To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing) or by dancing” Christopher Small (1998)
Most readers will know of the work of Christopher Small, writer and musicologist, who died on 7th September, 2011. Small was born in New Zealand and studied piano, choral conducting and composition at Victoria University, in Wellington. Victoria University is the institute of enrolment for the New Zealand School of Music, which offers the only training programme for music therapy in this country. Having long admired Small’s work, I find the links he had to our small country and our school, add to the poignancy of his passing. Like many other music therapists, I have often quoted Small’s work. It therefore seemed appropriate to offer a tribute, through this column, by considering some of the way he has influenced my current thinking.
Small argued that the creation of musical meaning and beauty is not limited to great performers. Rather, he said, “meaning and beauty are created whenever any performer approaches (musical activity) with love and with all the skill and care that he or she can bring to it” (p.7). Small suggested the meaning of music lies not in objects or musical works but in action; that meanings are created through relationships and are therefore not individual, but social. However, he argued, in Western cultures, an emphasis on the study of classical music served to disempower and exclude all but a privileged or ‘talented’ few from participation in music activities.
To take part in a music act is of central importance to our very humanness, as important as taking part in the act of speech… everyone, every normally endowed human being, is born with the gift of music no less than with the gift of speech… our powers of making music for ourselves have been hijacked and the majority of people robbed of the musicality that is theirs by right of birth, while a few stars, and their handlers, grow rich and famous through selling us what we have been led to believe we lack. (p.8).
He reminded us that people sing and play without musical scores, recalling melodies and rhythms or inventing their own. Yet still, today, we can see that large numbers of people continue to be silenced, disempowered often from a very young age, by feelings that they are ‘not good enough’ (Giordano, 2002; Jeanneret, 2006; Lubet, 2009). Lubet (2009) notes that many people, deprived of practical musical experience, are “too impaired even to attempt to learn music in ‘mainstream’ programmes” (p. 730), and are, in effect, musically ‘disabled’. The social construction of what music ‘should be’ has led many people, with or without impairments, to perceive they are unable to engage in music making without specific training or experience.
Small, and others, have challenged us to consider how we use and, perhaps subconsciously, maintain the power and privilege we have developed as Western ‘musicians’. As music therapists we need to examine whether we have created and a sustained a construct of music therapy that serves to protect our professional identities and in doing so controls the musical activities of others. As Ruud (2010) notes, it can be difficult for us when other musicians occupy spaces that we might consider be ‘ours’. Yet, as Ruud also points out, professionals trained in other disciplines can also use music, and we would do well to
…meet this situation by empowering others though counselling, role modelling and providing research and knowledge concerning the relationship between musicking and health. Strengthening music therapy as a discipline and as a field of reflection that looks beyond music therapy as a toolkit of music therapy intervention techniques, will contribute to the growth of music therapy” (Ruud, 2010, p. 8).
I have been particularly interested in the various ways music therapists can work in schools, to support teachers and teachers’ aides who work with students who have a wide range of diverse needs. My research focused on developing a music therapy school consultation protocol, outlining a process which aims to empower staff to use music in their work to enhance student learning and development. The staff I worked with declared that musicking had a profound positive affect on their relationship with their students, and I am now passionate about the potential for music therapists to work as consultants in schools. However, I am aware that schools need a range of options to cope with the student diversity they experience. And I believe that music therapists have much to offer school communities, although in inclusive education environments it will be necessary to pay attention to the language we use to describe our activities. And so, dare I dream?
In my dream a music therapist is leading an exuberant song during a primary school assembly; later she will arrange music for some students who are particularly interested in forming an after school band; and last night she wrote additional parts for the musical production to ensure all the eager students in the school will be able participate in the performance in some way. She is collaborating with the regular classroom teacher regarding the class music programme and making suggestions about activities, and adaptations of activities, to ensure the diverse group of students can all enjoy and benefit from their music lessons. Perhaps even more importantly, they are also working together to determine how music might be used throughout the day to enhance other curriculum areas. Next week she will be co-facilitating a class music programme – but in the meantime she will be hanging out in the classroom for long periods, supporting the teacher and highlighting how her ‘musical way of being’ is helping the students to remain engaged in the learning process. She is collaborating with the occupational therapist to enable a student to access music software on computer via a head switch. She sings with her guitar in the playground and the students gravitate to be part of the musical experience; and she chants as she walks alongside a student with physical limitations, to support them as they walk to the classroom. She also facilitates a small group music session for students who find it easier to socialise in a music setting compared with other contexts; and she facilitates individual music sessions for a student who demonstrates particular skills in interpersonal interaction on a one to one basis in a music setting, compared with other contexts. Sometimes she invites the speech and language therapist to join an individual session. Parents spontaneously stop and join the playground singing group. She meets with the teacher, and teacher’s aide, regularly, to discuss how all the students in the class are progressing, and how music might help. She is a musical presence in the school environment. Every primary school should have one. In fact, in my dream, every primary school has at least one, full time music therapist.
And so we reclaim "musicking." Small’s wondering about why we pick up instruments or sing together in the first place, his deliberations on the ritualistic and cultural manifestation of music, and his understanding of Western music as a commercialised, non-participatory art form, a phenomena of capitalist societies, underpins much of what I have been thinking and writing about over recent years. In my dream we tear down the barriers we have created between "musician" and "non-musician", and between able and "dis" abled; perhaps even between "music" and "music therapy." This is where I imagine some readers will have a strong reaction to my words. I know it’s easy, and fun, to dream. But perhaps my dream is more about reflection, and we could, thanks to Christopher Small, be moving, albeit slowly and carefully, toward that reality?
Giordano, E. (2002). The dynamics of arts integration. Music Therapy Today (online), available at http://musictherapyworld.net.
Jeanneret, N. (2006). The national review of music in schools and the endless debate about music in primary schools. Australian Journal of Music Education, 2006, 93-97.
Lubet, A. (2009). The inclusion of music/the music of inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(7), 727-739.
Ruud, E. (2010). Music therapy. A perspective from the humanities. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.
Rickson, Daphne (2012). Do we dare to dream? Building on a legacy from Christopher Small Do we dare to dream? Building on a legacy from Christopher Small. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2012-do-we-dare-dream-building-legacy-christopher-small