View of Thinking of Clive Robbins: A Tribute to the Founder, Teacher, Researcher, Colleague, Friend and Cosmopolitan

Special Section: In Memory of Clive Robbins 1927-2011

Thinking of Clive Robbins: A tribute to the Founder, Teacher, Researcher, Colleague, Friend and Cosmopolitan

By Lutz Neugebauer

When I was invited to write this article for Voices I took a brief look at my relationship to Clive Robbins. It had many facets and I decided to share the more personal aspects, thoughts, and questions because I am sure everything of his importance for our professional field will have already been said or mentioned in other contributions. So this is going to be a rather personal contribution.


Looking at the field of music therapy, I became aware that with Clive’s death the founding years of music therapy seem to be coming to an end. Important personalities like Juliette Alvin, Gertrud Orff, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins have laid foundation to what is now my professional environment. Having known Clive Robbins, Gertrud Orff and having met other founding personalities in person is a privilege – at least I regard it be so. When I was a student of music I got to know several people who even knew Paul Nordoff. Most of them are now coming close to the age of retirement and the time when founders dwelled among us seems to be coming to an end. It brings me to the first question:

Is music therapy founded?


My first encounter with Clive was during my time as a student of music. I was already interested in music therapy and, as elsewhere in the world, there was a struggle going on concerning whether music therapy is a psychoanalytical discipline or whether it belongs to the medical or special education field. (This is a simplification of a complex issue for which I apologize.) Although we were not even students of music therapy we were involved in this discussion.

Looking into different approaches as a group of pioneer students at that time in Aachen we invited Gertrud Orff and attended conferences with Johannes Theodor Eschen, Barbara Hesser, and Claus Bang. We also went to a conference at Mainz, organized by one of the leading paediatricians, Professor Johannes Pechstein. He had invited German music therapy pioneers and Clive and Carol Robbins. Clive and Carol not only gave a talk but they presented work with a group of children they had been working with from Pechstein’s social-paediatrics unit. I was deeply impressed with the impact and probably asked silly questions.

In fact, I was more than impressed that Clive could remember this occasion years later when I was a student at the Nordoff-Robbins Centre in London. Clive and Carol came as guest lecturers—at that time they were located in Australia—and what I remember as being most impressive was their open-mindedness, their acceptance of a variety of approaches, and Clive’s stories from Sufi teachings, which opened up a new way of looking in a setting that was under a strong influence and clear opinions of what constituted Nordoff-Robbins music therapy.

After finishing my study in London I went back to Germany and took up work at the Gemeinschaftskrankenhaus Herdecke. It was here that the Mentorenkurs had come to an end and, in a joint venture with the Musikhochschule Aachen and the Hospital Herdecke, one of the German training courses was established. Until 1988 I could take advantage of a hybrid situation. As a member of the staff I could take part in meetings with Clive and Carol and at the same time as I could take part in teaching situations with students. At that time, Merete Birkebaek was the head of training and the hospital department. Not only did she train with Paul and Clive, but also she was “drawn” to Herdecke by Paul Nordoff when he spent his last days in the Hospital Herdecke. It was here that she met Konrad Schily who was at that time in charge of setting up the training course and laying foundation to the University Witten Herdecke, that hosted the course from the mid-eighties and on.

Later on, when I became head of the training course (1988) I continued to invite Clive for teaching sessions and also made it possible for the students from Witten Herdecke to attend his teaching lessons n England. Thus, for all German students within the course at the University Witten Herdecke, Clive and Carol—and later Clive and Alan Turry—were part of the teaching team.

It was Clive’s personality and a certain strength of his to keep in touch with people or should I say to touch people. Many of my German colleagues kept visiting him and a trip to New York was impossible to plan without visiting the New York Center, Clive, and our American friends and colleagues.

Many occasions such as at international conferences like the World Congress or European Conferences gave us an opportunity to meet, to exchange and to talk. One of the most prominent attitudes of Clive’s was that he was always eager to learn. He learned from younger colleagues, became familiar with expanded versions of the work that he had started and was able to incorporate this into his own practice.

As a teacher of students he stuck to a principle which I believe comes from his first profession as a teacher in special education. It was a statement that I took down as a student: teaching is not putting in something into someone but drawing out what the person already knows and can already do.

