The title of this column essay can be parsed in at least two distinctly different ways. In one sense, it can signify a point of termination, whereupon music will be no more. In another way, it can signify a goal--as in the "end" following certain "means." Although the intention here is to address the latter (i.e., music as an "end"), the former actually does hold a certain degree of relevance in the context of this essay.
As a hypothetical thought experiment, consider the following fictitious media article, in which the configuration of means and ends are reversed from their commonly understood orientation:
Can Math Really Improve Music?
According to leading education experts, math and science (often considered non-essential, "frills" as scholastic subjects) may actually contribute to better outcomes in the area of music (and other arts). As every parent knows, it is a child's capacity for imaginative, creative experience and expression that helps land them that all-important job after years of school, and if math and science can actually help boost musical abilities and AAT (Artistic Aptitude Test) scores then, as one parent cleverly punned, "count me in!"
In a time when measurable, quantitative disciplines face drastic cuts in the education system, this new perspective that such work can boost artistic sensibilities may actually help "save the numbers." Dr. Adam Mini-Straiter, a principal at local high school stated, "We can't have curricula built solely upon orchestras, bands, chamber ensembles, and multimodal art coursework, now can we?" Of course, he was careful to point out that any justification for the numbers requires solid documentation in artistic, qualitative, subjective, context-based terms.
Prof. Noah Little, an educational specialist and theorist at Billing U, hypothesized a link between math and music--specifically, that computational thinking may lead to improvements in music-making. "Math involves numbers," Prof. Little explained to this astonished reporter, "and everyone knows that you've got to know your numbers to make good music…certain musical performances have even been called numbers!” After several minutes of laughing at his own cleverness (including several charming, snorty inhalations), he continued: “But art and creativity involve so much imagination, depth, and meaningfulness, that really no one wants to deal with them…yet, because most future employment depends upon them, math and certain analytical components of science can comprise that so-called 'spoon full of sugar' that helps the art go down." (It may be worthy of note that Professor Little found so much amusement in his final comment that this reporter had to leave the interview with the professor still snorting.)
Other theories posit a link between brain use and music. As Dr. Nora Eppy-Nefrin, one of the world’s foremost transtheoretical philharmonic biopsychoneuroscientists confirms, "Brains are part of the human body--an important part. They are almost certainly involved in the vital process of making music...it's time we started taking them a little more seriously." Dr. Eppy-Nefrin emphasized how brains are considered "whole music" structures, in that they tend to engage “more of the music than any other major organ…no pun intended” (Quite oddly, Professor Little, who happened to be in the vicinity of this subsequent interview, poked his head into the room, exclaiming “Pun Accepted!” followed by another episode of snort-laughing. He was promptly asked to leave.) Most also agree that using the brain repeatedly can actually result in enhanced musical development. "Brains are good tools for promoting a person's music," Dr. Eppy-Nefrin shared, "over time, brains stimulate better connections among the elements of music, and can help restore one's music after (for example) an injury impacting one's musicality." (It should be noted that, at the conclusion of the interview, the neuroscientist indicated that she "loves what she does" in spite of living on a relatively meager salary without the kind of job security that goes with being a gigging musician).
The implications of the power of numbers and brains to improve music may begin to raise questions about where society has been allocating its educational and financial priorities. Prof. Elly Mintz, a professor of chemistry at Beeker University, summed it up thusly: "Well, if what I do can lead to improvements in a field as legitimate as music, then maybe our work will be elevated beyond the entertainment value of dry ice tricks and cool-looking reactions in test tubes. I, for one, would love to be taken seriously, for once!"
However one may regard the example above on a surface level, it underscores a real problem. In the United States, we have witnessed a declining regard for the arts as ends. The concept of Ars Gratia Artis (Art for Art's Sake) is now generally considered an antiquated, idealistic value. Arts disciplines now face pressure to justify their existence according to their applied value in promoting economically grounded virtues, outside of the arts and humanities. For example, arts communities have often had to defend arts education programs in schools by citing research on the effect of the arts on quantitative reasoning skills and competence in the "hard" sciences (concomitantly with test scores in these areas).
