It seems to me that people are increasingly aware of the value of music in our lives—in this case, of course, in dealing with this important event. The person who was responsible for one of the news programs on our National Public Radio, Bob Bolen, wrote and spoke of his considerations 10 years ago when he was selecting music to use on the show in the days following the tragedy. He opened his show, All Things Considered, with a piano piece by Phillip Glass, “Opening” from the album Glassworks. He said this about the music:
After a day of digesting the news, it was the first time I actually processed the news. Music connected me with the emotion of the day. It did it in a way no other artform can do (for me). It didn't create the emotion, but it seemed to act as a conduit; a way to process fact and funnel it into feelings. Somehow, as a passionate music lover, I'd forgotten how powerful music can be. We can all get caught up in trends and genres and subgenres, but in the end, musicians make music to express themselves, and a good piece of music can connect you to your own feelings” (Bolen, Sept. 9, 2011).
Ten years ago, members of Congress spontaneously stood on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and sang “God Bless America.” Apparently they have done this every year since then. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, said the only reason that Members of Congress could share that experience in 2001 was because of the courage of the heroes on board United Flight 93. The plane was headed here,” he said. “We’ve learned since then the ringleader of that evil band had made a decision that it would be the Capitol, not the White House, because it was a much easier target. That night we didn’t know that when we met here, but we know it now” (Parkinson & Miller, 2011). Although the U.S. Congress is far from united at this time, it is apparent that they still understand the symbolism and perhaps even the assistance that music might provide, leading toward some type of unity.
As a music therapist who understands the importance of music in our lives, I am pleased when others share this understanding. This 10th anniversary has provided an opportunity to see some of this awareness. I am more gratified, though, at what I perceive as increased awareness of music therapy and the power of music and at some of what music therapists have been able to do and are doing in the wake of this and other tragic events. I would like to share some of this.
The first thing that I would like to share is a small thing, but perhaps it gives an indication of increased awareness of music therapy. A teenage girl spoke at one of the events honoring those who died in the attacks on 9/11. I believe that she was the daughter of a man who had been killed. The announcer said that she plans to go to college to study music therapy, because she has seen the value of music in helping her deal with this tragedy. Not only am I glad that she will study music therapy, but I was very pleased that a national audience heard about music therapy in this context.
I also have permission to share a related story about a client of fellow music therapist, Diane Austin, who shared the following about a girl with whom she worked:
We began working together after 9/11- She and her family lived very close to the Twin Towers and witnessed everything. She was 12 years old then. She loved singing and music so her mother’s therapist referred her to me for Vocal/Music Psychotherapy. She was very depressed and anxious and didn’t want to talk much about what she experienced (or the results on her father who was a recovering addict and picked up again after 9/11). But she brought in songs that we listened to together that told the story of how she was feeling. It seemed the family was falling apart--probably not in great shape to begin with—but the events of 9/11 made things much worse.
We quickly moved into singing songs she brought in to the sessions. We sang to CDs, or I would work out the chords and accompany her on the piano while I sang back-up. As she began to feel safe with me, she spoke more about her sadness; having to leave her neighborhood, missing her friends, watching her parents fight all the time, and feeling stifled by her mother’s overprotectiveness.
To make a long story short, in the next few years we began to compose songs about the trauma of September 11th, her grief and anger caused by her father’s addiction, her anger at her mother’s inability to stand up to her father’s abusive behavior, etc. We even began to do some Free Associative Singing which she found very helpful and enjoyed.
At some point, she told me she wanted to become a music therapist. I thought it was sweet and a lovely compliment but that she would move on to other interests. I last saw her when she was 17. Then last year I received a call from her telling me she was in college studying music therapy!
It is gratifying to know of these young people who have been affected by music and music therapy and been led to careers in music therapy. Of greater significance, though, is the work that has been done utilizing music therapy to help those who survived and were affected by 9/11 and other tragedies.
Following 9/11/01, AMTA and the Recording Academy sponsored the New York City Music Therapy Relief Project. A collection of reflections on music therapy interventions provided as part of this project is gathered in the book Caring for the Caregiver: The Use of Music and Music Therapy in Grief and Trauma (Loewy & Frisch Hara, 2007). Joanne Loewy (2003) wrote about this project:
In 2002, AMTA provided generous funding (through the Recording Academy) for us to create a space to learn in NYC as a community of personal and professional caregivers (those with direct loss and those with secondary-or work-client related losses of 9-11) how music can assist grief and trauma. We studied with trauma experts who were non-music therapists and with our deepest selves and others, what was inherently provoking and healing about music. We learned a great deal, and the music therapists who were part of this training wrote about their experiences [in Caring for the Caregiver].
