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Music & Life in the Field of Play. An Anthology

br2007_078Kenny, Carolyn (2006). Music & Life in the Field of Play. An Anthology. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

With this anthology Carolyn Kenny has collected her main articles and books from a lifelong project of aligning the field of music therapy with her background and writings from first nations studies. The book is divided into five parts encompassing a total of twenty-six chapters, earlier published as articles in journals or as conference papers. Included are Kennys books The Mythic Artery and The Field of Play as well as some of her later writings on philosophy of science. Not least, the book is deeply coloured by the authors own personal background in first nation studies, her Choctaw/Haida values and experiences*.

In an age of increasing globalisation, music therapy will come to meet with narratives of musical healing from a variety of musical cultures. Quite often these stories are made invisible by the more dominant western grand narratives of music therapy. As one of the few professionals with a background in two different musical and healing value systems, Carolyn Kenny is certainly the first to make a bold comparison and thus challenge some of the dominant values connected to the aesthetics as well as the ethics of contemporary music therapy.

This radical impulse can be traced back to Kennys earliest writings, as evidenced in the book The Mythic Artery. Originally published in 1982, this text signalizes a new direction in the post-Gaston North American positivist music therapy. When Gaston in the sixties was discoursing music therapy as a profession where social adaptation and social control were highly held values (I am here referring to the film E.Th. Gaston made about music therapy internship for the NAMT in the sixties), Kenny advocates creativity, expression and non-conformity as a true child of the new generation who opposed many traditional values. Kenny was quite early in bringing concepts of health and wellbeing into the conceptual framework of music therapy, and in her cultural critique of much therapeutic practice she speaks for the reintegration of art into our everyday life a distinct mark of her own cultural history and identity.

This sense of wholeness and of how things are interconnected, led Carolyn Kenny to the field of systems theory, which resulted in her doctoral dissertation and later book, The Field of Play. Again we are met with a critique of dominant and simplified models of explanations within our field, such as mechanistic or mono-causal theories of the effects of music. Of course, Carolyn Kennys engaged and sometimes idealistic critique of much contemporary health practice and therapeutic work will be met by counter-critique both from positivist as well as from a more post-structuralist position. Sometimes, in her earlier writings, Kenny interprets reality much as a reflection of how things are, rather that a projection or construction of how things ideally should or could be. This longing for a lost wholeness to be healed by the arts seems to pervade much of her writings and to lead her music therapy towards an existential, cultural and social project. In that sense, Carolyn Kenny also foresees the recent movement towards community music therapy.

At the bottom of Kennys philosophy there seems to be a sort awareness of aesthetic qualities, a kind of mindfulness, a sense of being connected to nature and fellow beings through the everyday practice of art as informed by the Choctaw/Haida life practice*. In a situation where health authorities, at least in Europe, search for alternative values to guide our health performance, there is a call for humanistic health research. Not in order to oppose the natural science hegemony, but to formulate an alternative conception of our understanding of health. Kennys approach seems to be rich in alternative conceptions of health, resilience and coping factors: coherence integration and strength seems to be keywords to be deduced from a life practice were the concept of self-in-relation is a natural way of living in a community of caring.

From Carolyn Kennys extended and diverse practice and research it seems quite logical that she has embraced a broad spectrum of qualitative research methods and philosophies of science ranging from phenomenology and hermeneutics to critical theory, social constructivism and narrative methodology. The book is highly recommended to everyone who wants to learn how to beautify the world as well as the field of music therapy.


*[Editorial note] The original version of the review wrongly stated that Kenny was informed by Navajo life practice, values and experiences. It should be Choctaw/Haida life practice, values and experiences. This file therefor was corrected and updated October 3, 2007.

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