Last week I attended the 33rd National Australian Music Therapy Association Conference. I always look forward to the conference, both as a time to hear about clinical work and as an opportunity to talk about people's lives, both work and personal. There is a wonderful atmosphere of networking at these events that is rich with enthusiasm and pleasure.
This year, talk turned to a number of topics with international resonance. The first being provoked by Catherine Threlfall's keynote address (Threlfall, 2007), from which I have been given permission to quote. As always, Cath had her finger on the pulse of music therapy practice in Australia. One of the first champions of community music therapy in the Southern hemisphere, this presentation reflected the next stage of music therapy development, both as a vision and as an existing reality. She called for an acknowledgement that music therapists do not own the activity of music-making and reminded us that "The music therapist increases the reach and power of their work many times over by acknowledging and supporting the music making that goes on with and without them." A number of examples of contemporary music therapy practice were used to illustrate this theme, showcasing work of people functioning as consultants, event organisers, teachers and researchers, often within their position as music therapist.
I was immediately struck by how quickly music therapy practice evolves, and reflected it was only five years ago that I first read Ansdell's (2002) acknowledgement of the paradigm shift that was happening in music therapy. At that time, I was relieved to learn that the way I practised music therapy was acceptable, and I had a similar sensation in listening to Cath's keynote. She encouraged us to "attend to the ripples" of music making to enhance communities and launched a stunning program of music therapy programs that described doing just that. She asked the question about how we should train music therapists, given this new evolution. This question has been raised by one of the South African questioners (Dos Santos, 2007) as she explores how music therapy fits within that cultural context. Michelle Forinash has also suggested that music therapy is not a "9 – 5 job," suggesting that it is more of a creative and disciplined lifestyle (2007). Music therapists seem to embrace change and questioning.
The theme of the Australian conference "Changing the rhythm: Keeping the beat" also represented a sense of moving beyond defining music therapy and marked the cessation of questioning about whether we are really doing music therapy in various contexts. This merged neatly with the ideas shared by Cheryl Dileo, who had visited the University of Melbourne just prior to our conference and shared her vision about Arts by your side. Her Arts and Quality of Life Research Centre at Temple University has also embraced the breadth of music therapy practice, ably supported by a wealth of impressive research grants. Under the auspices of this centre, Cheryl and her team are exploring a role for music therapy in community and hospital settings. She is particularly interested in the interaction between music therapists and other musicians working in these settings, and in exploring different roles and responsibilities. Once again, a non-traditional approach to music therapy practice that requires an open mind and a preparedness not to own the act of music making.
On a more social note, Cheryl was able to make international comparisons between the recent European Music Therapy Congress and the upcoming Australian conference. Cheryl told glorious stories of evenings spent in the communal bar in the Netherlands, mingling with music therapists from across the globe. It was obvious from her reflections that music, therapy and community had all been alive at this event, as it was to be at our own. This led our small community to consider how we could also enhance this particular spirit, which I had also experienced at the Qualitative Research Symposium in Bergen in 2003. Australian conferences have often been hosted in inspiring venues – the Town Hall this year, and previously at the Melbourne Arts Centre, The Powerhouse Museum in Brisbane, and the State Library in Sydney. However these venues emphasise culture over community. Finding an accessible venue that also encompasses culture will be a challenge for us to ponder for the future.
All in all, the three days shared with my peers were stimulating and inspiring. Every presentation I attended engaged me, and each presenter was impressive. I am not always so willing to attend every session at a conference and it was a great pleasure to be so thoroughly absorbed. I have always believed that music therapists are a unique and particularly flexible group of people. We seem to constantly embrace change and look for the most helpful way to work our craft. The future looks bright.
Ansdell, Gary (2002). Community Music Therapy & The Winds of Change. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved October 26, 107, from http://www.voices.no/mainissues/Voices2(2)ansdell.html
Dos Santos, Andeline (2007). Asking Questions in Africa. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved October 26, 107, from http://www.voices.no/columnist/colsantos221007.php
Forinash, Michele (2007). What "Makes" a Music Therapist?. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved October 26, 107, from http://www.voices.no/columnist/colforinash100907.php
Threlfall, C. (2007). Changing the rhythm: Keeping the beat. Keynote Presentation, 33rd Annual National Australian Music Therapy Association Conference, Melbourne Town Hall, October 17th.
McFerran, Katrina (2007). Another Ripple in the Ongoing Evolution of Music Therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colmcferran051107