Just a Song Sunday: Deeper into Self-Organization

It's that time again - time to go back into the writings of William W. Sears and the second chapter of Music In Therapy, edited by E. Thayer Gaston and published in 1968. Last Sunday, I went through the first part of the category of Music provides experience in self-organization (p. 39-41). Today, I am going to talk a bit more specifically about bits and pieces of these two pages in order to better understand what Sears means.

The first subheading of the outline states "music provides for self-expression" (p. 39). I admit that I have lived with these concepts for so long that my first reaction is, well, "duh," but when I think back to those first exposures to these thoughts, this concept was a pretty big one. Music offers an opportunity for humans to convey emotions, thoughts, and patterns through observable behaviors (gotta remember that Sears was a behavioralist, so everything is couched in behavior terms).

As I am reading through this text, I am forced to take a historical perspective and view the writing through the lens of a person living in the late 60's. Here in America, the push towards education for all children and the beginnings of the deinstitutionalization movement was just starting. For the first time, people were realizing that persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities had rights. We are still working on making these ideas commonplace no matter what. This perspective, however, is helpful when I am navigating through these writings.

At the time of publication, I surmise that the audience for this book had two basic subgroups - people interested in the idea of using music as therapy and people who were working with persons with exceptionalities. Since both of those ideas were pretty new to the greater world outside of the university programs developing music therapy and special education education courses, I think the idea of these explanations was to illustrate that persons with exceptionalities responded to music. So, as a result, this chapter has portions where I feel like Sears is stating the obvious (but, I have the perspective of almost 50 years of research, increasing public awareness, and the familiarization of exceptionality in the greater society at large) and times when I am offended by the language that he uses. Then, I remember what was happening in the world (by the way, before even I was born), and I am able to translate into 21st century ideas and parlance.

So, music provides opportunities for self-expression. Sears doesn't go into any type of description about how music provides these opportunities. He just states that it does. Then he moves into the next subtopic, "music provides compensatory endeavors for the handicapped individual" (p. 39-40). This brief paragraph basically notes that engagement in music is something that "normal" (shudder) people do, so that the person with an exceptionality can engage with others within a musical environment leading to "a healthy acceptance of his limitations."

"Music provides opportunities for socially acceptable reward and nonreward." It is in this small paragraph that Sears starts to indicate that music may provide an intrinsic reward for those who participate. Making music becomes an environment where an individual can receive and accept criticism without the focus being on the individual him or herself. Interesting concept when considering the way that some people are treated based on a label - that because of the label, they are unable to engage with the world the way nonlabled people engage. Sears wrote that music provides opportunities for the person with the label to be part of the group.

"Music provides for the enhancement of pride in self" (p. 40-41). Music is a place where success can be attained. Participation in an ensemble means that each member has a role to play and is essential to the success of that ensemble. Someone who is actively part of a musical experience can earn the respect and/or esteem of the others who are engaged in that experience. All of these concepts are covered under the last portion of this heading. I am reminded of situations and music therapy moments when the student that no one liked stood up in front of the school and belted out a song revealing that he could sing...in French. I remember one student saying, "Music at my old school was no fun, but here we get to do lots of cool things! It will be fun," to a new student who didn't want to engage in music therapy. I remember times when a student with low levels of self-esteem was encouraged by peers to complete a complex musical task.

All of these things form the foundational thoughts of my life as a music therapist. Good news - two headings complete! Only one more to go. This next one is a doozy, so be prepared for several more weeks of Sears discussion. Thanks for hanging in here with me. I am enjoying this rereading and thought process.

Sears, W. W. (1968). Processes in music therapy. In E. T. Gaston (Ed.) Music in therapy (30-44). New York: MacMillan. 

Timeline of Special Education History. Retrieved from: http://www.fortschools.org/m/content.cfm?subpage=62980



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