Since music therapy is a relatively new field, one of our important works is to teach it to different kinds of people. According to whom we talk to, the contents, the levels, as well as the ways to knock their doors are all different. In this column I would like to introduce one of these teaching opportunities that I have been practising a lot lately.
It is a once-a-month music therapy lecture class held at the local Yamaha center, for those who work as music therapists or music volunteers based on the music therapy concept. The levels of the participants are diverse, from beginners to veterans, but one thing they have in common is that the most of them used to be (and still are) teachers in the Yamaha music education system or music performers, both which are pretty demanding in terms of competitiveness and autonomy. They have studied some music therapy with their own effort mostly without belonging to any official music therapy courses. As a result they tend to be isolated, constantly facing the psychological/realistic risk to be lost in a blind alley. In the Japanese music therapy field, the supervision system is not yet well organized, especially for this kind of people. And that is why they came to my class, looking for knowledge and ideas for their everyday work.
For the first one/two years I taught academic/practical knowledge, workshops, and case studies that could be useful, and on the surface they seemed to welcome these lectures. However, I soon started to feel tense in the peculiar atmosphere of the class. They listened quietly.but they did not always communicate to me or to each other. As a lecturer I felt that the more I tried to communicate, the more I was stripped off without receiving anything from them. I wondered why, and I sensed something like a deep-rooted lack of confidence in them. It was different from any other teaching experiences I had experienced.
Taking advantage of my maternity leave, I reconsidered about this work. At this point I almost quit because I prefered teaching those who have studied in a more professional way, and those who were "blank" and open as beginners. The group of students in front of me was neither of these! Then, the manager of the Center convinced me to stay with the following advice: "If this class is over, they will lose one of few places they can go to, outside their isolated work places. They need to see the same kind of others under the name of your class at least once a month. You don't have to teach them so much, but just be there for them to come out and talk."
With this advice, I changed the whole concept of this class. I, too, began to realize a strange vicious circle in their learning attitude: because of the lack of confidence they seek more information to be taught, but the up-down information decrease their confidence even more, and it tends to make them to avoid the communication with each other.. In this kind of situation, the person who had to talk was not me, but them. I planned the class this way:
A participant takes the role to talk in front of the class every month in turn. The subject can be anything regarding music and human-being: a very academic case study, just revealing the problems currently present in their work, or a personal story about why they came to this class. However, they will naturally feel this task too challenging since they are not accustomed to a public talk. So I promise to help them personally during the one month before the presentation: what theme to focus, in what order to talk, with what kind of reference materials. In this way I assure them that they will never fail. After the presentation I will help the class with the discussion so that there will be some kind of "communication".
To tell the truth, I had no ideas at first if I could make the class interesting enough for everyone, organizing it in an improvisatory way. Actually the first one or two classes were a little awkward, the presenter not knowing the point of the class, the listeners not knowing how to respond, and I as a teacher not knowing how much I could rely on the free discussion. But along with the classes, the positive result was something that I had never had imagined: The presenter (and the class) grew drastically through the process! Here is a typical process during the one month toward the class.
When a presenter is chosen, she would usually say, " I have no idea what to say," "I have so many problems but everything is just so confused in my head," and "I am sure nobody will benefit from my talk." (I think these attitudes are particularly distinctive in the Asians' mind.) But during the one month of co-preparation through emails, phones etc, she really starts to use her mind and heart on what and how to present for the class. I encourage her not to make just a sophisticated-looking presentation, but to really deal with her problems including even "worries" they had/have in their mind. It means that she starts to allow herself to see what the real questions she has are, not just sighing for teachers and books would say. Gradually she realizes having her "own problems" is the first great step for the satisfying work. On the other hand, I try to see through what unique resources she has, being not aware of.
In the morning, on the day of the presentation, she is in the peak of tension and her feet are not on the ground! I am also worried if we can cook a nutritious dish with the raw materials in our hands. But the class is usually very supportive to the presenter who daringly talks. By having someone exposing herself to the class, the frozen air melts into "understanding" and "reflecting self", and "caring". On the other hand, the presenter (who once said "I can never talk more than 15 minutes") is absorbed into her own talk, and often forgets to stop. Me and the class feed back questions and suggestions to her (which is the hardest part for me to decide, when, what, who, and how long to cut into the presenter's talk), and here the "communication" starts within this class.
However, the most wonderful thing is that the real resolution comes to the presenter from herself, not from us. During the last half of her talk, her facial expression really changes from tense to release, and to gratitude for having this presentation opportunity. It seems that active thinking and talking makes a person aware of something fundamental and essential about herself. And even more wonderful, every presenter becomes a great communicator in the following month, one who carefully listens and gives productive comments to the new presenter.
There have been varieties of presentations in these 2 years. Here are some examples:
I can be honest here and admit that some of the presenters really made me feel worried with their chaotic writing and unfocused talk. Also the time frame of the co-preparation period was not easy, having different daily schedule each other. And some of the themes were too heavy for my ability as a leader. However when each presentation was closed, I was always moved and satisfied with the class that day. There was absolutely no "failure" in their presentations, probably because we were able to see the real "person" in it, and there is no "failure" in a person. For everybody in the class there was always something to learn from, or something resembling oneself. In this way the class's ability to communicata got better, they started to talk outside of the class, visited each other's work, and sometimes started a partnership in their work.
I learned so much from this class. First of all, I was struck by the fact that so many of them work in a very harsh working environment with such a high commitment, and I respect their spirit (in not a sarcastic way). At the same time I was surprised again with the power of music therapy to attract people so much. Second, I realized there is such a rich world in every person's path to reach the music therapy field and keep walking in it. However, many of them simply do not know how to present that richness to others, because they think they have to present it in a professional way to communicate it , rather than in a honest/simple way. Third, expressing oneself is such an effective way to know more about one self, and the attitude of trying to express oneself moves others to open their doors too. Fourth, the human-connections born from this mutual growth really supports their hard work. As a whole, I am impressed with the fact that there is so much resources in a person which just need to be opened and released.. just like therapy clients.
Ikuno, Rika (2004). Allowing Oneself to Question, Communicating It to Others - An Important Step for Music Therapy Students -. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2004-allowing-oneself-question-communicating-it-others-important-step-music-ther