Like most music therapists I enjoy ruminating on, discussing, and debating issues which relate to humans and their music making. I am therefore excited by the New Zealand School of Music’s new initiative to have all postgraduate students from their various disciplines including performance (classical and jazz), musicology, composition, and music therapy, sharing ideas at a weekly forum to consider how we can learn from each other and strengthen our research work. Staff members who instigated the forum are keen for it to be student led and it is gratifying to be able to participate as a PhD student, rather than a music therapy lecturer.
Although initial meetings were given some focus by a designated facilitator, for the first few weeks a small but growing numbers of students attending the forum have danced about each other, unsure of the best way to begin. It has been interesting to observe the way we have tried to find our place as participants – to know what our own starting position might be in this context, and how we might interpret and act on our ideas in this particular situation. Students who study at this level clearly have significant understanding and high levels of competency in their respective fields, and a good knowledge of more general aspects of music. However, initially at least, it seems many of us have lost our musical and social identities and are rendered relatively impotent in this setting. We each might feel have little to offer the group, and could be interpreted as being somewhat standoffish.
The scene demonstrates the way in which our view of ourselves, and therefore our behaviour, is influenced by the situation we find ourselves in. As Ruud (2000) noted, people do not behave consistently across situations but construe their realities, interpret situations and act according to preferences, plans or goals. For example, we can protect ourselves and preserve our current self image by not taking risks and by contributing tentatively early in the series of meetings. Or we can throw caution to the wind and begin trying out various ways of being in this setting, until we find our individual and group ‘postgraduate forum idendities’.
By looking at ourselves in this situation, we can be reminded also about how easy it can be to misinterpret musical behaviour too, and the importance of considering music in context. Ruud (2000) and others have argued that musicology has tended to misunderstand musical behavior by drawing conclusions based upon interpretations of the music alone. Over recent decades however, studies in music and social science domains including social psychology, feminism, cultural studies, and ethnomusicology and so on, have offered new perspectives that would have challenged and changed the way most of us who attended the postgraduate meeting would think about our work, and indeed provided impetus for the cross discipline sharing. We are now aware that musical meanings cannot be extracted from pieces of music, and that the people involved and the context in which the music is made is of fundamental importance to meaning making.
Music therapists are perhaps particularly influenced by the wide ranging but relatively recent changes in philosophical thinking, given that music therapy is a process involving the mutual interaction of art, science and human relationships. Bruscia’s description of music therapy highlights this complexity:
“As an art, (music therapy) is concerned with subjectivity, individuality, creativity and beauty. As a science it is concerned with objectivity, collectivity, replicability and truth. As an interpersonal process it is concerned with empathy, intimacy, communication, reciprocal influence , and role relationships” (Bruscia, 1989, p.8).
One might think that the broad range of art and science-based knowledge required for music therapy could mean that practitioners and researchers in this discipline have some experiential advantage in cross disciplinary discussion. After all, embracing multiplicity and diversity is a necessary part of what we do. Nevertheless the complexity of the music therapy discipline that caters to a whole host of client groups and uses numerous methods means that we need to choose from multiple perspectives when trying to understand various pieces of work. It can therefore be very difficult to know which position to adopt initially in order to contribute to broad based discussions in a context such as the postgraduate forum, especially when our motivation to do so includes a desire to help others to understand and appreciate music therapy.
As the starting point for our most recent postgraduate meeting we were asked to consider the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, and how we might interpret the myth. This made a nice link for my colleague Sarah Hoskyns and I, as we were already familiar with the connections our friend Leslie Bunt had made with the myth in his book ‘Music Therapy: An Art Beyond Words’ (Bunt, 1994) and were able to bring some of his ideas along with our own to the table.
As we began our exchange of ideas we each revealed something about how our multiple experiences led us to various understandings and to draw diverse meanings from the tale. Various traditional and new metaphors were conjured from the myth and the different libretto and musical scores that individuals had encountered. What was hopeful about our interactions was that our points of difference were exciting, and interesting connections were revealed. And it was also evident as the discussion broadened to other music topics that, regardless of our philosophical points of view, music touches each one of us deeply. I am looking forward to the next of our meetings. I know I will enjoy contributing to increasingly vibrant interactions and in doing so will continue to be reminded of the importance of contextual understandings.
Bruscia, K. E. (1989). Defining Music Therapy. Phoenixville: Barcelona Publishers.
Bunt, L. (1994). Music therapy, an art beyond words. London: Routledge.
Ruud, E. (2000). 'New Musicology', Music Education and Music Therapy. Paper presented at the 13th Nordic Congress of Musicology, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Rickson, Daphne (2008). Thinking about Context. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colrickson050508