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A few words about beauty

Yes – I’m tackling Beauty on my first Blog post. And chances are it will be a recurring theme in these posts.

I am a music therapist. My work involves facilitating aesthetic experiences with and for my clients. Beautiful sounds make up a majority of the therapy sessions. Who are my music therapy influences in this regard? Definitely Carolyn Kenny, Helen Bonny, and of course Clive Robbins and Paul Nordoff.

Carolyn Kenny writes so eloquently about how Beauty in human beings is not just relegated to the ‘pleasing’. Beauty is inclusive of darkness and light, sadness, horror, fierceness. It is my thought that beauty in music can allow for a person to experience their entire selves as beautiful. Carolyn Kenny writes, “[As] one moves toward beauty, one moves toward wholeness, or the fullest potential of what one can be in the world.”

A while ago, I was pulled deeply in Elaine Scarry’s essay, “On Beauty and Being Just.” In it she writes:
“Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people…” She suggests that beauty invites us to stare – when we see or hear something beautiful, our eyes and our ears want more of it.

I understand this instinct to “stare” as a gift, allowing a person to be still with something. When we are in the presence of beauty, we wish to stay with it longer. That is how we know beauty.

So, what is the purpose of the aesthetic experience in music therapy? Perhaps it is to awaken that instinct to stare. Through the music, we are able to stare at ourselves, and know ourselves as beautiful. Beautiful in the fullest sense of the word. Maybe even the most “ugly” of experiences can be transformed into things of beauty through art? In this way, through the beauty of a musical experience with another human being, we can make our sadness, our grief, our anger, or our longing, into an act of beauty. And in doing so, that grief or that pain is easier to be with, to stare at, and to be still with. And just maybe, it can be transformed in this way. Transformation is rooted in being able to stay still with and feel fully, even those most difficult of emotions. Transformation in therapy is about the client becoming Beauty.

Clive Robbins (personal communication) suggests that we, as music therapists, “become committed to Beauty”. What does this mean for us? It means skillful execution of our musical craft – time, focus and practice in making beautiful music, so that we can consistently facilitate these experiences for our clients. Clive talks about his and Paul Nordoff’s famous “Edward” case study (written about in their seminal publication, Creative Music Therapy), and how Edward increasingly wanted more and more to do with Beauty. From his first coming in contact with Beauty, he began to experience himself in the music, as a thing of Beauty. And this experience led him to want more and more of it. He was invited to stare, and listen deeply. He began relating to beauty in others, and in himself. The world became an increasingly beautiful place for a boy who had only known frustration, fear and limitations.

I believe that our capacity for beauty, creative endeavor, and imagination is dependent on our health, and our state of health is dependent on our capacity to embrace beauty and engage in creative endeavor and imaginative practices. Music therapists remind a person of their beauty and the necessity of creating and imagining.


  1. Brian

    Nice entry (and great blog!). I think it’s important to keep in mind the differences between the meaning of beauty in terms of conventional (or even current societal) artistic standards, and the meaning of beauty in terms of the promotion of health (as is relevant from the perspective of music therapy). The public often becomes confused on this point. As I construe it from a music therapy perpsective, beauty is a highly contextual phenomenon, defined by how, under a particular set of therapeutic circumstances, a client’s potential for being-in-time and being-with-others-in-time expands in accordance with particular needs. It may not always sound “beautiful” in a conventional sense, to many people (even taking into account individual tastes and cultural diversity), but it nonetheless is most certainly beautiful, and musical, in a most profound sense. Just my take on that.

  2. Suzannah Post author

    Yes, that’s why I focused on Elaine Scarry’s thoughts about beauty. Because the desire to “stare” at something, staying with it longer, isn’t limited to what we might deem beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. I mean, we can wish to stay with things that are scary, or noisy, or angry, or confusing. Music, and art in general, makes this possible even. I think that health is about seeing ALL as beautiful. That a person in true health (or wholeness) recognizes and accepts all that is within (and without) them. And, in owning all that is within, all that is within (and without) can become “beauty”. Ooh – this is a BIG, complicated, hard-to-articulate subject. Hmmm….thanks for tolerating my writing-as-I-think.


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