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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Music and Care

I was in a symposium some time ago on the use of music in care settings: in settings where music is used by professional musicians, music therapists or others to ameliorate the quality of life of people with dementia, for example, or mentally handicapped people.

Two movies were shown about the work of John Hoban, made by Willem Blok. In one of the movies, John as well as his wife Isabella Basombrio philosophized at length about the rationale behind their work. Much of what John said completely coincided with my own feelings: for example that every individual is essentially musical and that anybody has the right to be who s/he is, musically; that the essential contribution of working with music in care settings is 'to let them be' and to honor other people by listening to them; and that therefore being a musician means being and giving yourself,

"There is nothing easier than this work", said John - which may be true for him but maybe less so for those I work with, those trained as professional musicians in the exclusivity - rather than the inclusivity - of a conservatoire setting.

I left the afternoon with two questions. The first one is: how can we propagate working with music in care settings more? The feeling amongst the visitors of the symposium was that music is so evidently important in contributing to the quality of life of those we should care for that it is near to unexplainable why music is not a steady ingredient of all those care settings but, on the contrary, is seen as a dispensable luxury nowadays. I have a feeling I know why that is: it is because we have allowed that music is talked about as a dispensable luxury. What has not helped is that our society keeps underlining that music is art, that art should be judged by its own criteria, and that those judgements can and therefore should be expressed only by artist-musicians themselves. We have taken music away from everyday life and have made it very precious, ending up in a situation where it has become impossible to acknowledge that music is simply a basic need of human beings. Sad - because we only have to look at ourselves and the neighbor to understand that this is actually the case.

The same counts for the 'effects' of music in care settings: we - and here I again mean 'we, Dutch society' - have positioned ourselves in a situation where the only effect that counts is the effect that can be counted. We have trapped ourselves in our simplistic ideas of 'evidence based practice', whereas of course if only we would directly look around at what is happening rather than looking at reality indirectly by means of the dials of our measuring machines we would immediately see that 'it works' - Willem Blok's movies show wat music brings mentally handicapped people in a way that is stronger and more reliable than any translation to measurement indices ever can be.

The second question is more tricky: what is the place of the professional musician in this field? Some professional musicians I know and people working in that field claim that professional performing musicians have something important to contribute to this field. I am not immediately convinced but would like to be convinced. So tell me what it is: what is it that professional musicians - let's say: musicians with a conservatoire diploma - bring that other types of musically active people - 'musickers' - do not bring? The obvious answer is always 'artistic quality' but if that is true at all (which for me is not sure) it only reformulates the question, which then becomes: what is 'artistic quality' adding to situations where music is used in care setings? I would disencourage you to use in your answer the line of thought that any human being has a 'right' to the highest possible artistic quality because I find that line of thought a very patronizing one - and then I would like to invite you to provide me with a beginning of an answer.

Personally, I don't think the answer lies in 'artistic quality'. It lies in other qualities, qualities John Hobart expresses so well: in openness, in listening, in acceptance, in providing a space for each of us. And that is something any musician might do, regardless of which - if any - diploma hangs on the wall.

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