Two things are on my mind as I write: the first is Zimbabwe and its grim inability to tolerate differences of opinions, reminding one of the bad old days of apartheid South Africa.
The second is the VOICES project (no relation to this journal!), run by the Dedel'ingoma theatre company, in which 5 arts therapists, a clinical psychologist and an African traditional healer have been involved for the past 3 months. The five of us have been running experiential workshops in art, dance-movement, drama, music and expressive arts therapies, with a group of 30 participants, mainly professionals in the field of trauma. A condition for attending the project was that participants had to attend all 15 days of the project, which included weekend time. This also meant considerable commitment on the part of the organisations / schools / hospitals and residential care centres to release their staff. The 15 days were spread out over 3 months, with the final 3 days at the end of March.
It has been an extraordinary experience on many levels: the sheer logistics of experiential work with 30 people (how do you plan, what instruments can you use, do you work in sub-groups, how tightly can you structure sessions); planning joint sessions with colleagues in other arts therapies; having a clinical psychologist to constantly help us to monitor the group dynamics, and reflect on the sessions ... having our traditional healer open and close each day with an African ritual. Food has been focal to our facilitators' planning meetings: we arrive clutching an offering: kitka bread, lovely cheese, grapes, hummus, cake, soup, salads, fruit-juice - these are on the table as we discuss, debate, argue, share, reflect, plan the next step.
Since we're offering an introduction to the arts therapies, rather than a training, and since the basis of this project has been the use of the arts in the various communities in which people work and live, we've had to re-focus: How can folk who are not arts therapists use our skills in their own communities? How do you run a music session without instruments? An art session without art materials? How can each of our arts modalities be useful - and what are the limitations of our thinking?
It is here, perhaps, that I have learnt the most. At our most recent, multi-modal session, we planned a music-instrument making session - my idea of a nightmare! The art therapist suggested that we invite each person to make an instrument that reflects something about them: the kind of sound they would like to make, decorated in a way that represents them. For almost two hours, the art room was a buzz of sawing, hammering, glueing, painting, tying together, decorating, painting, drawing, looking for this and that..... my role was to be available for question about instrumental timbre. The drama therapist then facilitated the group in the large room, with an exercise of finding others with the same sounds as their own instrument. The movement therapist then invited each of the subgroups to move towards a central spot, where one person had her sand tray with four beautifully painted water bottles across which she was blowing haunting sounds.... All stood playing in a magical spiral of sound. Gently I removed one person after the other, starting with the loudest instruments until only silence remained.
It was a solemn silence - held longingly by all of us while in that silence we also held the turmoil and noise of the elections in next door in Zimbabwe.
Pavlicevic. Mércèdes (2002) With Sound and Silence. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-sound-and-silence