The Tango is a dance that originated in the lower class districts of Buenos Aires and was a powerful influence at the latest World Congress in Buenos Aires. My understanding is that as a dance, the Tango requires partners to work in complete unison, improvising a set of steps from an array of known moves. In watching skilled dancers at Diego Shapiro’s local Milonga after the conference dinner, it was clear that this is an intensely serious process, requiring a shared understanding of power and balance. This interplay can be understood as a metaphor for many of the power-related issues raised at the Congress. The growing power of music therapy across the globe. The power of access to resources. The power of the dollar. The powerful voice of Feminism. And most concretely the power in numbers of the Argentinian music therapy students attending the event.
Many of the Noble Editors of the Voices team featured in plenary sessions across the Congress, representing the growing power and diversity of international music therapy practice. Barbara Wheeler shared the results of a recent investigation into cancer care, acknowledging the powerful force of positivism by identifying her work not as ‘research’ because there was no control condition. Lia Baracellos provided a powerful case study illustrating the importance of careful attendance to meaning in client actions – her tale sent chills down my spine. Diego Shapiro addressed the increasingly powerful role of music in society, challenging us to consider the position of the discipline in this fast changing and diverse world. Lesley Bunt shared his passion for the power of music in supporting adults with cancer, using video and emerging themes to share his enthusiasm. And Brynjulf Stige utilized the power of case study design to further articulate the function of community music therapy and consider how it can be evaluated.
But perhaps more exciting than this traditional illustration of power was the constant reference to equity. The setting for the Congress was the commanding Law School of the University of Buenos Aires. In contrast to its daunting presence, the sole doctrine set to the organizers in being offered the venue was to address the humanitarian needs of society through the conference. This was addressed initially in the decision to offer registration rates in a sliding scale in order to facilitate attendance by those from less wealthy countries. This resulted in representation from countries that may otherwise have been unable to participate – Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico. The discussion of the need for equity in access to literature was also highlighted. The bookstalls at the conference were constantly surrounded by eager customers. The need for Voices to consider translation of texts rather than seeing English as an internationally accessible language was considered. The need for music therapists to continue to strive to access the literature in other languages underpinned many presentations. The importance of translating texts into other languages using funding sources from the more dominant forces was acknowledged. The desire for equity of access was strong and convincing.
The acknowledgement of feminism as a powerful discourse in music therapy was also well received by this new audience. A small but significant group of music therapists met to discuss and debate how feminism might be utilized as a perspective in music therapy. A panel of women worked with the audience in an attempt to answer some of the pertinent questions. Various members of the group shared their perspective and challenged both the relevance and the boundaries of feminism in music therapy. A constant simultaneous translation meant that an articulate dialogue was possible, although limited by time in being able to achieve a full understanding of the various perspectives. There is clearly a need for further collaborative discussion and recognition of this framework given the inequalities identified both within the discipline, in people’s professional lives and the multiple challenges faced by those who access music therapy.
Power is both a prominent and unconscious player in every level of music therapy. Whilst attempting to Tango I learned that giving away power can be a very powerful feeling. This resonates with the important lesson I have taken away from the Congress in terms of the discipline. We strive to empower clients in everyday practice, but do we always contemplate how power is used within the profession? Jane Edwards suggested that we encourage music therapists featured in ‘Country of the Month’ to clearly list any resources they require in the hope that some readers may have the potential to address that need. This was a strong theme. Money is power. Gender is power. Knowledge is power. The discipline would benefit from a constant transparency and acknowledgement of these simple truths as we strive to grow our own power to help those whom we serve.
McFerran, Katrina (2008). Dancing the Tango: A Dynamic Interplay of Power Relations. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colmcferran080908