The Caring for the Caregiver group has gathered each year during the week of 9/11 at Beth Israel Medical Center. Joanne Loewy reflects (personal communication, Sept. 21, 2011):
Our Caring for the Caregiver group, which was an outgrowth of the AMTA-Grammy 2002 support, has gathered each year to memorialize friends, relatives and colleagues that we lost on that day. The music, and in particular, our singing and holding of one another has been, and continues to be a refuge. For this, we are grateful.
The unique aspect of this group is that persons with direct loss use music to process with professionals who have indirect loss. The music creates a community that holds a fort of healing for those personally and professionally affected. This year, to mark the 10th anniversary, the group has decided to record their own original music as well as the music generated from their group process and their original songbook—which they have sung year after year. The recapitulation of themes, now associated with not only the loss—but the renewed support—will make the recording process and its product one of meaning and one that is symbolic of “Caring for the Caregiver”—we are all caregivers to ourselves and to others and the music so obviously perpetuates that concept. The CD will be called “Penguin Huddle: Caring for the Caregiver.” The penguins are from nurse Donna Gaffney’s experiential where the Caregivers moved to music and layers of healing—this is mirrored after live penguin communities.
AMTA remembered 9/11 and the New York City Relief Project on 9/11 of this year with some information on their website and “An Invitation to Sing.” The website states:
As a community of music therapists and music therapy students, the American Music Therapy Association invites you to take a moment around the anniversary of 9/11 to sing – in remembrance, in peace, and in hope. We offer a suggested chant of reflection (and mp3 recording) titled My Voice Has Wings. We also offer a copy of Sing With Me, a song composed by music therapist Kate Geller and used by the New York City area Caring for the Caregiver Group.” AMTA provided a chant and song on their website, “in the hopes that our voices, united, will bring support and comfort to all.” (http://www.musictherapy.org/amta_remembers_9112001/)
AMTA had done work in disaster response prior to 9/11 and the New York City Relief Project, but 9/11 moved the activity to another level and formalized programming on a larger scale for disaster recovery. Music therapists including Ron Borczon and Barbara Else had worked in this area for a long time. Andi Farbman, Executive Director of AMTA, made it possible to expand the process after events like the Northridge (CA) earthquake and the Oklahoma City bombing (personal communication, Barbara Else, Sept. 14, 2011). Barbara Else, AMTA consultant, coordinates AMTA’s disaster response, which has expanded as more music therapists become aware of ways to help after disasters and, unfortunately, more disasters occur.
The World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT) is also doing important work on global crises. The WFMT website states: “The Global Crises Intervention Commission seeks to support the needs of music therapists affected by or responding to crises—both natural and human-made—across the world that results in trauma stress. The Commission facilitates communication, coordination of services, and training among music therapists and maintains a collection of materials and information to use during current or on-going disasters or traumatic situations.” Gene Ann Behrens is Chair of this Commission. More information on their goals and projects can be found on their website.
I suspect that there are other ways in which music therapy is serving the needs of people who have been touched by disaster. I am grateful for those of which I am aware and proud to be part of a profession that can help in such extraordinary ways—as people deal with human vindicated trauma and natural disasters/circumstances that call upon us to use music and human creativity to instill and rebuild our sense of strength and resilience as a human race.
Bolen, Bob. Sept. 9, 2011. After Sept. 11, Rediscovering the Power of Music. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2011/09/08/140284374/after-sept-11-rediscovering-the-power-of-music?ft=1&f=1039&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Loewy, Joanne V., & Frisch Hara, Andrea (Eds.) (2007). Caring for the Caregiver: The Use of Music and Music Therapy in Grief and Trauma. Silver Spring, MD: AMTA.
Loewy, J. (2003). Response to Amir, D. Caring for the Caregiver-How do we Nurture Ourselves? Retreived from http://www.voices.no/?q=content/re-response-how-do-we-nurture-ourselves-0
Parkinson, John, & Miller, Sunlen. (Sept. 12, 2011). Congress Pays Tribute to 9/11, Sings ‘God Bless America’ Again. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/congress-pays-tribute-to-911-sings-god-bless-america-again/
Wheeler, Barbara (2002) Reflections on the Importance of Music in Dealing with the Tragedies of September 11. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved September 05, 2011, from http://voices.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-reflections-importance-music-dealing-tragedies-september-11
Wheeler, Barbara (2011). Reflections on 9/11/01 – 10 Years Later. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2011-reflections-91101-10-years-later