In music education, largely due to shifts in funding priorities, the roles of musical skill and knowledge are frequently characterized as means. Popularized notions such as the Mozart Effect (Campbell, 2001; Tomatis, 1991) that posit a causal link between music experience and test scores in subjects based upon quantitative reasoning, have ascended in accordance with this trend (although it is worthy of note that the "Mozart Effect" is now generally regarded as more of a popular metaphor, as opposed to a scientific principle.)
Also consistent with this trend (at least in the United States), the music in music therapy is generally considered a means through which so-called "non-musical" ends (goals) are attained. These non-musical ends conceptualized according to mainstream, healthcare frameworks already holding social and economic legitimacy for much of the public. According to this understanding, music essentially represents an alternative means that is equivalent, complementary, or superior to the primary discipline's "usual" means. The problem with this understanding is that when music therapy is framed as an equivalent means, it is more or less redundant with the primary discipline; when it is framed as a complementary means, it serves in an adjunctive/subordinate capacity with respect to the primary discipline; and when it is framed as a superior means, it creates a competitive (and potentially threatening) dynamic between music therapy and the primary discipline.
In the field of music therapy, a number of theoretical perspectives have emphasized a musical understanding of clinical music therapy goals. The essential reasoning behind these perspectives on music therapy is that the music is a therapeutic goal in its own right, and is a sort of domain of health indigenous to the expertise of the music therapy discipline--in essence, music as an end. These have predominantly taken the form of music-centered perspectives on music therapy (e.g., Aigen, 2005; Ansdell, 1995; Lee, 2003), in which music experience and engagement is considered the core focus of therapy. A related perspective (Abrams, 2010, 2011) asserts that music can be understood as the primary health domain targeted by music therapy, but that the music need not take the form of sound, but rather the musical dimension permeating all facets of human functioning and health.
These perspectives are not merely wishful or idealistic. After all, isn't there something that music therapy, unlike any other profession, has to offer in understanding health? Can the health of premature neonates not be understood according to the timbre and tonality of their cry, the rhythmicity of their feeding, the harmonics of their self-organization, and the artistic coherence in the inter-relational bonding with others? Is it far-fetched to characterize musically the affective, communicative, and social dimensions of humanity that are challenging for persons with neurodevelopmental conditions? Are there no musical aspects of speech and language addressed uniquely as music, by music therapists, for persons who have undergone neurological trauma and injury? Is there no meaningful way to formulate a temporal-aesthetic understanding of thought and feeling, for persons with psychiatric diagnoses? Could music therapy in end-of-life care not target helping the client die a more fully musical death (beyond the concrete act of hearing musical sound at the actual time of transition)?
Whatever the reasoning may be for these points of view, the public at large seems resistant to accepting the idea of musical itself as health. As a result, the conceptualization of music-as-means alone has remained popular--particularly among much of the media reporting on music therapy (and related work).
The trends described here carry some rather serious consequences. If the value of music is justified solely according to its role as a means, then its primary value (and, by extension, the value of all arts) is that of a vehicle or tool. From this viewpoint, there is nothing particularly special about music, as any other means that could accomplish the same ends (with equivalent or greater efficaciousness) would be considered equally (or more) valuable. Nothing would be about the music; rather, music would always be about something else.
In the ethical and moral realms, if we reject the notion of music (or any art) as a reified thing, and acknowledge the humanity embodied in the work, then, as Garred (2006) suggests, music is not an "It," but rather more of a living, personal "Thou." As a "Thou," would it not be dehumanizing to "use" music, in the same sense that it would be dehumanizing to "use" any person as means to non-personal ends? As Kant (1949) stated with respect to the Practical Imperative within his Metaphysic of Morals, "The Practical Imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in any case as an end withal, and never as a means only" (p. 46). Viewing music as a means alone would therefore violate this imperative.
