Having just returned from a journey to Perth where my colleague Sarah Hoskyns and I presented music therapy papers to the Australian Music Education conference, I looked to that visit for inspiration for this essay. While the most immediate issue was to find a way to manage the sudden and extreme drop in temperature we experienced on our return from warm and sunny Perth to storm ravaged New Zealand, I also pondered the pros and cons of presenting to colleagues in related fields, when to do so might mean that the chance to share directly with music therapy peers might need to be forfeited because of limited time and funds. I will return to this latter point later in this essay. But first, I want to articulate some ongoing thoughts about issues relating to the development of music therapy for and by people who work particularly in remote communities which were provoked by my experience in Perth.
During my interactions with the people of Western Australia (WA), including registrants at the music education conference, I became aware that many of them had not heard about music therapy or the concept was widely misunderstood. During discussion time following one of my papers an attendee shared that her father, who was a medical doctor in WA, still viewed music therapy as a 'namby pamby', 'airy fairy' concept. I was reminded that there is no music therapy training programme in this state which has a population of more than two million people spread over a huge landmass of close to a million square miles, even though the capital, Perth, is a relatively large city (by New Zealand standards only perhaps!) with a population of over a million people. I was amazed to realise that only a handful of music therapists practice in Western Australia and was startled by the sudden realisation that they would be experiencing the isolation that music therapists in New Zealand are very familiar with.
I am also aware from conversations with music therapists in Australia that colleagues from other states are offering to support the development of music therapy in WA, as they did for us in New Zealand. I was struck however by the significant parallels that can exist between various geographical areas as they strive to develop music therapy to the stage where it is a well-organised and respected profession. Wigram's account of the professionalisation of music therapy in Britain for example struck a real chord with me, as we are experiencing the same issues in New Zealand two or three decades on (Loth, 2000). Over the years the New Zealand music therapy community has looked to other countries, predominantly Australia, Britain and the USA for what they have got. We drew on the support and experience of colleagues who had successfully managed to introduce training courses in various parts of the world and learnt how to adapt and develop those ideas for ourselves. It is interesting now to look back at the pathway we have cleared and trodden, and to remember that in many countries or states, music therapy is less well known and/or accepted – I only use WA as the example that led my train of thought.
In 2001 Croxson wrote that an enormous amount of volunteer effort and public goodwill had been shown to music therapy in New Zealand, but noted that the there was still a lot to be done to establish a fully developed and accepted profession and career structure for qualified people (Croxson, 2001). This is still true today. And while we can be proud of what the spirited pioneering kiwi music therapy community has achieved we acknowledge that we are no more than a spot on the world landscape. Further, there is much to be done to ensure that music therapy continues to develop as a profession here, and in other countries in the world.
But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? More recently Croxson (2003) declared "It has been hard to engender the proper climate for quality music therapy practice (in New Zealand) without the ability to provide sufficient practitioners". Yet how can sufficient practitioners be attracted to areas where music therapy is misunderstood and therefore job opportunities are scarce? In New Zealand we now have the Master of Music Therapy programme at the New Zealand School of Music and we are producing our own very good practitioners. Graduates are creating jobs from placement opportunities – so it is clear that where music therapy work is seen, it is likely to be valued highly. The establishment of a masters-level training programme and an independent registration board has given the profession credibility here. For example music therapists are now listed as specialists who use government funds to provide a service to children who have special education needs.
One obvious way to advance music therapy therefore is to develop training programmes in the area, but how can that be achieved without respect for the discipline? International research can be used to provide some of the evidence necessary to convince the 'right people' that music therapy is an important and valuable subject to teach in universities throughout the world; but it is the clinical work, peoples experiences of music therapy, that can be most convincing and influential – and clinical work needs to be happening before research can be generated. Further, it is important to study local situations - cultural differences are consequential in almost all research. So how does the work get started… and how did we get this far?
Although already widely reported, the persuasive work of Clive Robbins and Paul Nordoff who toured New Zealand in 1974 needs mentioning again here. As Croxson (2001) attested, Clive and Paul's demonstrations of music therapy with children who have special needs, was "living evidence" for workshop participants instinctive beliefs in the power of music to facilitate change. Clive and Paul were able to strongly influence an excited group of enthusiasts to begin the crusade to promote and develop music therapy in New Zealand and most of those who became committed to this task had no aspirations to be practitioners of music therapy, but simply believed totally in the cause. Initiatives came from an audiologist as well as a music therapist, Mary Lindgren, who lobbied professionals in legal, educational and musical fields to persuade them to "set up a new approach to music, to provide a framework around which music therapy could flourish" (Croxson, 2001).
