The First Nine World Congresses of Music Therapy

Rolando Benenzon

This is to answer Barbara Wheeler's request of information and my considerations about the first nine world congresses of music therapy in which I had the opportunity to take part. I know that Gabriela Wagner has already sent you a lot of documented material so I would like to complete it at the light of my own 40 years of experience. Before going on, I would like to thank Gabriela for her work as well as the translation to English of this text.

The Multiple Sources of Music Therapy

The 1st World Congress of Music Therapy was held in Paris in 1974. It was organized by Edith Lecourt psychologist and musician, and Jacques Jost a sound engineer. This beginning was an example of the multiple sources of music therapy at that time. We all came from different scientific, artistic or social fields.

As a medical doctor, psychiatrist and musician, I represented the Argentine Association of Music Therapy at this first World Congress of Music Therapy. This association was created by a group well known Argentine professionals involved in music, medicine and psychiatry. Some of the musicians were very much involved in the European musical education of the post World War, trained in Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze and Willems proposals, dance and expression through movement.

The theoretical and practical discussions were focused on the meaning of the term musicoterapia - its possibilities and fields of application - as well as the music therapy training. All the possible paths which determined a lot of new orientations suggesting modifications in training ended up in a romantic vision of music therapy considering music as the only marvellous art or an amazing surprise. When analyzing the case studies written during this first period, music is considered as important factor in behavioural changes in autism, coma patients etc.

The Latin America Influence in Music Therapy

This 2nd World Congress of Music Therapy caused, in my opinion the first international change in the above mentioned paths toward what we could call the Latin America influence in music therapy. There were at least two reasons for this movement. One of the was the fact that my proposal for a world congress of music therapy in Buenos Aires was unanimously approved and the other is that I was invited to give a post congress seminar at the Asotiation de Recherche y Aplication Psichomusical in Paris where I could present the methodology of what later became the my model of music therapy.

This methodology was the result of my Freudian training, Melanie Klein, and Winnicott, especially child psychoanalysis and autism that turned to be an open door to the comprehension of the nonverbal frame and the use of intermediary objects such as musical instruments, toys and water.

This seminar was attended by Edith Lecourt, Jacques Jost, Pierre Penec, Gerard Ducorneu and Jacqueline Verdeaux Pailles, and it was a stimulating fact for the further development of a French school of music therapy. After this experience I went to Spain and Italy to sow the same seeds that I had already planted in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Puerto Rico. I think that the biggest influence of these ideas in that time was to show that that music could be studied from a psychoanalytical point of view and that it could rise to a level of psychotherapy. This idea was resisted both by psychologists and music therapists because of their fear of the discussions that it might produce concerning professional profiles and ethics.

As chair of the 2nd World Congress of Music Therapy held in Buenos Aires, I can remember all our efforts to organize an event that could be a worldwide reference for the development of music therapy. It was not only important for us but also for the other Latin American countries.

In those days a music therapy congress with delegates from over 11 countries and 900 registrations was unusual for a music therapy event. Organized by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Salvador, the presentations had a high scientific level in a medical and psychological frame. For the first time in Latin America there was a Music Therapy Carrier in a School of Medicine, coordinated by a medical doctor where graduate professionals and students took a very active part in the organization of a music therapy conference. Gabriela Wagner, Past President of WFMT, was one of those students.

A variety of personalities of the psychoanalytic world, the systemic school of psychology and the psychodrama focused their studies in the individual and music therapy process enriching theory and practice.

Towards the World Federation of Music Therapy

The 3rd World Congress took place in Puerto Rico. At this congress it was decided to hold the next world congress in Paris. Because of internal divisions and ideological differences between Edith Lecourt and Jacques Jost, Paris ended up with two 4th World Congress[es] of Music Therapy. Unfortunately, the audience of both events had the feeling of being forced to make a choice among two theoretical and practical points of view in music therapy. I decided to participate in the conference chaired by Edith Lecourt. During this event I proposed the organization of an international committee with representatives from England, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Puerto Rico, Japan and USA, to study the possibilities and convenience of World Federation of Music Therapy. The members of this committee did the groundwork and the first constitution outlines to be discussed during the upcoming 5th World Congress of Music Therapy held in Genoa, Italy in 1985. In Genoa I was appointed to lead the creation of the WFMT during the 6th World Congress of Music Therapy. The guidelines for its constitution were based on this committees proposals.

Time for a Wider Integration

Rio de Janeiro was also a turning point in my own history with music therapy. There were two nominations for President: Ruth Bright from Australia and myself. We had an equal number of votes and my vote was the one to decide the coming policy. It was a moment of reflection for me. Until then the leading role in music therapy was kept in a Spanish speaking Latin American context. My impression was that it had to do with a particular ethnic group, with a psychodynamic oriented thinking on creative music therapy and art procedures. It was time for a wider integration, so I gave my vote to Ruth Bright. I am very pleased about the further developments within the World Federation of Music Therapy.

Today, I consider that comprehension of the therapeutic work in a nonverbal frame is our start point to understand and to describe any music therapy process as a phenomenon. The roots and the history of each language are like the spider`s web of our non-verbal. Obviously the experience of reading Borges in Spanish it is not the same than doing it in English or vice versa like it happens with Shakespeare.

The Place of Music

Since then I didnt participate actively in world congresses until the 9th World Congress of Music Therapy in Washington, DC, where for the first time my proposal of music therapy was denominated Benenzon Model of Music Therapy (BMMT). I am grateful to Gianluigi Di Franco for this opportunity. Thanks to his motion this model, developed in a Latin America context, was voted as one of the widely known ones in the world. The tracks organized by Kenneth Bruscia during the conference in Washington were a great contribution to clarify the confusion of the various points of view about the place of music in professional traning and music therapy practice. This opportunity to search for similarities and differences among models of music therapies, helped to develop new ideas in music therapy. For me, it was an important encouragement for deepening in the borders music and its relation with the nonverbal communication and the multiplicity of factors in its perception and expression. Sound, silence, musical structures are also shapes, colours, odours, temperatures and infinite qualities and depths of chaos and black holes.

Maybe this is why this last World Congress, which returned to Buenos Aires after 32 years, chaired by Gabriela Wagner, is part of the ritornellos or repetition in history, art, music and psychology. At this point we get very close to philosophy and we need its aid. I suggest Deleuze as a guide in this path in order to accept that there is a micro-macro cosmos that is beyond the limits imposed by the music itself.


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Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy (ISSN 1504-1611)