I have been rather obsessed for a few years now with thresholds and transitions. Perhaps this happens to all of us who reach middle age! So it should not be too surprising that an early draft of this column explored themes connected with crossing over the threshold of a new year. How many links could be made with transitions in music? What about the invitation we give in every music therapy session to our patients and clients to move across a threshold into a music space?
The Roman god Janus (still present in many languages as the root of the word and meaning of January) was often represented with a double-faced head, looking forwards and backwards, observing exterior and interior worlds. The start of a new year is traditionally a time for reviewing the past and making plans for the future. Voices brings us in direct, albeit electronic, communication with colleagues from all parts of the world and it is rather amazing to contemplate all this potential creativity worldwide with colleagues looking backwards and pondering over changes they want to make this year in both their professional and personal lives. Music therapy can be a very isolating profession yet it is reassuring to wonder whether many of us may be juggling with the same questions at the same time. How many of us are hoping to create new work this year, to reduce our case loads or to find more time for our own music-making? If we are involved in teaching and research are we able to find sufficient space and time for private study and to keep up with the latest publications and developments in our rapidly developing discipline? What about more time for our own personal development and nurturing while working within a profession that places so much emphasis (and rightly so) on being there for others?
In the first working of this column I wanted to be write about how effortlessly Mozart, for example, moves from one group of themes or idea to a contrasting one and how with Beethoven this often feels more of a struggle. How could looking at transitions in jazz or popular song help us with this notion of threshold and moving across? Watching the recent television recording of the controversial stage show Jerry Springer, The Opera I was struck how in this kind of musical form there are such slick and instantaneous transitions between musical numbers and speech, the central character of Jerry Springer here being a spoken one throughout. And then to the original proposed main question of the column: what have all of these implications of threshold and transition to tell us about music therapy practice?
Such musings tended to fade into the background and to appear rather hollow and self-indulgent on hearing the news and seeing the horrendous filmed footage of the devastation caused by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. How could I continue to write about the transitional potential of music and music therapy without acknowledging how our world has been affected by this natural disaster? Words become somewhat meaningless in the face of such a catastrophe; we are literally lost for words and stunned into a personal and collective silence. We cannot all rush out to South East Asia to volunteer to help in the hospitals and the re-building of the communities. We can respond by sending some money and find space for our private reflections and responses. The EU even requested that all member states take part in a three-minute standstill and silent reflection at noon on January 5th. This request, which was widely observed, became a subject of national debate in the UK with the press having a field day comparing this request with other communal moments of commemorative silence.
There is something about a collective reflective solidarity that can be both powerful and transformational. Certainly as music therapists we know intuitively about the power and importance of silence. We observe children with hyperactive behaviour becoming calmer and able to learn once they can sit and stay with silence. Many of the adults we work with do not use words or are so depressed or traumatised that words fail them. We work towards providing quiet settings and spaces with little external noise and disturbance for our practice. We assist our music therapy trainees at being comfortable staying with silence, moving into it and doing less, making music that emerges from and returns to silence. As musicians perhaps our prime responsibility, as Sting has pointed out, is to provide a "frame for silence." What an indication of our times that a 1980's law proposing a daily minute of silent meditation in schools in Alabama was later quashed in the Supreme Court, after a parental challenge: no secular purpose could be found for such a moment and there was the risk that prayer might enter public places. And from the same article we read: 'What if we taught our children to hear that deep silence once a day, to build it into their approach to daily living, rather than just arming them with the thin skills to chase profits and afford a mortgage? What if they developed a hunger for it, a love? ' The writer goes on to quote a line from Rumi: "The greatest love is silent. It cannot be expressed in words."
There is so much unwanted external noise made by ourselves in our world today mixed with all of the internal static that we inflict on ourselves. At the beginning of this year the world has also been coming to terms with the additional unleashing of this terrifying natural occurrence. So can we still find some space to hear the silence or contemplate the lines, "Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still small voice of calm?" Too much emphasis on looking forward and hope can also get in the way. I was struck when reading the Jungian psychotherapist Verena Kast's discussion on aspects of hope that it can not only get in the way but also distract us and prevent us from achieving what is possible. As she writes: "We may hope for future transformation instead of tackling what needs to be changed in the present."
We are at the threshold of a new year. We may need to look no further than what is around and about us at the moment to know what needs to be changed. We are fortunate to use music in our work and be alongside people in the moment that they move across a threshold into a very special space. I would like to finish with these words of Carolyn Kenny that I often quote and have always loved:
The music therapist is one of the keepers of the gate, one of the technicians of the sacred, one who sees the vision and hears the song of the one and the many, the one who dances on the edge of time, one who can guard the threshold of being, one who waits for sound..
 Sting (1998) 'Music and Silence', Resurgence, November/December, 191, 32-33.
 Skelly, I. (2005) 'Joy of Silence', Resurgence, January/February, 228, 31-32.
 Kast, V. (1991) Sisyphus: A Jungian Approach to Middle Life. Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Daimon Verlag, p.42.
 Kenny, C.B. (1989) The Field of Play: A Guide of the Theory and Practice of Music Therapy. Atascadero, California: Ridgeview. Preface.
Bunt, Leslie (2005). On the Threshold of a New Year. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 18, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2005-threshold-new-year