A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Contemporary Voices in Music Therapy

Kenny, Carolyn and Stige, Brynjulf (2002). Contemporary Voices in Music Therapy – Communication, Culture, and Community. Oslo: Unipub Forlag.

Reviewed by Jaakko Erkkilä

General Impression

br2003_029I am not sure what to think about the idea that something that has already been published on the web-site is printed out as a book. This ambivalent feeling leads me to speculate whether the Internet is less authentic as a publication channel than a book is. Or maybe the idea is that because the articles published on the web are high-level so that this is a good reason to ensure that they will live on paper in addition to an uncertain virtual space.

Sometimes Internet aims at being sort of an alternative to the traditional publication channels: more free, more open, less scholar etc. In page 239, when the editors introduce the column section in Voices they say: “By including the quite “different” genre of column, with shorter texts and more personal reflections than what is common in scholarly writing, we want to stimulate…”. This sounds nice to me but, however, I am reading this as well as the selected columns on the book, not on the web-site. One may think whether a printed book is the right place for personal reflections. Anyway, I do appreciate the projects like Voices and Music Therapy World because they really serve the profession as well as the needs of individual music therapists.

In this book I can see quite a lot willingness to change the current practices and/or “dogmas” of music therapy. The grounds for the suggestions or innovations presented are often quite personal, indeed allowing “more personal reflections than what is common in scholarly writing”.

What is Music Therapy?

One can read plenty of visions and opinions for instance about the very essence (including the future) of music therapy. Rudy Garred (chapter 1) is longing for its own theory of music therapy because it includes unique features. Kenny (1999) is an advocate of the same idea. It is easy to agree with them, but it is much more difficult to create such a theory, especially if trying to avoid the external and existing ones.

Maybe the strongest message of the book is the idea by some of the authors of taking music therapy out of the box. The box – I know that I am generalizing a lot now – seems to be the Consensus model of music therapy (see Ansdell, chapter 6, pp. 131-). It is not to say that the authors are directly resisting the consensus model but rather that there is a strong need to create sort of alternative framework that gives more attention to the contextual and cultural things, as well as to the nature of the relationship (more equal) between therapist and client. To be honest, albeit the authors try to stay relatively neutral – except of Simon Procter (chapter 5) who immediately states that he will be intentionally provocative – my intuition about the basic attitudes of some of the authors is that they do not really believe in the consensus model anymore.

Impacts of Cultures

Stige (chapter 2) writes about his experience of going through Paul Nordoff’s Healing Heritage. He favours special metaphors from the world of (Norwegian) heros, sometimes taken from ski-jumping, sometimes from the world of explorers. We learn that jumping after Wirkola – a Norwegian ski-jumper from the times before Finnish ski-jumpers started to dominate the sport – is a general metaphor in Norway for doing something after someone who is very skillfull. Anyway, the metaphor works well when Stige relates it to the known music therapy hero, Paul Nordoff. It is not easy to be a great music therapist after someone like Paul Nordoff.

In spite of the obvious respect Stige feels of Paul Nordoff and his heritage he also runs the risk of criticising Nordoff’s conceptions of music. After Stige, Paul Nordoff was a music child of his time with a taken-for-granted conception of classical music as the great and cultural music. Stige states that today we should be concerned because of the ethnocentrism and essentialism involved. I agree with Stige. But we do not need to go back to the Nordoff’s times in order to find something like this. After Abram (NJMT 11(2), 2002, pp. 103) the BMGIM is defined as “a model of music psychotherapy centrally consisting of a client imaging spontaneously to pre-recorded sequences of classical music…”

The BMGIM works and seems to gain new followers in our times albeit there may be some ethnocentrism and essentialism within it (if classical music is a sufficient condition for this judgment). Should we say BMGIM people that you should open up your method for all kind of music? – I think we should not. To me pluralism, or whatever we call it, is that we have tolerance to different methods, conceptions, and beliefs. However, it is quite an idealistic idea that we, as music therapists, should be sort of extra-humans without our own, sometimes narrow and maybe ethnocentric ideas – including our conceptions of music and maybe also the consensus model that most of us are following.

The current discussion seems to ignore the critical analysis on why people and the methods they develop so often tend to be ethnocentric or essentialist. Obviously the both “E:s” include something important and characteristic for a human being in addition to the fact that they are indeed harmful. But we cannot just give them up, nor uncritically cancel them. Instead of it we should carefully analyse the meaning of the “E:s”. Something to do with maintaining, protection, history, identity? Who knows.