Croxson's careful description of "a new approach to music" emphasises the importance of working alongside musicians and others who have a belief in the potential for music to be used therapeutically, often because they are experienced in and committed to the use of music in their own lives; as well as those who use music in their work with people who have particular needs and want to learn more about how their use of music might be more effective. Naturally of course there were still others who were eager to work as music therapists. But it is the first two groups who have and will continue to keep music therapy 'alive'. We need stories about music and about music therapy, people to share their positive experiences of music making, as well as those who can share stories about working with a music therapist. This is how the demand for music therapy will grow, and referrals will come. We also need of course, examples of good quality research – this is how we will convince those who hold the purse strings to fund programmes.
So as practising music therapists how do we balance where we put our precious time, energy and funds. I had wondered about using such a large proportion of my professional development money to travel to a music education conference in Perth, albeit to present in the music therapy strand, rather than to a dedicated music therapy event. But my experience of describing a developing assessment and consultation protocol for children who have special education needs, and sharing examples of the work, was that school and other community groups became very excited about the various roles that music therapists can potentially take up. In highlighting a particular differing or 'new' aspect of music therapy it is possible to draw attention to the continuum of music therapy practice and the wide range of possibilities for engaging children in individual, group and consultative music therapy programmes. Yes, as music therapists we need to learn from each other – ongoing communication, the sharing of research and clinical examples for our own professional development is essential. But presenting to associated groups and publishing in journals related to music therapy are also necessary and extremely valuable tasks.
The New Zealand Society for Music Therapy continues to financially support the professional activities of Registered Music Therapists in this country, and cannot do this without the support of 'general' members. Yet as we increasingly focus on our own professional issues and needs, we run a corresponding risk of neglecting and losing the support of enthusiastic supporters such as those who got us started in the first place. For example, the focus of our music therapy conferences has changed considerably in recent years and 'public' attendees are well outnumbered now by music therapists and music therapy students. We have traditionally promoted our conferences to attract professionals from other disciplines as well as the general public in order to learn from them and to promote music therapy. Inviting a music therapist keynote speaker from another country was an important aspect of this promotion and provided as well an opportunity for refreshment for local music therapists. We are now at a developmental stage where we can look to conference as a forum to share our work with other music therapists, and international colleagues have begun to show interest in attending our events.
While all this is very positive, we will need to develop new ways to continue the public promotion of music therapy. At a recent meeting of music therapists I was prompted to suggest that we each offer a workshop in our local community, and that we ask participants to pay only a fee which would enable them to join the New Zealand Society for Music Therapy for a year – the facilitator would not receive payment for the work. It would be understandable however if music therapists refused to entertain the idea – not because they are ungenerous but because we have only just reached a point where we have acknowledged that charging an appropriate fee is an essential element in commanding professional respect, and that people are willing to pay these rates for our professional services. Ongoing issues such as this demonstrate the tentativeness of our status as professionals developing in a new field.
Croxson (2003) suggested "New Zealand music therapy is poised to 'take off' in great style", and she was right. Nevertheless, now that we are beginning to fly it is going to take all our efforts to remain airborne. Continuing with the airplane analogy, we would be unable to develop an airline without passengers who are willing to travel with us, and to tell us where they want to go – for now we are trying out new destinations with only a few people on board. Although music therapy in New Zealand seems healthy and is growing rapidly, full time music therapy positions are still as rare as hen's teeth and most practitioners have a portfolio of part time work. While I remain very confident that the profession will continue to glide onwards, individuals may experience ongoing personal sacrifice associated with the growing pains of a new profession. May the winds of fortune, along with jolly hard work, continue to keep us airborne!
Not surprisingly, previous contributions to Voices from New Zealand music therapists (Croxson, 2001, 2003, 2007; Hoskyns, 2007; Krout, 2003) have focused on sharing many of the exciting developmental stages experienced by the pioneering population in this country as we have laboured to grow the profession of music therapy here. It felt timely and appropriate to continue the discussion in this forum, to celebrate what has been achieved but also to consider what needs to be done. There are a great many music therapists throughout the world who continue to live and work in relative isolation, and Voices provides a forum where experiences and feelings can be shared, ideas expressed and developed. Technology has lessened our isolation to a certain extent, but many of the tasks associated with the continuing development of music therapy require good old fashioned person to person contact and sometimes hard graft. Some things change, some stay the same.
Croxson, M. (2001). New Zealand and Music Therapy. A synopsis of a New Scene. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy Retrieved July 12th, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/mainissues/mitext11croxon.html.
Croxson, M. (2003). Music Therapy in New Zealand [online]. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 12th, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/country/monthnewzealand_february2003.html.
Croxson, M. (2007). Music Therapy in New Zealand [online]. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/country/monthnewzealand_april2007.php.
Hoskyns, S. (2007). "New Night Sky": Renewing My Music Therapy Culture. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 11, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/columnist/colhoskyns070507.php.
Krout, R. E. (2003). A Kiwi Odyssey [online]. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/mainissues/mi40003000114.html.
Loth, H. (2000). Historical Perspectives Interview Series. Tony Wigram. British Journal of Music Therapy, 14(1), 5-12.
Rickson, Daphne (2007). Some Things Change; Some Stay the Same. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 18, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colrickson300707