I have harboured a dream of working therapeutically with music for a long time. This is on the back of witnessing the therapeutic possibilities of music in both my own experiences, as well as fellow band mates and audiences.
Feeling good. I feel this is a basic driver behind being involved in music. Close on the heels of this feel good component, thinking in a therapeutic context, is the possibility of being challenged. Overcoming challenges in music, be they technical demands of performing, social hurdles around group interaction and participation, or aesthetic demands of listening, cultivates a set of skills directly transferable to other spheres of the life.
These skills might include:
- acknowledging a gap in ones knowledge and taking on a “beginners mind” attitude.
- breaking a problem down into easily achievable component parts.
- Learning to be mindful simultaneously of ones own inner responses (reflecting) and the contributions of others in the group (listening).
- the ability to manipulate structural and narrative elements.
- developing ones own aesthetic approach, implying that care is being taken to function with authenticity and beauty.
- meeting differences of opinion without judgement.
- being flexible in ones own notions of “how it should go”, ready to drop preconceptions and proceed with a new perspective.
- insight into a collaborators inner state, and techniques to help optimise said state.
I have adopted each of these strategies (and many others) in musical contexts, largely as an accompanist, in collaboration with other musicians. The role of an accompanist specifically requires the skill set hinted at above. These many methods/perspectives allow a possibility for an easy and natural and beautiful experience of music. As an accompanist my offers and provocations strive in that direction.
So when music is easy and natural and beautiful, what is going on?
Crucially there is a generous listening attitude. From the outside, I am not listening for anything in particular, but merely enjoying the uniqueness of the tones being created, and their combinations. Wonderfully this requires no particular training in music, but seems rather to be some innate capacity humans have, to be enchanted by sounds. From the inside I am comfortable playing with the group, and feel confident that our sound is good because I can feel my own joy in playing, and see/feel the joy in others, be they fellow muso’s or audience. This generosity is infectious, self perpetuating and transformative.
There is an expression articulated in NZ early childhood education Play Centre circles - “Patient, open, encouraging, and joyful! As with our tamariki, as with each other!” Here is another formula for optimal functioning in both musical and therapeutic contexts.