Music Therapy- Community Music-Community Music Therapy

Simon Procter (in chapter 5) writes about his work as community musician. He works with people (in community) without the labels (diagnosis, personal history, assessment, evaluation…) or hierarchy – in other words, without the essential contents of psychiatry as well as of medical, or consensus music therapy. He is very convincing, not least due to the reason that he uses plenty of nice excerpts taken from practice.

Any idealism? I do not know. What I am thinking here is the identity of community musician. I do not know the “personal history” of Procter, but what a strong person a community musician (only a heart of music therapist as the support) must be when working “without” the traditional shelter of “consensus professionalism.” It reminds me of the times before music therapy education when I worked in a big psychiatric hospital by playing guitar and singing with patients on the wards, or having jam-sessions with youngsters from the adolescent ward. Well, I got tired because the hospital was very hierarchical and the staff did not really respect my work because for most of them I was Mr. Nobody in professional sense (without the protecting status of “psychotherapist” for instance).

The plot of the book culminates in chapter 6 where Gary Ansdell presents a new model called community music therapy (CMT). The ingeniousness of this new model is based on the idea to adopt the best parts of the community music and individual (consensus) music therapy. Undoubtedly, this solution is an answer to the question on the identity problem of music therapist that I brought out in the previous paragraph. So, we need a new model in order to include community (plus cultural, contextual etc.) aspects in music therapy. When Ansdell makes a comparison between consensus and community music therapy I had now and then – maybe undesired – feelings that the definition of consensus music therapy appeared more convincing, authentic, and less idealistic than that of CMT.

Why? Maybe because in my country music therapists have always been relatively eclectic, and worked in the way which resembles the definition of CMT. However, we have had to fight for the status and approval of music therapy for years, and we all know that there is no other way to survive than the consensus music therapy. It would be a professional suicide to change the track which links us with the other therapy professions. Psychiatry “yes,” medical “yes,” individual “yes,” we must say but it does not mean that it is impossible to adopt cultural, contextual or community aspects within the consensus model.

Are We Ready?

Even Ruud (chapter 7) states: “Since music therapists have to negotiate this space of intervention in almost every new situation, a lot of effort has to be spent upon securing boundaries and identities, aiming towards some sort of credibility”(pp. 147). A bit earlier, in the same chapter, he states: “Working in all kinds of therapeutic settings, within different institutional and therapeutic regimes, not least within a highly complex music cultural field with all its musical codes and blends of musical aesthetics, it seems quite a miracle how any “musical cure” may be offered at all.” His words are more than true. They get me thinking that is not fully up to us as music therapists to define music therapy – unfortunately. When defining music therapy we must pay attention to the professional context (and culture) next to us. This context consists of psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, and medicine. In this light there is a long way away from consensus music therapy.


There is a trend going on in music therapy that it is redefined continuously. Including the editors as well as the other authors of the book, it seems that we have a lot of skilful writers (scholars) who know the profession and its background well enough to be able to do that work. An ordinary clinician who is doing his/her everyday work that often stay relatively unchangeable for years, even for decades, may read how a new “force” or a new “movement” has appeared on the stage of music therapy. During a rather short time-span we have become familiar with for instance the transpersonal movement as well as the culture-centred and community music therapy. The speed by with the new forces or movements appear seems to be accelerating. Furthermore, the process often includes a sophisticated cancelling of the existing forces. Then, every “camp” must be on the alert and ready to fight for space, or even for right to live.

There are many good sides in this. It is of course important that a sort of “alertness” exists all the time, no matter what a position one is having. It prevents a wrong feel of safety as well as maintains activation. Indeed, a profession must “define” itself continuously in the changing circumstances. But it need also negotiators and practical hard-liners who act as mediators between re-definers and surrounding reality (practices of society, clinical reality, etc.). Otherwise there is too much space for idealism as well as for empty concepts.

I liked many articles in the book. In this review I have intentionally dealt only with those of them which stimulated me most. To be honest, some of the articles were maybe a bit too bombastic to my taste. But, “So not!”, like the famous saying of the famous Finnish ski-jumper, Matti Nykänen, goes.

Comments are closed.