In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (or Ragnarok in modern Norwegian spelling) is the final battle between the gods and the powers of evil. The word means something like “the judgement of the gods” and according to the legend the gods themselves will perish in an apocalyptic fire, together with the world as we know it. Ragnarok thus is a legend about destiny and merciless battle, but it is worth remembering that it was developed in a culture where dying in battle was the highest honour a man could hope to attain.
In the nineteenth century Richard Wagner used this legend in his opera Götterdämmerung and in current times “Ragnarok” (or the joky version “Ragnarock”) has become a popular name used by e.g. a rock festival, a music theatre group, and a heavy metal band. One group that playfully has taken the name RagnaRock is not exactly an opera ensemble or a heavy metal band, and it is not a band that easily lends itself to thoughts about violent and destructive processes. It is, however, a pop and rock band with a cause, and values worth fighting for. I am thinking about a band of very friendly and colourful musicians established at Ragna Ringdals Day Centre in Oslo, under the leadership of music therapists Tom Næss and Bjørn Steinmo, and special needs educationalist Heidi Sandmo Kristoffersen.
The musicians in the band have various sorts and degrees of learning problems and the leaders of the group have developed methods for use of colour codes, special tuning, and adjustments of the instruments, in order to make musical participation possible (Steinmo & Næss, 2007). These methods are probably necessary, but certainly not sufficient. In a way, music-making is what makes music-making possible, at least if our understanding of music-making includes an understanding of human interaction and relationship (Stige, 1995). Since the very beginning of RagnaRock this point has been demonstrated in the sensitive practice developed by the two music therapists working with this band.
In the recent 7th European Music Therapy Congress in the Netherlands a large international group of music therapists encountered RagnaRock. Friday night the band was presenting a concert, and I dare say that it was an experience for all who were there. There was something contagious in the warmth, energy, and humour of the musicians – and there was something contagious in the warmth, energy, and humour of the audience! After the concert the drum player of the band told me how easy and fun it is to play when people in the audience start dancing. In many ways, this concert enacted a theme that I have taken interest in for some time, namely how performances operate as co-created events and negotiations of relationships:
If performances are interactive events, the audience’s power goes beyond that of evaluating the quality of the performance and the competency of the performers. In return, performers are not reduced to qualified transmitters of predefined structures. The values, choices, and powers of each attendant and group of attendants come into play and interplay. Paraphrasing Berthold Brecht we may then argue that music and art is not only a mirror held up to reality; it may also be a hammer with which to shape it (Stige, 2004).
In some contexts the art produced by RagnaRock would probably be a tiny hammer. In the context of this congress you could almost think of the power of Thor’s hammer Mjølner, if you could excuse this use of the old legend. Well, I am not suggesting that their music could pulverize giants or mountains like Thor’s hammer could, but in the concert I felt that it had at least two of the qualities of his famous weapon: It would always hit its target and like a boomerang it would always come back to its owner after use. To be part of this musicking event and experience how the sounds and gestures of the band would “hit” the audience and then return as energizing feedback of various sorts was fascinating indeed.
We could call this event a community music therapy event, but whether we use that term or educational music therapy or just music therapy (or concert for that matter) is not the most important thing here, I think. What matters, in my opinion, is that the discipline and profession of music therapy develop tools for understanding and acknowledgement of this kind of event. In order to fully understand how music could contribute to the development of identity and empowerment for many people, we need to develop research and theories that examine situated musical relationships as they involve individuals as well as communities.
Steinmo, Bjørn & Tom Næss (2007). Pop and rock with colours. Easy ways of building a pop-rock band using special tuning and colours. Oslo: Norsk noteservice.
Stige, Brynjulf (1995). Samspel og relasjon. Perspektiv på ein inkluderande musikkpedagogikk [Interaction and relationship. Perspectives on inclusive music education]. Oslo: Samlaget.
Stige, Brynjulf (2004). Performance of community. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved August 22, 2007, from http://www.voices.no/columnist/colstige160204.html
Stige, Brynjulf, (2007). Ragnarock. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colstige270807