccata in E minor, the piece that becomes central to the film.
The novel is Sebastian Faulks' (2005) Human Traces. I hope it will appear in various translations soon. The story begins in 1876 when the two central characters are just sixteen. They come from France and England but from very contrasting social backgrounds. Both characters are interested in the workings of the human mind and by chance eventually meet. They train in their separate countries as psychiatrists and en route we learn a great deal about life in a Victorian lunatic asylum and read invented but well-researched words from the lectures of Charcot in Paris. So-called objective science is represented by the neurological work of Charcot and such disciples as Georges Gilles de la Tourette (of the eponymous syndrome fame) and this is contrasted with the early days of the internal explorations of psychoanalysis (references to Wilhelm Fliess and the burgeoning Vienna circle occur). Faulks cleverly has the two colleagues representing these two different sides of the debate. They set up a sanatorium together and all goes according to plan until the arrival of one particular patient brings to a head the crux of the debate between them. It is a colossal read and one I found hard to put down. It tells us so much about this important time in the development of the worlds of internal and external observations that over a century later are still at the hub of much debate in how we as therapists treat our patients/clients. It furthers our understanding about the nature of how we observe, critically reflect and consider the various pathways to research. The novel has so many layers, with interlocking present and past family backgrounds, the haunting presence of one of the doctor's severely disturbed brother, an anthropological excursion to central Africa, and all set in the emergent background of the First World War, the topic of some of Faulks' earlier novels.
One recurring theme of Faulks' novel that really provoked much thinking and links with our work concerns the nature of inner voices that are often a feature of what is labelled schizophrenia. Voices haunt the disturbed brother of one of the doctors and many of their joint patients. An evolutionary and anthropological premise that such hearing of voices was once a common place occurrence and that the loss of such an ability coincided with the birth of what we regard as modern human consciousness is articulated in a lecture presented by one of the main characters. Faulks draws his material for this lecture from the speculative thesis of Professor Julian Jaynes (1977) presented in his controversial text The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It is not often that a contemporary novelist acknowledges these kinds of references, thereby opening up a whole new direction for further reading.
By one of those lovely synchronous moments it so happened that when referring to this novel with the students I noticed the reproduction of a painting of Moses the Leader (1925) by the visionary Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. This is one of the paintings in my teaching space (to view this picture you can log on to www.roerich.org). Moses is kneeling on Mount Sinai with his arms reaching out as if to hear the sound of the external voice of God. Perhaps, continuing this theme from Faulks' novel, Moses may have been searching for the voice that had once been an internal guide during an earlier stage of evolution. This painting is part of a beautiful series called 'Banners of the East' inspired by Roerich's trip to the Himalayas in 1924. The nineteen pictures depict great spiritual teachers including Buddha, Jesus Christ, Lao-Tse, Mohammed, Moses, Confucius and a beautiful female figure the Mother of the World who, according to Roerich, bridges both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. In Himalayas: Abode of Light Roerich (1947) narrates how a lama tells a seeker that symbols and images help us to understand how great teachers worked, noting how few great teachers are depicted in complete meditation.
Usually they are performing an active part of their great labour, Either they teach the people or they tame the dark forces and elements; they do not fear to confront the most powerful forces and to ally themselves with them, in only it be for the common well-being. (Deckter 1989/1997, p.111)
In this painting Moses is certainly not in any meditative pose. He is battling with the elements as he strives to hear the voice of his God and further messages to relay to his people.
This battle with the 'dark forces and elements' links to my last example of inspiration from different texts. In a previous Voices column (July 19 - August 2, 2004) I introduced the centaur Chiron as a source of inspiration from classical myth. Over the holiday break one of my favourite authors Thomas Moore (2005) introduced another classical connection in his latest book Dark Nights of the Soul. I had not heard of the goddess Hekate before. She is a mysterious and destructive goddess of the dark but blessed with night vision. Moore is interested in how her presence can be felt in our therapy rooms as many of our clients and we ourselves struggle in the dark. Moore ponders how she can "show us what it means to be at home in the dark—what tools you need, how you need to think and how to be." (Moore, 2005, p. 70)
Hekate was an underworld goddess and helped Demeter find her lost daughter Persephone, queen of the underworld. Hekate later became one of Persephone's attendants (March, 2001). She was associated with magic and witchcraft and reputed to make her appearances on earth during the hours of night, thus linking her to the terrors of darkness. Moore notes that the spirit of Hekate can live deeply within us all, particularly present at night when our senses and imagination often have free play. Ideas that come during the night can be creative and inspirational but at other times disturbing and frightening. Moore reminds us that both fears and inspirations are all part of our internal worlds. He seems to have a strong affection for this mysterious night goddess. He sees her in his work as a therapist when people begin to dig deeper into darker, Hekate-ridden, places. Even if we see our clients in the day-time we are still supporting and helping them to bring light into night-time explorations.
The above selected examples from films, poetry, novels and the world of myth have fired my imagination over recent weeks. I would welcome exchanges with colleagues who find other inspirational connections between these kinds of different texts and our work as music therapists.
Bunt, Leslie & Sarah Hoskyns (Eds.) (2002). The Handbook of Music Therapy. London: Routledge.
Decter, Jacqueline (1989, 1997). The Life and Visionary Art of Nicholas Roerich. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.
Faulks, Sebastian (2005). Human Traces. London: Hutchinson.
Heaney, Seamus (1996). The Spirit Level. London: Faber and Faber.
Jaynes, Julian (1977). The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Julian Jaynes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin.
March, Jenny (2001). Cassell's Dictionary of Classical Mythology. London: Cassell.
Moore, Thomas (2005). Dark Nights of the Soul, A Guide to Finding Your Way through Life's Ordeals. London: Piatkus Books.
Roerich, Nicholas (1947). Himalayas: Abode of Light. Bombay, India: Nalanda Publications.
Bunt, Leslie (2006). On Inspiration from Different "Texts". Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colbunt130206