Let’s consider an important conference theme: “Music is the center of our work as Music Therapists.” This is an important theme and one, which could surely serve as a daily mantra for Music Therapists.
My talk this morning will focus on “being.” I will attempt to give being its proper place within the context of our music therapy practice.
First I’ll offer a retrospective on some of my own work that relates to this theme of being. In 1982, I wrote a book titled The Mythic Artery: The Magic of Music Therapy (now available in Music and Life in the Field of Play: An Anthology). In this book I offered a litany that emerged from one of my contributions to the 1979 symposium on music and man at Southern Methodist University, organized by Bill Sears and Charlie Eagle. Bill had asked us to each write about what music meant to us. Then we shared. Here is my slightly modified list:
If we study this litany of qualities in, we can see very strong underpinnings about “being” and what music can bring to this being.
In my own graduate studies while working in both a Western tradition of medicine at the University of British Columbia Health Science Center Psychiatric Unit and on several urban and rural Native settings, I discovered an important theme common to both contexts – a theme or phenomenon I called “the death/rebirth myth as the healing agent in music.”
You might ask: How are these death/rebirth myths expressed in the music?
We hear them, play them, and feel them through the most basic elements of music – tensions and resolutions in rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and the more general materials of music -- sound and silence.
Let’s think about the close relationship between myth and philosophy. Myths are abundant n all indigenous societies. In fact, myths, or foundational and exemplar stories were guides to life itself and served to keep Native peoples on the good road.
We see the intimate relationship between myth and philosophy, in fact, in the transfer of mythology into philosophy with the Greeks. The stories of Orpheus, Phaedra, and all of the gods began to be interpreted into more abstract themes like the nature of being, ethics, justice, and love by Plato, Socrates, and many others.
Music has always played a crucial role in our human story. My own decision to focus on the aesthetic and philosophical dimensions of music therapy arrived in an epiphany when I had a particularly profound music therapy experience with my patient in hospital. After this experience, I was no longer satisfied with the rather entrenched language I was required to use while charting progress notes in hospital settings. I needed a deeper, transformational language that more accurately described my experiences with patients.
One day at the end of a particularly difficult session when I questioned the progress, I asked myself: “Why do I keep coming back?” The answer was “for the beauty.”
That day in the hospital, the seeds of my own theoretical map were sown. Now I define the human person as an aesthetic, or field of beauty. She is an environment in which the conditions include her human tendencies, values, feelings, life experiences, thoughts, sensations, memories – and all elements, which cohere to compose the human condition in being and manifest in presence.
Even though my patient was terribly disfigured, fed by a gastro-intestinal tube, could not speak, was paralyzed in three limbs, and was not responding (seemingly), she was beautiful to me. And the experience we were sharing was one of beauty. This was a metaphysical experience – a true meeting of souls in Music Therapy and unexplainable through science.
Two souls meet and create a space called the musical space. In this space, important expressions of their human conditions interplay in the music therapy experience. This is an opportunity for learning and growth through their relationship in the music. Since music is an energy system, subsequently, five more fields are created over time that are emergent and reflect relational horizons for continuing growth.
I call this set of interacting and emergent fields the Field of Play. It is intended to offer a new language for the process territory of Music Therapy. This is an intensely humanistic approach that focuses on the immediate relational experience between the music therapist and the patient or client in the music.
The Field of Play can be described as a field of loving and creating in music, an energy system that generates vitality, motivation, and initiative. It defines the human being as an aesthetic who is composed of his or her human conditions – physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual, that make up the character of the person. Thus it addresses philosophically speaking, the soul. Philosophical inquires are concerned with the soul, the character, ethics, the nature of existence, and the nature of being itself.
These philosophical considerations that have a metaphysical nature are often pushed aside in Music Therapy for the more practical considerations. Or perhaps the great tsunami of science, often resistant to metaphysics, has covered them up for a time.
Philosophers who consider questions of aesthetics include Plato, Socrates, Marx, Marcuse, Engles, Kant, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Adorno, Langer, Meyer, Gadamer, Dewey, Schiller, and many others. Notions of aesthetics in the literature include aesthetic experience, aesthetic thinking, aesthetic values, aesthetic standards, aesthetic criteria, aesthetic practice, aesthetic dimensions, and only occasionally, aesthetic imperative – the ethical questions surrounding aesthetics.
