The pathways to music therapy must be as varied as the colours in the rainbow. Strong instincts, serendipitous events, a personal enlightenment about the power of music, seeing someone use music as an effective change agency.. do any of these scenarios fit your memory banks as well as mine? Younger people today have a more direct line to music therapy in many continents as quality courses and experienced therapists open eyes and minds to a special career path that makes music central yet permeates social and spiritual landscapes.
I'm older. My pathway began along the traditional European experiences of formal piano and violin lessons, first with brown-habited nuns one of whom used a ruler on my fingers to demand technical accuracy, then wimpled Dominicans with more wisdom and warm musicianship. There were family singalong sessions when we visited country relatives. Grandma was a skilled piano player of all the ballads and community songs from her Orkney/Scottish base. Uncles played piano accordion, my mother sometimes played violin but mostly sang with her sister, and we children listened and clapped and tried to play, and sang our hearts out.
Student life later was made financially possible by playing piano for the Dunedin Operatic Society evening rehearsals of "Belle of New York" or "The Mikado". Then several days a week I played interminable ballet music for a dance school. Being invited to lots of student parties began to rouse suspicions, so I asked "Am I to play the piano all night, or is this about me?"
In New Zealand our benchmark bodies for performance were Britain's Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College; both institutions sent out examiners and we climbed the ladder from lower to higher grades with family encouragement, keen good teachers and lots of practice.
University music study was a mix of musicology, composition, analysis, acoustics, counterpoint and keyboard harmony; that led to a Bachelor of Music degree. I began at Otago university, married, shifted to a Victoria University because of that, then came a transfer and an overseas period in London, and finally a graduation from Auckland University with a four year old daughter as part of the support team. That mix of study places in retrospect was a bonus, because I was influenced by many notable musical icons like Peter Platt and Mary Martin, Douglas Lilburn and Frederick Page, Ronald Tremain. Along the way as a broadcaster for national radio I accompanied visiting artists who in those days long ago were quite happy to have the "village" player sight-read with them in the studio after a human-interest interview.
Living in a smaller community with local music clubs, a regional orchestra and the beginnings of music education work at a tertiary institution kept the performance skills up, and it was then that the hitherto taken-for granted effect of music came more to the surface of my consciousness. My children loved rhythmic chants and songs. In everyday life people congregated and celebrated with music as a central ingredient more often than I had realised. My hometown commissioned a huge music-theatre piece from Jenny McLeod for its centennial year, which I produced, and hundreds of people revelled in the learning and polishing and presenting of "Under the Sun". It had four orchestras and two choirs, a pop group, 450 children in sound and movement groups, as well as art work and technical effects to frame the piece. "Under the Sun" influenced many people, who even now still tell me how taking part had motivated or inspired them in a variety of ways.
Usual performance music making seemed incomplete after that period. So when Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins appeared in New Zealand in 1972, their workshops provided the missing link. Music did have an underlying power and there was a rationale for that. Composition created and used for a particular identified need made the connections that enabled communication. Behaviours shifted with music as the pathway for change.
I read, thought and worked with disabled children for three years then went to Australia to observe two music therapists at work. Ruth Bright in Sydney went effectively into closed wards in psychiatric hospitals; Denise Erdonmez in Melbourne showed me the magical interface that was possible with simple, planned music experiences. I was hooked.
The saga of Guildhall training (in my forties) and consequent music therapy practice and politics for music therapy is not part of this cameo. The focus I hope you can recognise, then use to identify your own pathway, is one of rich, varied musicianship. The practice and exploration of creating and sharing music must permeate musical learning and development if music therapy is the goal. On to that firm base comes the essential scholarship that links the worlds of medicine, psychology, anthropology, educational theory, neurology, to making of sound. Research into the effects of music on motor control or stress, into patterns of behaviour or spiritual belief, has been started and will continue opening doors of acceptance into the doubting world of pragmatic politics of funding for music therapy practice.
We are all still pioneers, so must keep learning.
Croxson, Morva (2001). How Does a Person Come to Music Therapy?. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2001-how-does-person-come-music-therapy