One of the results of my involvement in Voices, both as an editor and as a reader, has been an increased awareness of cultural aspects of music therapy. This has led to a question that I will bring up below. But first I would like to talk about my increased awareness of this aspect of music therapy.
I have always been aware that there are cultural aspects to music therapy. I certainly take these into account as I interact, both verbally and musically, with clients and staff with whom I work. We make a point of helping students in our music therapy training program to help students learn about music of other cultures and, when we set up our new training program at the University of Louisville a few years ago, this was encouraged by our professional organization. (I was surprised, though, to realize that the AMTA Competencies, on which music therapy program content is based, do not include this as a competency.) And I myself have taken a great interest in people whose cultures are different from mine, both in personal relationships and through travel.
But when I read the Vision Statement for Voices, which includes, "Because culture has an important role in music and music therapy, we will encourage contributions that find their source in the cultural influences of each continental region," it points to a higher level of awareness of the influence of culture on music therapy than that with which I have concerned myself. Related to this, many of the columns that comprise the various issues of Voices relate to this,1 and two books in which the Editors of Voices are involved (Culture-Centered Music Therapy by Brynjulf Stige [in press] and Contemporary Voices in Music Therapy, edited by Carolyn Kenny and Brynjulf Stige ) address some of these issues. The result of all of this is that I have begun to think more broadly about cultural aspects of music therapy, leading to my question.
I am raising a question here with a desire to receive feedback on it. It is an issue in which I am interested and I will welcome people's feedback. (Please note that the feedback that I hope will be forthcoming should be submitted to the Moderated Discussion section of Voices.)
My question has to do with the role of music that is part of the culture of a people or an area, and when it is or is not truly a part of their culture. The practical aspect of this for music therapists has to do with how much we actually incorporate music of the culture and, perhaps, exactly how to define this culture. (I am asking these questions as a non-expert in this area and my terminology and the concepts on which I am focusing may be corrected by others.) I will explain how my question arose.
I moved to a different part of the United States - to Kentucky from New Jersey - two years ago. These are very different areas of the country and, according to what I understand about music of the cultures, people in the two areas would be expected respond to somewhat different types of music. As a matter of fact, one of the changes to which I had looked forward was that I thought that bluegrass music, which I had learned to love many years ago when I lived in Georgia, would be more accessible in Kentucky than it had been in New Jersey.
My first days in Louisville, Kentucky, indicated that I was correct in anticipating a different musical environment: The most notable change was that, when I listened to the radio in Louisville, it initially seemed that all that I could find to listen to was country western music. This was a difference since I believe that the only country western station in the New Jersey/New York City area where I had lived before had been dropped. A local music therapist, Joy Berger, MT, DMA, whom I met shortly after coming to Louisville, brought me a CD of KY Mountain Music, Angels of Mercy by the Kentucky Standard Band (1996), again substantiating my thoughts that the music used in music therapy would be different than in New Jersey. (I should note that, after I learned more about the radio stations in Louisville, I actually found a wide variety of music to be available here, far beyond the country music that I initially heard.) Another local music therapist, Lorinda Jones, MA, MT-BC, specializes in the dulcimer, a stringed instrument traditional in mountain areas of Kentucky and other parts of the southern United States.
So when I began doing clinical work at a rehabilitation center in Louisville, I anticipated that some of this "Kentucky music" would be needed in my work. I brought my Angels of Mercy CD, mentioned above, on several occasions. I was aware of being in a different culture and expected that people would respond to different music. I was ready to find a way to incorporate the dulcimer music that I had heard my colleague play.
For the most part, this has not been the case. The adults with whom I worked responded to popular songs of various eras and to Christian music - very much as had the adults in NJ (although I worked with more Jewish people in NJ, and used Jewish rather than Christian music with them). The adolescents liked popular music of various genres. The children responded to children's song - as had the children in NJ. So I wondered where the music of Kentucky culture was when doing music therapy here?
One of the possibilities was that people in an urban setting, such as Louisville, have become so much a part of the larger culture - due to people traveling and moving and the influence of the media - that they are no longer in touch with the more basic music of their culture. My colleague Lorinda Jones, the dulcimer player, supported this possibility when she suggested that people in rural areas respond more to more traditional music. She said:
I definitely think it is more of a rural connection. When I was working at Lincoln Trail Hospital, we had a lot of folks in the hospital from the rural parts of the state, as well as Tennessee. When I used the dulcimer, I had an increase in verbal conversation about the instrument itself, i.e. someone they knew made instruments, played instruments, our family used to go to music festivals, sing, etc., and they also related to some of the old time fiddle tunes I played like Wildwood Flower, Cripple Creek, etc., and sometimes the mountain folk songs as well. In the volunteer work I do at the general hospital here, I sometimes play with a couple of members from my dulcimer club, the response is similar. The patients want to share stories about family members who play other stringed instruments, and talk about memories of "folk gatherings" of music making. I think the dulcimer has an appeal in therapeutic settings in part because of its simplicity and the idea of the instrument being something that folks can play without a lot of music experience. As far as folk music in general, I think the majority of Kentuckians connect to country and bluegrass more than what we might term "folk", or "mountain folk." Of course, when you go back very far in either of those histories, you are talking about mountain folk music, and with the release of "O, Brother" and "Song Catcher," awareness is now growing of that connection. (personal communication, L. Jones, Jan. 3, 2002)2
So perhaps, when I read Mercedes Pavlicivec's column in which she speaks of hearing the traditional music in the street (Voices, Dec. 17-30, 2001: http://www.voices.no/columnist/colpavlicevic171201.html), or Diego Schapira's column and he talks about people playing pots and pans to express their distress with the economic situation (Voices, Feb. 11-24, 2002: http://www.voices.no/columnist/colschapira110202.html), I am reading about people in a more rural culture expressing themselves through music that is closer to their culture. Or maybe the comparison with Diego's example was a misinterpretation on my part - perhaps the pots and pans have nothing to do with any kind of traditional musical expression but are rather a current expression through music that is not traditional. Perhaps everyone who works with people in an urban setting finds that people respond to the music that they hear on the radio and television and that this music has much more to do with a larger, popular culture, than with more traditional local culture.
Or maybe I am looking for something more obvious and less subtle than it actually is. The truth is, there is a lot more country western music played in Louisville than in New Jersey and it is very easy to find this music on the radio here. And, while the people who have been my clients in music therapy have not requested bluegrass music, there is music more bluegrass music played at clubs here (and I suspect of a higher quality) than there was in New Jersey. So perhaps, while I do not find people playing and requesting mountain music this many miles from the Kentucky mountains, the traditions of the area do actually have more influence than I am thinking.
At any rate, these are the questions that I have had. And they really are questions, so I will welcome people's "answers" or responses. I look forward to seeing some of these in the Moderated Discussion section of Voices.3
Kenny, C., & Stige, B. (Eds.). (2002). Contemporary Voices in Music Therapy. Oslo: Unipub AS.
Kentucky Standard Band. (1996). Pollywog Publishing. Tree Frog Records. TF24510.
Pavlicevic, M. (2001). Open Doors. [online] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Available at: http://www.voices.no/columnist/colpavlicevic171201.html
Schapira, D. (2002). New Sounds in Culture. [online] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Available at: http://www.voices.no/columnist/colschapira110202.html
Stige, B. (in press). Culture-Centered Music Therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
). We will see that they are posted on the Moderated Discussion pages of Voices.
Wheeler, Barbara (2002) Cultural Aspects of Music Therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-cultural-aspects-music-therapy