Recently I had the pleasure of visiting a local museum in Agadir, a city of the Atlantic coast of Morocco. This museum had a rich exhibition of Berber jewelry from the Atlas mountains. While the tradition of Berber jewelry was not well known to me, I found it easy to enjoy the patterns, shapes, and colors of the necklaces, and I was enthused by the exquisite details of the ornaments. It was not difficult to imagine that this beauty carried deep meanings for the Berbers. Looking at this beautiful art I started to read the information which was provided for the tourists.
This information was given in French, and it's a long time since high school, so there were some gaps in my understanding and some guessing involved in the reading. I still think I got most of the meaning, and while I was reading I became more and more fascinated by the diversity of functions these artifacts carried in the Berber society. They were not "only" objects of art. A multitude of functions were connected to them, of which I will mention two: the jewelry could function as symbols of identity: "this jewelry shows who I am, which family I belong to, and what my clan is." Also, jewelry could create - or at least symbolize and maintain - intimacy: friends, lovers, and relatives could build relationships and communicate mutuality through the acts of giving and carrying jewelry.
In the language of a museum curator such jewelry could be termed folk art, or maybe applied art. While I think music in music therapy may have quite similar functions to those ascribed to the jewelry in the previous paragraph, the terms "folk music" and "applied music" could be somewhat misleading. The first term is interesting, as it relates to some important "supplementary" traditions of music use, compared to the conventional consumption of music in contemporary societies. I then think of folk music as music integrated into the activities of daily life. I think of music made by ordinary people for other ordinary people, often in the service of making an occasion less than ordinary. In many modern societies, however, folk music more and more has developed into a separate genre, with it's own institutions parallel to the institutions of high art music. In fact, for many people, what is popularly called popular music serves the functions of folk music.
The term folk music, while not without value, has, as we just saw, become somewhat vague and difficult to use. What about "applied music?" It is also a problematic term. If we talk about applied music, what is then pure music, or basic music? Music of the symphony halls, or maybe music of the laboratories of the music psychologists? I don't think so. I don't think that the music of our everyday lives is a secondary phenomenon. We are therefore probably in search of a better term here. In the meantime it makes much sense to speak of "music in context." Music is of course not thinkable at all without a context, but while there has been a tradition for neglect of that context, this is now changing quickly. Musicologists - new and not so new - have been seeing and hearing this for a while now. Some have been speaking of music as a verb instead of as a noun, others of music as situated activity, others again of music as performance and enactment of relationships.
Many music therapists have, at least since the pioneering work of Nordoff and Robbins, been treating music as a verb. Theoreticians such as Carolyn Kenny and Even Ruud have pioneered a heightened awareness of context and society in conceptions of music therapy. What seems to happen these days is that these streams now run together, creating new and context-sensitive approaches to music therapy. One example of this is the VOICES project Mercédès Pavlicevic wrote about in a recent Column in this series. She asks questions about the relevance and applicability of the arts therapies in African communities. From another angle, Nigel Hartley (in an essay in the last main issue of Voices) focuses upon music, culture, and social action as one of the main themes of the 10th World Congress in Oxford. Something is happening to music therapy these days.
This is reflected in a forthcoming book - with essays, reports, and columns from Voices (and with some new texts also) - that Carolyn Kenny and I will edit and publish this spring. Many of the texts of the book focus upon the relationship between music therapy, culture, and community. This is a major issue for our discipline, and what we hopefully will see in the future is that as professional music therapy gains foothold in new countries and contexts, new forms of therapy will evolve. If context-sensitivity is given a chance, a diversity of practices will grow out of a diversity of life forms. A lot of times there will be much to learn from established models, and I also consider it probable that there are factors that music therapy processes share across times and cultures. Still, if music therapy is acknowledged and practiced as music in context, diversity of practice is inevitable and highly valuable. I hope, in fact, to read descriptions of this diversity in Voices in the years to come.
Hartley, Nigel (2002). 10th World Congress of Music Therapy. [online] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy Vol.2(1) 2002. Available at: http://www.voices.no/mainissues/Voices2(1)Hartley.html [Accessed 8. Apr. 2002.]
Kenny, Carolyn & Brynjulf Stige (in production/2002). Contemporary VOICES of Music Therapy. Oslo: Unipub.
Pavlicevic, Mercédès (2002). With Sound and Silence. [online] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Available at: http://www.voices.no/columnist/colpavlicevic250302.html [Accessed 8. Apr. 2002.]
Stige, Brynjulf, 2001 Forms of Life - Forms of Therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-forms-life-forms-therapy