The main language of Voices is English. For some, myself included, this creates quandaries of translation. With English as our second, third or fourth language we may feel unable to find the words needed for clear communication of our ideas. Or - if we find words - we may feel that they are inaccurate, that other words would be better if we just could find them. So, here we go, in circles.
Some times it is easy to break the circle, as when a Norwegian goes to Denmark and understands most of what is said, except that he gets confused by the fact that the word a Dane would use for smiling is his own word for crying. Such a difference of use is easy to detect. It is discovered since most of the meaning context is understood. Other times it is much more difficult. Our understanding of the context may be even too vague to enable us to identify exactly what we do not understand. A dictionary is not enough when we work with translations. Subtle differences in meaning exist in traditions of use. Traditions that we need to know.
This may illuminate the problem we all have when trying to talk about music therapy. The quandaries of translation are then not only related to the differences between Norwegian and English or Spanish and English, but to the differences between music and verbal language. Most music therapists find music therapy hard to conceptualize, although they are able to describe the processes of their work in some way. Any professional within health services is supposed to be able to do this, and music therapists do their best trying to develop their discipline so that such expectations can be met. Still, my impression is that some dissatisfaction with the descriptions delivered is common among music therapists. Even though the discipline and profession is developing, this problem does not seem to disappear. Are we chasing the rainbow?
One part of this problem is related to the fact that our discipline is a compound of music and therapy. This raises problems concerning the relationships between the musical and the clinical, the artistic and the scientific, the non-verbal and the verbal, etc. Professional communication of the musical, artistic and non-verbal aspects of our work remains difficult. Some scholars and professionals hope for the development of some kind of common vocabulary for these processes, others stress that east is east and west is west and suggest that musical processes are impossible to describe in words. These issues are at the core of the present music therapy discourse, and are treated in a large number of texts. I acknowledge them as being of major importance for music therapy, but personally I have stopped hoping for a common vocabulary. I do not think that that is possible to develop or something we should even long for. Rather I am inspired by the fact that east and west actually keep meeting all the time, you just need a standing point and a perspective to decide what is east and what is west. I do not think that we can solve the problem of description by looking for the essence of music therapy, rather we could try to understand the situated cultures of music therapy. If that is the case, we are looking for languages of music therapy, not for the language. This suggestion of course gives topical interest to the question of translation. How compatible are different languages, is translation possible, and what is lost in translation?
We are back to the quandaries described in the first paragraph. When writing in English I am often chafed by my inability to express myself in the way I want; feeling that I lack words and that I am clumsy and helpless compared to what I would be in my own language. But there is another, more positive side to this. In English I also discover new words that are not possible to use in Norwegian. Metaphors are different, possibilities for puns are altered, etc. In searching for a new language I discover that I am not only finding new words, but also actually moving into a new territory. The search for language turns into a cultural meeting. This situation is then not only a frustration, it is also a possibility. Maybe this could throw light on our search for language when attempting to describe music. If we try to totalize one way of doing this, possibilities for expression may be lost. If several discourses on music are developed and cultivated in music therapy, problems of translation may increase, but possibilities for nuances in expression increase also. In talking about music in different ways we may discover different aspects of the processes of musicking.
Stige, Brynjulf, 2001 Quandaries of Translation. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 19, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2001-quandaries-translation