Some rare philosophers do consider specifically, the aesthetic imperative. In his work titled The Aesthetic Dimension, Marcuse (1977) describes the aesthetic imperative as “opening the horizon of change or liberation.” Marcuse also writes, “Art, in general, subverts the dominant consciousness, our ‘ordinary’ experience.”
We must also consider the important epistemological character of music as knowledge, studied by quite a few philosophers. But let me offer an example here from one of my Music Therapy clients.
When I was a new Music Therapists, having practiced for only five years, I was facilitating a group Music Therapy session at the University of British Columbia Health Science Center Psychiatric in-patient unit. Our group had played a very intense improvisation using many instruments – both percussion and melodic instruments. One of my patients had done a very powerful drum lead. And he had mobilized the entire group, who followed him through a 30-minute drum centered improvisation. At the end, when we were processing our experience together in the improvisation, I asked this leader of the improvisation what the music meant to him. He did not respond. Rather, he put his head down and rocked. Well, I did what I was trained to do. I reframed. I said: “Can you tell me how the music felt when you played it?” More rocking and head down. So I kept reframing: “How did you feel when others responded to your music?” This painful experience of questioning went on for about five reframes. Then, from across the room, another patient spoke out. She said: “Lady, if he could say it, he wouldn’t have to play it.” What a philosopher she was. And what a teacher she was to me!
So let’s consider music as knowledge from an academic philosopher. John Salas, a contemporary philosopher states: “Music itself is proverbially resistant to being expressed in words. How much more resistant to such expression is its effect on us? -- Mere sounds that penetrate to what once would have been called ‘the depths of the human soul,” to what today, we would perhaps call ‘drawing metaphorically on music – our most fundamental attunement.” (2008. p. 111).
Salas also emphasizes the important relationship between love, music, and the beautiful, accepting as so fundamental to human existence, the darker sides of human life – death, loss, sorrow, and anger, even madness. He notes that Plato and Socrates would, because of such depth, refer to philosophical music. And he also notes, in the very long tradition of philosophy, that music shapes the soul’s receptivity to beauty.
Several Music Therapy scholars have addressed the issue of aesthetics in Music Therapy. Notable are Jo Sales, Mercédès Pavlicevic, E.T. Gaston, Edith LeCourt, Brynjulf Stige, Lisa Summer, Colin Lee, Ken Aigen, and Ken Bruscia. A great deal of this literature focuses on what we might call the transactional or pragmatic aspects of Music Therapy rather than the transformational aspects, though Ken Aigen serves as the exception here.
Aesthetic experience is a theme that has been conceived within Music Therapy for a long time. The famous E.T. Gaston, in fact, who gave it a brief consideration in his original Music in therapy (1968), took it up originally.
Colin Lee (2003) proposes an approach to aesthetics that he names an architecture based on Music theory, musicology, and in general, the great Western European tradition. Having his source in the Nordoff/ Robbins approach, he considers the important elements of intervals, scales, phrasing, chords, and idioms in Music Therapy improvisations. In general, the Nordoff/Robbins approach focuses on the elegance and beauty of The Music Child. But how about the therapist? One of the first and most basic tenants of philosophy is “know thyself”. Reflect on your own being in the world.
As Aigen critiques the more biological justifications of Gaston and the neo-Darwinian justifications of Dissanayake and Grind, he also moves us toward a more philosophical approach. (Aigen, 2008). In his conclusion to this 2 part article, he writes: “Music is inarguably an artistic medium that is defined by the elements of it that give rise to aesthetic experience. Unless the elements that define music as music [and I add – an aesthetic phenomenon] are central parts of clinical applications, it is difficult if not impossible to understand why the discipline of Music Therapy exists as it does and why it enjoys the dedication of the clients whose lives it was created to enhance.” (p. 17).