There are also some very real, pragmatic consequences. In a means-only viewpoint, the essential features of music--holistic, creative, imaginative, and relational--could eventually give way to something so controlled, technical, uniform, standardized, and mass-produced, that its essential features could well be lost entirely. Put another way: If music cannot be an end, then we may face the end of music (at least as we have known it).
Perhaps part of the problem has been the historical bifurcation between science as an applied, pragmatic phenomenon on the one hand; and the humanities (including the arts and music) as elite, intellectual, aesthetic objects, residing in privileged conditions, serving autonomous, non-applied purposes (except, perhaps, where commoditized as capital in the entertainment industry). As the humanities sat in their "ivory towers," science established an every greater dominion over the applied value world. Thus, when the humanities finally began to awaken to their applied potentials, they found themselves having to stumble through a world wherein the agendas of science had become well established conventions, and wherein the idea of the humanities as ends in their own right was foreign. Thus, the humanities had to enter the scene in a position subordinate to science and its ends.
With the recent establishment of the trans-disciplinary area of the Health Humanities, perhaps there is now a unique opportunity to begin building (perhaps rebuilding) a case for the applied, real-world, everyday, economic value of the humanities (and the arts). The Health Humanities, among other various pursuits, have begun to explore the role of the humanities not only in and for healthcare, but as healthcare, wherein the humanities retain their whole, humanistic legitimacy, without being reduced to technical objects for deterministic outcomes.
Consider the words of George Santayana (1905): “Music is essentially useless, as life is; but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions” (Online quote, Gutenberg.org). We do not use our existence as means for some non-existence end; rather, everything we do is in the interest of existence (and its qualities thereof). If we grant that music is a particular facet of existence itself, and hence and end in itself, then perhaps music therapy means working to make this particular facet of existence (music) as healthful as it can be. Quite often, this can involve working by means of musical sound experiences--but not always, nor necessarily. Thus, in this sense, while music therapy would remain essentially a “musical therapy” (Abrams, 2010), it would be defined more so by its ends than by its means.
Perhaps, therefore, the end of music may be possible, in the context of music therapy. If understood as a particular dimension of health itself--specifically, as the health domain indigenous to the expertise of the music therapy discipline--music therapy can be framed not only according to how can we use music to promote health, but also according to how can we provide opportunities for promotion of health as music.
What thoughts do you have about the means-end problem of music, pertaining to music therapy? What reactions do you have to the perspectives presented here? What comments and/or questions do you have in response to this essay, in general? Anything you care to share along these lines would be most welcome.
Abrams, B. (2010). Musical Therapy? Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 10, 2010, from http://voices.no/?q=colabrams050410
Abrams (2011, In Press). Understanding music as a temporal-aesthetic way of being: Implicaitons for a general theory of music therapy. Arts in Psychotherapy.
Aigen (2005). Music-centered music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Ansdell (1995). Music for life: Aspects of Creative Music Therapy with adult clients. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Campbell, Don (1997). The Mozart Effect: Tapping the power of music to heal the body, strengthen the mind, and unlock the creative spirit. New York: Quill/HarperCollins.
Garred, R. (2006). Music as therapy: A dialogical perspective. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Kant, Immanuel. (1949). Fundamental principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (Translation by T. K. Abbot). New York: Macmillian.
Lee, C. A. (2003). The architecture of Aesthetic Music Therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Santayana, G. (1905). Life of reason (Vol. 4; Chapter 4). Retrieved on March 28, 2011 from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15000/15000-h/vol4.html#CHAPTER_IV
Tomatis, A. (1991). Porquis Mozart? Essai. Paris: Diffusion/Hachette.
Abrams, Brian (2011). The <em>End</em> of Music The End of Music. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2011-end-music