Another principle was that teaching has to be based in one’s own practice and knowledge. Clive was generous in sharing what he knew and what he had experienced.

What can we learn from him?


Clive was not only a pioneer and a passionate teacher but he also was a researcher in music therapy and opened new ground and explored new territories. He also was rigorous in the way he explored and documented things and generous in sharing his findings. He was granted the first honorary degree of the University Witten Herdecke for the development of the Nordoff-Robbins rating scales and for his input into the development of a music based music therapy approach.

Clive was not only a researcher he also was an engineer. He was always attracted to the latest technical audio and video developments, he mended every broken fuse and fixed every loose screw with his Swiss army knife. It was self evident for him to use every new tool of communication long before others did and thus did he build a social network long before this term was applied to something which is the actually the opposite of being social.


As a colleague I appreciated that Clive was always supportive of new ideas and initiatives. In the early nineties, I took the initiative to form a German branch of supporters in the music industry. What I experienced in my professional environment was envy, criticism, mistrust, and competitiveness about the right to do what I did. I was thus really upset when I received a fax from Clive telling me that a German rock group that he didn’t know was planning to do a fund raising initiative during their US tour. I was shocked because I thought that Clive was getting to benefit from what I had worked hard for. The opposite was the case. The Scorpions—the German group in question—sent a fax to me, stating that they found true what I had told about the support of the music industry and that they were going to take the initiative to form a German branch of fund raising when they returned from their current tour.

Clive was a friend of many well-known musicians in pop and classical music. For many people in management, he was an impressive and powerful personality. And he formed friendships with many of our German supporters. One of the founding members wrote to me that Clive had united a branch of business which otherwise is more than competitive. I think this also applies to our professional field. Everybody gave Clive the respect that he deserved as one of the founders. And this observation of Clive’s status as a founder brings me to reflect upon the beginnings of the work.


Clive was English, Clive was American, and he also was German, Australian … Korean and Japanese.

In fact I am convinced that everybody had the feeling that Clive belonged where he just was. In that sense he lived in the presence of where he just was. And yet he himself—in considering the origins of his music therapy work—emphasized the joint effort of American freedom and creativeness, British pragmatism, and German rigor as important features of the founding years. We can read in the book Therapy in Music for Handicapped Children (Nordoff & Robbins, 1971/2004) that it was this threefold relationship of Paul Nordoff, Clive Robbins and Herbert Geuter (meeting in Sunfield Children’s home) that Clive believed gave the work such a strong impact. In fact, on the German side, there was another strong impulse in the Family Voith, who is briefly mentioned in this first book.

Hanns Voith, a successful German engineer who became acquainted with Paul Nordoff before Paul began exploring music therapy. Nordoff was invited as a concert pianist and the family remembers him as a young pianist being invited to the house. Hanns Voith supported Paul and Clive in the sense of philanthropical and altruistic patronage, He shared anthroposophical approaches to life and he was supportive when they set off for their new venture. It was in the family retreat of the Voith family that Clive and Paul wrote the book Creative Music Therapy, as they listened to tapes and made decisions on what to use and what to leave out. It was in this family retreat that Konrad Schily—later president of the University Witten Herdecke and married to one of Hanns Voith’s daughters—had his first meeting with Paul and Clive.

Clive retained many of the memories of his time in Garmisch and whenever he was in Germany he wanted to visit there, although he rarely could do so. Clive loved the German landscapes and—as everywhere else in the world—he loved German beer, he loved jokes and he loved holidays. He was grateful for every day free and for any spare time in which he could enjoy being with Carol: he loved being with people. Until the end, Clive kept in contact with several people in Germany, not only music therapists. I only realized this fact when I passed around the sad news that he had died. I was deeply moved about reactions from his friends.

It was only in his biography that I realized that when young, Clive had suffered his injury fighting against Germany. However, this was never was a matter of discussion. In that sense, Clive was not only a messenger of music therapy. In his person he was a messenger of peace and life in harmony. He wasn’t only a European citizen but an inhabitant of the global village.

When thinking about his legacy what can we learn apart from music therapy?


Nordoff, P. & Robbins, C. (1971/2004). Therapy in music for handicapped children. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.

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