Recently, I had a consulting job with a Music Department at a small liberal arts college in the States. The department was engaged in a great deal of change. They hired me as an organizational consultant to help them through the change. Why was I shocked when the group of 11 was so resistant to including some type of musical experience in their two - day retreat? I suggested musical improvisation. I suggested a music and imagery experience. Nope. They were not interested. Finally, I came up with a musical experience that I thought would help them to include more than just talk in their retreat, an experience that would engage their senses and take them to a deeper level of getting to know each other through their aesthetic selves. I asked them to "interpret" two pieces of music. The first was Phillip Glass’ "The Plant Boy" from his opera, The Witches of Venice. The second was Arvo Part’s "Sarabande" from his Collage über BACH. This time I did not ask if they wanted to do it. I just started the activity!
Some group members struggled to know what I meant by "interpretation", when I gave them the simple instruction to "interpret" the music". Of course, they would then have to share their interpretations with the group. I left the instruction open to their interpretation of what "interpretation" meant.
My goal for the exercise was to bring an aesthetic dimension to our experience. The first day of the retreat was a kind of Yin day – a slow-moving day in which each faculty member spoke about him/herself – offered what I called a "portrait of who I am as a person, artist, musician, teacher, and worker." The second part of the first day was this aesthetic experience.
Well, this was so revealing. Many participants responded with a "critique" of the pieces saying things like, "Phillip Glass is so boring". "If I hear another piece in A minor, I’m going to tear my hair out." You get the idea. Arvo Part faired much better with this group.
However, there were a few participants who did "interpret" the pieces. These small few shared qualities they heard in the music and even whole scenarios of "where the music took me."
I left the retreat with a deeper appreciation of our work in Music Therapy and a renewed sense of community with colleagues who truly do "interpret" the music everyday through Guided Imagery and Music or through focusing on interpretations of the qualities of a musical improvisation. This is our world. And what a world it truly is.
Toward the end of our "aesthetic experience" at the retreat, one faculty member posed the question: "Do you think that being trained musicians limits our ability to freely interpret music?" I disciplined myself not to smile at his comment, waiting for responses from group members. Sure enough, every person agreed that their training as musicians did inhibit the way they received the music. They said they were too focused on technical aspects.
In Music Therapy, we must have a more comprehensive approach to our music. We do focus on technical elements, but we also focus on the message of the music – the knowledge that the music transmits about our human experience that cannot be expressed in words. Often the technicalities are in service of this deeper objective.
Even Ruud emphasized the importance of "interpretation" at the First International Symposium for Qualitative Research in Music Therapy in Düsseldorf, Germany in1994. Interpretation is where we are positioned or situated as artists, professional practitioners, and researchers. Moreover, it is a core expression in our practice. This world of Music Therapy that values the imagination as an intimate part of the Music Therapy experience and just the "human experience" is an exciting place to be.
Ruud, Even (1996). Interpretation and Epistemology in Music Therapy: Dealing with Competing Claims of Knowledge. In Mechtild Langenburg, Kenneth Aigen, and Jorg Frömmer. Qualitative Research in Music Therapy: Beginning Dialogues. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Kenny, C. (2008). Interpretation, Music, and Music Therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2008-interpretation-music-and-music-therapy