A fellow music therapist published an insightful piece this week about his journey from a music snob to a music therapist. Based on comments and article shares, his post seemed to resonate with other music therapists. It did for me, too, but not in the music snob way . . .
See, I’ve been trying for years, now, to wrap my head around the concept of the role of music in music therapy. There seem to be different ideas on the topic that fall on a continuum between “using” music as a “tool” and “being” in music. Or stated differently, the use of music IN therapy versus the use of music AS therapy (which I’ve blogged about before). There have been discussions on Facebook—which I occasionally chime in on—and in-person exchanges. It’s been blogged about and discussed among academics and clinicians.
I have commonly fallen in the gray area of the continuum feeling, based on my understanding, that there are clinical situations that warrant the “use” of music and those that warrant “being in” music. Noah’s piece made me think differently. He wrote:
Integral to that process, though I was not aware of this at the time, was distinguishing between engaging with music and playing music . . . To play music is to “do” music. It is the claiming of ownership over an artistic process and the subsequent artistic product. . . Engaging with music is a form of “being” in and with music. There is no ownership over process or product . . .
Many of my colleagues will disagree with this statement, but playing music, even when our role is to perform, is not a feature or function of music therapy. Anybody can play music at somebody because it requires minimal nuance . . . Engagement with music, however, is the skill we struggle with for all those years in class, practicum, and internship . . . What I am an expert in is structuring individualized music experiences with others that facilitates a wellness meeting their needs, not my own.
Something clicked for me when I read his words. I DO agree with you Noah—the way you have it defined, playing music is not a function of music therapy.
I have seen this in music therapy students time and time again. There is a shift that happens in the last semesters of a student’s music therapy education. It is a shift from focusing on one’s own music making to focusing on the client. It’s moving beyond the “performance” aspect of music (centered on the self) to the clinical aspect (centered on the client).
Moreover I’ve seen it in myself, in my tendency to deflect requests to play guitar or sing in public. The perfectionist musician in me is still very much alive and I am not yet at a place where I feel comfortable “performing” for others unless I am practiced and prepared (though, admittedly, that’s a fear I hope to overcome one day). But put me in a room with clients? There is no perfection. The anxiety dissipates. It’s not about me.
The rehab setting is where I have traditionally considered music to be “used as a tool.” In actuality, though, it’s not. You cannot remove the humanness of the process, the therapeutic element. Even if the music is structured in a more prescribed way (e.g. pre-determining the musical elements—tempo, dynamic level, meter—based on the assessment), the music therapist is still responsive therapeutically and musically to the client’s needs in that moment.
I also see this reflection as parallel or perhaps even the same as that of music in verses music as therapy. Just a couple years ago, I wrote that I saw a role for both in music therapy. But if music IN therapy is likened to playing music and music AS therapy is likened to engaging in music . . . well, that changes things for me.
I don’t have any clear-cut answers or insights at the moment. This is an ongoing journey of reflection for me. But I appreciate the opportunity to deepen my understanding just a bit more.
It’s a step, anyway.