I believe that in Music Therapy we serve our clients through two strong imperatives or ethical mandates that often conflict – the medical or educational imperative and the aesthetic imperative – both equally important. My own concern is that in order to become accepted in a professional context, we may have sacrificed too much of our aesthetic imperative in face of the demands and accountability systems of the medical/educational imperative. In a more direct way, we may have also sacrificed our focus on an aesthetic imperative because, in the face of the suffering we encounter so often in music therapy, we are compelled to take immediate action – to DO something – no time for reflecting on BEING. No time for philosophy or aesthetics, especially in the mountain of paperwork, policies, and procedures, other accountability systems that require our attention.
So what does the aesthetic imperative mean for Music Therapy?
It means that we would make certain adjustments, giving our attention to the primary themes in philosophy – the soul, the character, ethics, the nature of being, being in the world, the nature of existence itself.
To make a beginning, let’s focus on three areas: Education and training, practice, and research.
For education and training, I suggest that we challenge our students to find their own definitions of beauty. I recommend that we encourage them to stay committed to their primary instrument of choice, which is an important expression of soul. I suggest that we introduce them to the basic philosophical ideas about soul, character, and ethics regarding aesthetics.
For practice, let’s look at our codes of ethics. Do they specifically address philosophical imperatives? Also, as practitioners, do we continue to develop our aesthetic beings through performance? And finally, do we balance the significance of the medical/educational imperative and the aesthetic imperative in our practice, our language, and our reports?
For theoretical research, in particular, our dilemma is in finding shared theories in our practice. We serve so many different populations, each of which has its own needs. For example, children with disabilities, patients in end-of-life care, clients in music psychotherapy, patients of clients battling with issues of substance abuse, all have different needs. Also, the people we serve come from many different cultures, which have different values, musics, and cultural practices. What is the common denominator in all of this diversity?
For research, let us consider the concept of evidence and its relationship to physics and metaphysics. From the original Greek, the work evidence translates as “experience.” This is experience in the broadest sense – experience of the soul – perhaps intuition, in dreams, in memory, and a host of extraordinary human experiences that are often dismissed because of the paucity of current definitions of evidence. Metaphysical experiences cannot often be seen or quantified. Now we have a host of arts-based research methods that can often describe these experiences and more accurately portray the Music Therapy experience. Let’s use them.
Here are the questions and my own answers posed by our Canadian Association of Music Therapy organizers here at our 2011 Winnipeg conference:
And finally, how does the story of our lives told through music bring us to our own center? It is this last question – the how – that troubles and disturbs because in order to keep ourselves and our profession growing, we must pause enough to Be.
Ethical imperatives are always troubling and disturbing. My hope is that we can take up these imperatives and work together toward balance and integration – the medical/education with the aesthetic imperative – in equal parts – mutually balanced for the sake of authenticity and coherence. It is only through such a balance that we will be able to fulfill the authentic journey of the soul of Music Therapy itself.
In summary, how do we keep ourselves in balance? How do we stay in the heartland and return to the center? My own sense is to return to the beauty. For this I turn to the Navaho Blessing Way:
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk,
From the East, beauty has been restored.
From the South, beauty has been restored.
From the West, beauty has been restored.
From the North, beauty has been restored.
From the zenith in the sky, beauty has been restored.
From the nadir in the Earth, beauty has been restored.
From all around me, beauty has been restored.
I invite you to take this journey with me.
Remember that it was Raven who observed the tiny and frightened human beings crouched in a giant clamshell on the beach of the Haida Gwaii so afraid. He teased us into existence by singing his Raven’s song.
Thank you for listening to my story.
Gaston, E.T. (1968). Music in therapy. London: Collier-Macmillan.
Kenny, C. (2006). Music and life in the field of play: An anthology. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishing.
Lee, C.A. (2003). The architecture of aesthetic music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishing.
Marcuse, H. (1977). The aesthetic dimension: Toward a critique of Marxist aesthetics. Boston: Beacon Press.
Salas, J. (2008). The verge of philosophy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Kenny, Carolyn (2011). Time for Integration: Journey to the Heartland. Keynote Speech: Canadian Association for Music Therapy: May 2011, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2011-time-integration-journey-heartland-keynote-speech-canadian-association-musi