“My job was to awaken possibility in other people.”

By November 15, 2009Inspiration

Benjamin Zander is highly comedic in this internet talk, yet very inspiring.  He discusses the presentation of classical music, as well as the passion and intention behind much of the music.  There are two things he mentions that I would like to discuss and apply to music therapy.  The first is Zander’s assertion that no one is tone deaf, and the second is the quote that is the title of this post.

How often during sessions do we hear, “Oh, I can’t sing,” or “I’m tone deaf.”  We hear this from everyone, from patients and family members to nurses and other professionals.  At what point did music become so “professionalized” that those who are not world-class performers could not participate?  Music is the so-called universal language, yet many believe they are not qualified to sing.  Zander uses a neat little trick to prove to the audience that they are not tone deaf, and also provides some examples of how we all perceive tone, whether it is in music or automobile gears.  In the field of music therapy, an assumption of tone deafness may exclude someone from the therapy.  How can we bust this myth (to use a phrase from one of my favorite Discover Channel shows)?  One way may be to use the descending diatonic scale, like Zander did.  Can you think of any other ways to demonstrate to clients that they are not tone deaf, other than just telling them?  Please comment with ideas.

I also want to discuss the quote that is the title of this post.  Though he used it in a musical context (as the director of an orchestra), this is the essence of music therapy.  We use the scientific and artistic qualities of music to get to the core of an individual, and discover and awaken possibilities that lead to a more fulfilling life.  Many of our clients could never perform in an elite orchestra, but that is not the goal.  Our goal is that five minutes of joyful reminiscence in a client with Alzheimer’s.  It is a child with Autism who says, “I love you” to his mother for the first time through a song.  Or perhaps sustained attention from an adult with severe cognitive impairment.  Music has a unique ability to uncover and awaken these possibilities.  I would like to thank Mr. Zander for summing up our profession so eloquently, even if it was unintentional.  He has certainly given me something to think about.



One Comment

  • Alli Swain says:

    First of all, thank you Matt for a wonderful video clip and conversation starter!

    As for myth-busting, I would like to propose that the key to discovering our ability to sing lies in the permission to be musical in any and all ways possible. This is the opposite of the “classical music” way of thinking – i.e. there is only one right note/chord at a specific point in a song and all others are wrong. Instead, we must focus on the act of making music! To be engaged in a musical activity in which there is no wrong note!

    Improvisation is one of the most empowering tool that we have to help others discover their inherent musical ability. Each person will learn how to express themselves musically in different ways. Some will jump into singing from the start – others may need a more roundabout way.

    Music Therapists have a wonderful advantage in building up to this discovery: we have been educated in the research, we can construct aesthetic group/individual experiences that lead to and support musical expression, we can use any type of instrument to assist the process, AND we give permission to begin the musical journey no matter the age or ability.

    Some powerful first experiences can include:
    Drum Circles – introducing playing a musical instrument within a group setting. Entrainment allows each person to have success. And did I mention, it’s fun! The whole group gets swept off in the moment – making the discovery effortless and exciting.

    Group singing – Safety in numbers! Expressing the voice in public is one of the top fears (ranking higher than death!) – No wonder people can be reluctant to sing! Music Therapists help break through this fear in tailoring singing experiences to be familiar and accessible to each person.

    Pentatonic Instruments – Kalimbas/Mbiras, Xylophones, Native American Flutes, Boomwhackers, Tone Chimes etc. – these instruments provide easy and pleasing melodic expression. Pentatonic instruments pave the way for pentatonic singing – therefore empowering for vocal expression, and again, no wrong notes!

    (Disclaimer… Music Therapists do not provide therapy for the improvement of musical ability. But oftentimes, ability is naturally improved during music therapy while working towards specific non-musical goals, i.e. improved motor coordination, improve memory, increase self-expression, etc.)

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Comment to share more ways to empower others to be musical across all ages and abilities.