Collaborating Together: Finding the Emergent and Disruptive In and Between the Fields of Music Therapy and Medical Ethnomusicology

By Jane Edwards, Gregory Melchor-Barz & Bussakorn Binson

As guest editors for this special issue we - a music therapist (Jane), medical ethnomusicologist (Greg), and ethnomusicologist (Bussakorn) –have found our way into this topic as observers, participants, and muses within an ongoing mutual dialogue. We have come across each other’s work in a variety of contexts. Jane and Bussakorn are both founding members of the International Association for Music & Medicine and collaborated in running the second international IAMM conference hosted by Chulalongkorn University in 2011. They previously worked together on a special issue of Music and Medicine focused on music and medicine in South East Asia.

Jane and Greg first met in Limerick in 2012 when Greg was invited to speak at a special event developed to explore the possibility of developing a Masters in medical ethnomusicology at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. They subsequently presented together at a 2013 SEMS pre-symposium at Indiana University titled "Music and Global Health: Toward Collaborative Paradigms."

Medical Ethnomusicology brings together interests from the ethnomusicological, anthropological and healthcare worlds. How health is enacted or performed provokes curiosity for which ME can offer a means of inquiry and investigation. This special issue focuses on how music therapy and medical ethnomusicology interact; how is collaboration possible? In this short editorial we refer to only three of the many papers but encourage you to read them all and make your own decision about how collaboration between music therapy and medical ethnomusicology should be pursued.

In the first paper of the special issue an interview is conducted between Dr Richard Vedan, a Secwepmec, lodge keeper, and medical social worker, and Dr Carolyn Kenny, an esteemed leader in music therapy who researches from an interdisciplinary perspective. They consider critical elements of medical ethnomusicology as seen and experienced through an Indigenous context. In the interview Dr Vedan described his usual response when people let him know how lucky he is to have two cultural perspectives from which to view medical practice. As he pointed out,

…[people say] “It must be nice to be in two worlds to have a foot in each of two cultures like a bridge.” And I reply that it’s not so much I feel like I have one foot in each culture. It’s like I have my left foot in one canoe and the other foot is in another canoe. And I’m in the rapids and I have to deconstruct the canoes from a Western paradigm to a traditional paradigm and not drown in the process and sing songs along the way. (Kenny & Vedan, this issue)

Dr Brian Schrag’s paper presents a personal perspective along with scholarly insights into his experience as an ethnomusicologist who is diagnosed with MND. He shares personally and clearly the effect on his life, with many of the problematic effects stemming from community ignorance and fear.

It is relatively rare to find a music therapist who has also trained as an ethnomusicologist, so a unique collaboration occurs between Jane Edwards and Oonagh McMahon for the paper Music therapy and medical ethnomusicology: Distinctive and connected. Some of their paper considers the ways in which some of the hallmarks of music therapy practice appear in the work of the applied medical ethnomusicologist, and they sound a note of caution in this development.

It is curious that medical ethnomusicology has taken this turn towards applied healthcare practice, and we consider that if therapeutic intent is present then certain minimum standards in relation to cultural and relational safety need to be agreed upon and demonstrated. (Edwards & McMahon, this issue)

The other papers in the issue cover a range of topics, some presented by music therapists, some by medical ethnomusicologists. Contributions from Thailand, South Korea, and the US are among perspectives that help develop a concept of how the expansion and collaboration between our fields can be pursued. Debate is healthy, and discussions are a way to air views and explain concepts. At this stage of emergence the dialogue opens and we begin to think and grow.