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Last year, whilst in Edinburgh, I had the good fortune to go hear a bunch of fine musicians in the space of about 3 days. (They included Emily Scott, Teitur, Benni Hemm Hemm, Withered Hand, and Alasdair Roberts). Those few days still stand out in my mind – the music connected me to parts of myself that had been a little lost. The music reminded me that those parts still existed and there was some ineffable experience that occurred, best described (though difficult to put into words) as “wholeing”. I was made more more wholly me by the experience.

As I wrote in a previous post about beauty, I find that health (or wholeness) is evidenced by one’s ability to experience beauty (fully feeling the music, or enjoying art, or appreciating the beauty of a sunset). And that we can often see when a person is “out of health” or disintegrated, or “not whole” when we see them not being able to listen to, enjoy, feel, or fully immerse themselves in the music they play or hear.

That is not to say that all music is “beautiful” to all people. Of course it’s not. But I do think that one person’s tastes versus another person’s tastes speaks also to the integration or lack of integration of certain parts of the self. For example, for the longest time I couldn’t listen to rap music (this was before I studied to be a music therapist). OK – you could say that the facts that I was born in Scotland, I studied classical music from a young age, and I wasn’t terribly exposed to popular music, contributed to this “taste”. Of course. But, it’s not just these environmental factors. Something in me was under-developed, or lost, or disconnected.

In the case of rap music, there can be a driving rhythm, a strong bass line, minimal melodic lines, repetitive harmonies. When one really takes all these elements in, on a sensory level, they can awaken sensual, grounded, physical sensations in a person. It was a disconnection to my body that I now realize I was experiencing.When I connected to the music in a sensory way, taking in the elements, listening on a deeper level, I could experience the “disconnected” part of myself. I could become more “whole”, and healthier.

Through my training as a music therapist, and my need to open myself and my ears to many types of music, and the many musics of my clients, I also opened myself to the many forgotten/lost/disassociated parts of myself. As a music therapist, we can guide a client in knowing and accepting the many aspects of themselves, through knowing and owning the many sounds that they make, and the many musics that they listen to. Thoughts anyone?

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Yes – I’m tackling Beauty on my first Blog post. And chances are it will be a recurring theme in these posts.

I am a music therapist. My work involves facilitating aesthetic experiences with and for my clients. Beautiful sounds make up a majority of the therapy sessions. Who are my music therapy influences in this regard? Definitely Carolyn Kenny, Helen Bonny, and of course Clive Robbins and Paul Nordoff.

Carolyn Kenny writes so eloquently about how Beauty in human beings is not just relegated to the ‘pleasing’. Beauty is inclusive of darkness and light, sadness, horror, fierceness. It is my thought that beauty in music can allow for a person to experience their entire selves as beautiful. Carolyn Kenny writes, “[As] one moves toward beauty, one moves toward wholeness, or the fullest potential of what one can be in the world.”

A while ago, I was pulled deeply in Elaine Scarry’s essay, “On Beauty and Being Just.” In it she writes:
“Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people…” She suggests that beauty invites us to stare – when we see or hear something beautiful, our eyes and our ears want more of it.

I understand this instinct to “stare” as a gift, allowing a person to be still with something. When we are in the presence of beauty, we wish to stay with it longer. That is how we know beauty.

So, what is the purpose of the aesthetic experience in music therapy? Perhaps it is to awaken that instinct to stare. Through the music, we are able to stare at ourselves, and know ourselves as beautiful. Beautiful in the fullest sense of the word. Maybe even the most “ugly” of experiences can be transformed into things of beauty through art? In this way, through the beauty of a musical experience with another human being, we can make our sadness, our grief, our anger, or our longing, into an act of beauty. And in doing so, that grief or that pain is easier to be with, to stare at, and to be still with. And just maybe, it can be transformed in this way. Transformation is rooted in being able to stay still with and feel fully, even those most difficult of emotions. Transformation in therapy is about the client becoming Beauty.

Clive Robbins (personal communication) suggests that we, as music therapists, “become committed to Beauty”. What does this mean for us? It means skillful execution of our musical craft – time, focus and practice in making beautiful music, so that we can consistently facilitate these experiences for our clients. Clive talks about his and Paul Nordoff’s famous “Edward” case study (written about in their seminal publication, Creative Music Therapy), and how Edward increasingly wanted more and more to do with Beauty. From his first coming in contact with Beauty, he began to experience himself in the music, as a thing of Beauty. And this experience led him to want more and more of it. He was invited to stare, and listen deeply. He began relating to beauty in others, and in himself. The world became an increasingly beautiful place for a boy who had only known frustration, fear and limitations.

I believe that our capacity for beauty, creative endeavor, and imagination is dependent on our health, and our state of health is dependent on our capacity to embrace beauty and engage in creative endeavor and imaginative practices. Music therapists remind a person of their beauty and the necessity of creating and imagining.

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