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The Music Therapist as Composer?

by Kimberly on April 25, 2013 · 5 comments

We had a guest lecturer attend a graduate seminar on music and emotions the other week. This guest was Dr. Jim Mobberley, who serves on the composition faculty at the UMKC Conservatory. Dr. Mobberley was there to share his thoughts on music and emotion and how that influences his compositions and compositional process.

He was an engaging person to listen to and his thoughts prompted interesting discussions in seminar. But what also got me thinking was the idea that there are several similarities between the music therapy process and the composition process. Here are some of the thoughts that were generated when I considered the phrase “music therapist as composer:”

  • We are continually in a compositional mode. We adapt our interventions and the music stimulus on-the-spot. Even when using pre-composed music, more often than not we changes some aspect of it. We, in a sense, “compose” the music stimulus and experience for our clients.
  • We are intentional with the choice of music and how it reflects our client’s skills, preferences, and needs just as a composer is intentional with his or her choice of the music characteristics used in a new work.
  • We both develop observation skills in order to adapt the music stimulus, the music therapist in the moment with a client and the composer as he or she is sharing a work-in-progress with others.

Although none of these thoughts are especially earth-shattering, I had never considered a direct comparison between these two professions. Other professions sure, but mostly in comparing music therapy to other therapies (e.g. occupational therapy, art therapy, mental health) or to other music healing professions.

I liked this comparison, though, because it was different for me, a new idea that generated reflection and pondering.

So what do you think? How is a music therapist like a composer? Are there other professions you would use to fill in the phrase “music therapist as…”? If so, I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Christian April 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I’m not a music therapist myself but I can definitely see the tie-in. You’re collecting pieces that are pleasing to the individual rather than to a mass audience. Doing this, you create a unique “piece,” so to speak.

Great post.
Christian´s last blog post ..I-Doser: Are They For Real?

Kimberly May 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

Thanks Christian! And that’s a great way to think about it 🙂 ~Kimberly

Tom May 16, 2013 at 12:59 am

Hi Kimberley, it sounds like your on-the-spot compositions puts you squarely in the territory of a jazz musician rather than a classicist 🙂 But I think in some ways your job may be more challenging because you have to be more spontaneous than analytical?
Tom´s last blog post ..A Detailed Look at the Ernie Ball Stingray 5 – Is It Really A Good Guitar?

Joseph Linn March 18, 2016 at 1:17 pm

In a general sense, we may in a compositional mode. However, I would rather make the musical comparison to an arranger-orchestrator. Musical composition has not been my primary mode of thinking. However, taking a set of lyrics, melody and rhythm and reorganizing them to fit a particular musical, or therapeutic setting makes the most sense to me. Additionally, putting my particular spin on it is like being authentic in my music performance, or music therapy interventions.

Kimberly March 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Joe! You have given me something to think about… 🙂 ~Kimberly

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