Synthesis Sunday: Mercedes Pavlicevic and "Music Therapy and Universals"

It is time for Chapter Three of Music Therapy in Context: Music, Meaning and Relationship by Mercedes Pavlicevic.

Before we get started, however, a cautionary tale about a music therapist who did not carefully check her resources and now is apologizing to her readers. 

You know how people are always telling you to double check your sources? I know I've told people that a time or two, myself, but I was a poor example of this a couple of weeks ago. Over the past two weeks, I've been using some notes that I took about this text several years ago. At that time, I must not have looked all that carefully at the text, because I wrongly attributed the publisher as Barcelona. When I went back to the text for Chapter three, I happened to look at the copyright information and found that the book was not published by Barcelona but by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I didn't check my sources carefully enough, but I have now. I have gone back and changed the posts and also admitted my mistake on those prior posts. 

So, ALWAYS CHECK YOUR SOURCES AT LEAST TWICE! Do not go into the world and make false statements like I did. Beware. Beware!!

So, Chapter Three.

Music therapy and universals: Between culture and compromise.

The basic theme of this chapter is that culture plays a huge, and often unseen, role in how we interact with each other and with music. For me, the most important part of this chapter was the reminder that we all participate in our larger culture and a myriad of subcultures as well. My music therapy clinic is a subculture in itself. Each elements of these cultures and subcultures impact us as human beings. Interested? I certainly am interested in this thought.

As I started the reading session, I was struck by the following quotation:
"...the meaning of music therapy as a universal and as a culture-specific phenomenon, in an attempt at addressing a basic premise in support of music therapy: that humans are susceptible to the power of music since it is a universal phenomenon and since it exists in all human beings."  ~ Mercedes Pavlicevic, p. 34
This is one of the blessings and one of the curses of music therapy. All cultures include music of some sort. It surrounds us all. It is something that we choose to participate in or not. It is at our fingertips. It is accessible to all. That's both a good thing for music therapists and a bad thing. (This line of thinking always leads me into a rant about who owns music, so I am going to leave it here because that is not the purpose of this post, but believe me, we are all better off!)

The idea that stayed with me was the thought that I will only ever experience music through my cultural experience. I can listen to and appreciate world musics, but I will always filter them through my own set and subsets of experiences - and that's okay! I can listen to gamelan music. I can attempt to play gamelan music, but I can never fully experience that music the same way as someone from Indonesia (specifically, Java and Bali). I can't pretend to do so, because it is not possible. I may learn more and more about the culture and become a bit more familiar with the cultural perspective, but my culture is always the foundation of my experience.

There were so many things that made me think more deeply about my clinical life in this chapter, it is difficult to winnow it down into a blog post.

After reading this particular chapter, I have thought more deeply about why an opening therapeutic music experience (TME) is so important to me and the subculture that I want my clients to experience. Knowing our music, our ways of welcoming people into our music therapy space, is a way of establishing our culture. Knowing the music leads to a sense of belonging. Is that why my opening TMEs are simple, repetitive, and upbeat? Is that why brand new clients are able to sing with us after a couple of repetitions of the opening TME? Is that why established clients don't seem to acknowledge the start of the session until one of those familiar songs are sung?

On page 40, the quotation that I liked the best was:
"We need to share patterning."  ~ Mercedes Pavlicevic, p. 40
Our minds like patterns, and we, as therapists, often seek patterns in the musical interactions with have with our clients. We look for repetition. We seek melodic phrases. We yearn for commonality in our music production. The clients that seem to challenge us the most are those that do not appear to have patterns. In my experience, those patterns are still present, but I find it difficult to recognize the patterns in the time that I have with the client.

Sometimes we can shape a behavior into a pattern by providing a steady beat to the environment. Sometimes we have to join into the pattern of the client in order to make a connection. Sometimes we can't find any type of common pattern to experience.

At the end of the chapter, Pavlicevic offers the idea of music therapy as a social event (p. 46). There are cultural expectations of the music therapy session - there is an etiquette to be observed. The therapist and the client work together, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in opposition, with a common goal in mind.
I have lots to think about these days. I will spend some time in the next week really observing my session culture to see if I can figure out what characteristics are present in the room for each group. What are the commonalities? What are the differences?

Happy Sunday.


Pavlicevic, M. (1997). Music therapy in context: Music, meaning and relationship. London: Jessica Kingsley.


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