We can look at music therapy through many perspectives and underpin the practice with wide-ranging theoretical references, for example, from the fields of psychoanalysis or neuroscience. In some recent presentations it has been rewarding to explore some of the parallel processes within composed and improvised music, before making further links with music therapy in practice when working with people of all ages and in very different contexts. This is nothing new as an approach or emphasis but, by starting out with the focus clearly on the music, it has enabled participants at the presentations to become immediately drawn into a personal musical experience. Non-verbal connections were instantly made. Any subsequent viewing of work in practice appeared then to resonate more, the observers already having made their own private connections to the music: they could bring their own experiences of listening to music from the inside to inform their understanding of what they were later to observe in music therapy practice.
Listening to the beginning of the second movement of Schubert’s String Quintet provided a fitting entry point at the start of two recent presentations. It could have been a jazz quintet or another piece of music where it was possible to hear close musical collaboration at work. I opted for a favourite piece by Schubert. And, as is central to trainings in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music, listening to the same piece from different perspectives can evoke different responses (Bruscia & Grocke, 2002). What differences can be located, for example, by listening with or without access to the score? What are the responses if encouraged to focus on internal changes such as breathing, awareness of any associations, images, memories or feelings?
Subsequent sharing in words between other participants can then bypass the need for any initial explanation about the physiological, psychological and both deeply individual yet collective experiences of listening to music. The verbal sharing is a social act, as also heard in the way that negotiation of meaning takes place between the instrumentalists within sensitive and effective chamber music playing. What happens then if a further transition is made and the participants witness and listen to a group of music therapists and students improvise a response to the composed piece? This happened recently at a presentation in London when members of the music therapy department at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama responded in both individual and collective ways to the initial listening (twice) to the opening section of the movement by Schubert.
A theme that linked all these different kinds of listening experiences was that of integration. We could hear and see in both the piece of Schubert and the improvisation the way in which diverse elements combined together to make a coherent piece of music. There were parallel processes of focused listening, give and take and the use of a wide spectrum of musical elements – melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, range of loudness, use of silent pauses etc. - within both experiences. Yet the opposite polarity to integration was also apparent in, for example, the first violin in the Schubert made up of short melodic and harmonic fragments, some of these closer to the world of disintegration rather than integration. As paralleled in the therapeutic process the middle textures (second violin, viola and first cello) can be heard and seen as very sustaining and holding features. The placing of each note in the second cello part appears to support and ground everything, contributing to the flow of the subtle harmonic and rhythmic movement. Everything appears connected with an intricate balance of foreground and background, leader and follower. Every voice has its place and needs to be heard as part of the overall integrated texture. Parallels clearly abound here with effective individual and group music therapy practice.
The Latin verb integrare takes on both the meanings of “to make whole, renew” and, interestingly in the context of therapy, “to restore, heal, repair” (Lewis & Short, 1879). When we move from the composed world of Schubert to the more improvised music at the core of much music therapy practice this process of integration can be viewed as something that is both inherent within musical form but also part of a potential process that can involve exploring a continuum from places of scattered disintegration to more integrated wholes.
The oldest church in my home town of Bristol, St. James Priory, has just been lovingly and beautifully restored. Near the doorway at the west end of the church there are glass screens that contain “fragments” of randomly-ordered blue glass. As you move down the side aisle these pieces of glass become more connected until near the door at the east end there is an arched panel containing a more integrated joining-up of the different fragments of glass. This is a powerful metaphor of the process towards furthering integration. It connects processes during the 21st century restoration of a 12th century building. The artists Ray Bradley and Denise mt Basso call their work “Fragments of lives” which has further resonance given that the work of this community has, over recent years, been directed to supporting people facing problems of alcohol and drug addiction (Bradley.Basso LLP, n.d). Different part of people’s lives can be re-arranged into a more integrated pattern.
A Jungian perspective on a therapeutic process would highlight this goal of potential integration, this balancing of the external and internal, the conscious and unconscious. Of course there are moments of fragmentation and disintegration as we move towards this ideal goal. Life is made more whole, as in any piece of music, with this shifting balance between dissonance and consonance, tension and release. In many areas of music therapy practice, be it making music with a child on the autistic spectrum or an adult diagnosed with schizophrenia or dementia, we are aware that there is much that is not connected, not integrated. But we can invite these children and adults to make connections to the living form of a very integrated process, to enter into a musical flow and one that is interactive, set in the context of an on-going relationship. Here we begin to be aware of the potential for the whole future of integration and wholeness, the music, as with the pieces of glass, connecting the fragments into a far greater whole than the sum of the parts.
An emphasis on the central position of music within music therapy and its relationship to the roots in the humanities has been presented by such music therapy scholars as Kenneth Aigen (2005), Colin Lee (2003) and Even Ruud (2010). In what ways can this notion of integration hold its place within these perspectives? There is nothing new about this question. Juliette Alvin spent a whole term of lectures exploring with us students the connections between association, identification and integration in music therapy. Looking rather indulgently through the essay I wrote at the end of this lecture course I was struck by the phrase “Music can form a bridge between external and internal worlds making whole out of apparent disparate elements.”
This kind of phrase can connect to the interest expressed by many music therapists in Ken Wilber’s four quadrant model with the continua of individual to collective and internal and external (Wilber, 2000). Towards the end of these recent presentations it has been interesting to chart the connections between the quadrants and music therapy by such scholars as Kenneth Bruscia (1998), Lars Ole Bonde (2011) and Brian Abrams (2010). I played with the proposition of my own summary of the quadrants in relation to music therapy. Will there be a time when we can build an integrative model of music therapy with music at its core? Will such a model ever be able to embrace the complexity and flexibility of shifts from the individual to the collective within the framework of the internal and external? Will such a model be adaptable enough to both the experiences of listening to music and being involved in active playing?
Abrams, B. (2010). Evidence-based music therapy practice: An integral understanding. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(4), 351-379.
Aigen, K. (2005). Music-centred music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Bonde, L.O. (2011). Health musicing – Music therapy or music and health? A model, empirical examples and personal reflections. Music and Arts in Action, 3(2), 121-140.
Bradley.Basso LLP (n.d). Fragments of lives. Retrieved from http://www.bradleybasso.com/portfolio/fragments-of-lives/
Bruscia, K. (1998).Dynamic forces. In Defining music therapy (pp. 131-152). Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Bruscia, K.E. & Grocke, D.E. (Eds.) (2002). Guided imagery and music: The Bonny method and beyond. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Lee, C.A. (2003). The architecture of aesthetic music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Lewis, C.T. & Short, C. A (1879). Latin dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ruud, E (2010). Music therapy: A perspective from the humanities. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy. Boston: Shambhala.
Bunt, Leslie (2012). On Integration in Music and Music Therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2012-integration-music-and-music-therapy