Point of View
We asked respected Australian
music therapist/ pianist,
to answer the following question..
What is music therapy?
by Enid Rowe
Two questions are implied here.
What is music?
What is therapy?
To answer the second question we must first answer another question,
i.e. "What is the therapeutic mode?" My answer, based on the premise
that the therapist cannot heal, is "to release the healing agent in
As to the first question it seems obvious words cannot be found to
define the essence of music.
In his autobiography Igor Stravinsky (1936) said "music is, by its
very nature, powerless to express anything at all...if...music appears
to express something, this is only an illusion, and not a reality."
Susan K. Langer wrote "Not communication but insight is the gift of
(Philosophy in a New Key p. 244). Langer also maintained that music is
true to the life of the feelings in a way that language cannot be.
Verbal statements are largely useless for conveying the precise
character of a feeling.
Victor Zuckerandl in Sound and Symbol said "The essence of music
cannot be thought, but must be felt and this is as it should be. For
music is a miracle and we approach a miracle with reverent wonder, we do
not pry into it with thought."
If music is to be used as therapy it is necessary to explore and
become familiar with the elements which make music a miracle.
It is possible in music therapy to improvise music creatively, with
sensitivity and integrity to engage a client in music making and support
My music therapy training was at the Nordoff Robbins Centre in London
in 1977/78. This approach is an improvisational model where clinical
goals are contained within musical goals. Personal freedom is realised
through musical freedom. Self confidence is realised through independent
creativity in music.
Music exists moment to moment. As it moves in time it comes to life.
It can lead or accompany us through the whole range of human emotions,
the heights and depths of human experience.
In my work with children it is obvious that the young child is
searching for a response. The child has a "self" somewhere which has
intent. Motivation is a notion of intention, a mental action pattern.
Without this there is no motivation. If the child's ego can be
strengthened it may be possible for him/her to go back to where the ego
became distorted. Regression allows the possibility of developing along
a different line.
Music is organised. (Good musicians are obsessive) The child is an
area scattered, incoherent, undisciplined, chaotic. The musical dialogue
between therapist and child contains reciprocal affect. It is not the
therapist and music acting on the child, but the therapist and child
acting on each other in mutual dialogue. In this wordless musical
discourse feelings are transformed. Order is created out of inner
Music therapy is not communication in the Nordoff Robbins model but
inter-response. One improvises, i.e. extends ones experience, as the
context changes. The reflection of experience is music.
Musical improvisation does not refer to anything outside itself for
meaning. There is no need to interpret it. There is a whole world of
musical idioms and styles, a palette of musical colours - Western
diatonic, Eastern Pentatonic, Middle Eastern, Sanish, Ancient modes (all
seven of them), atonal, bitonal, whole tone, blues - Is it any wonder
that music has the ability to penetrate barriers resulting from diabling
emotional, intellectual, social and physical conditions which restrict
I am vitally concerned with reducing the burden of pathology by
developing changes in responsiveness, self awareness and attitude to
others. The creative act of music making has power to release healing
agents in all of us.
more...(How the music therapist works)
© 2007 Enid Rowe
Enid Rowe LTCL.Dip MTNR, RMT, SRAsT(M)
founder of Nordoff-Robbins in Australia in 1984
Comment on this article