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Clive Robbins and his commitment to beauty

I’m sitting here, processing in music and art, the passing of Clive Robbins. I am more deeply affected by his passing than I might have imagined. He was my teacher for a semester at NYU. He was also a colleague – I stood in and lectured for him at Nordoff-Robbins once, in the same lecture series that I’d once sat as a student. But I didn’t know him socially, and am not sure that he could have remembered my name had he bumped into me. However, whether he ever knew it, his life and work has touched my own beyond what words can possibly say.

I am spending some time in music, contemplating his indelible mark on me and the profession of music therapy, and the world in general. As I contemplate him, I can’t help but see his spirit, emanating in yellow rays against a bright blue sky. And as I think on both him, and Helen Bonny who passed away last year, I realize why I am so moved by the work that they both pioneered: they were deeply spiritual people and this showed in their work. This is so clear in Clive’s autobiographical writing, Journey into creative music therapy. And was clear to anyone who met him. Why is it that we have so abandoned the transpersonal in music therapy, for the safety of the biological, measurable, quantifiable? There is nothing easy or safe about exploring the transpersonal aspects of music therapy. Every movement into the transpersonal creates more questions than answers, but Helen and Clive dared to do this.

At a presentation Clive gave a few years ago, with Paul Nolan, Clive talked about “committing to beauty”. I find this brings tears to my eyes as I write the words. What a call to action! Commit to Beauty! Wow – it gets me every time. I hear Clive asking this of all of us, not just as therapists, but as human beings. Clive embodied beauty – he was beautiful in his words, in his passion, in his commitment and generosity, in his focus, in his humor, in his innocence and fearlessness. He was a magical teacher, someone who helped me commit to this work and all the depth of experience it brings.

As I have been sitting here, I am struck by the realization that Clive’s influence runs deeper in my life than I had previously made conscious. He changed my life about 20 years ago – in high school I learned about Nordoff-Robbins’ music therapy through a news segment. That news segment inspired my dream of being a music therapist all those years ago, leading me eventually to study at NYU and be taught by the man himself. It never occurred to me to go anywhere else. Clive is why I came to this field, and the reason I studied in New York. I’m just sad that I’ll have to continue my journey knowing he is no longer in the physical world.

I remember him as being so emotionally alive. I carry that image in my mind, and hope to emulate his emotional-availability and willingness to be moved by life. Thank you Clive.


  1. Bonnie Kirk

    Dear Susanna, your thoughts ignited in me the many feelings I have about Clive and why, too, he left an indelible impression in my life. Commit to beauty is a short phrase that I now can commit to as I do my work – no matter how chaotic a session may seem, I must always remember to commit to the beauty of working with the children. This can be a major step into the transpersonal aspect of the music we create together. Clive showed us so often in his class how this works through the conduit of music and the souls connected to it. How a child screaming and screaming, whose screams were met with the music of Paul and the guidance of Clive, finally became part of a beautiful musical fabric which I am sure created an awareness of self in that child’s life. I will truly miss this great and beautiful human being, Clive.

    1. Suzannah Post author

      Bonnie – Thanks for your reflection. It reminded me to look at Doug Johnson’s Masters thesis, “Beauty and the Bells: Developing Self-expression through Improvisational Music Therapy”. He concludes with these thoughts:

      Actively discussing beauty in its many aspects—with patients, patient families, and in the music therapy community—will bring out important healing and restorative factors of therapeutic work…Focusing on the personal usefulness of…experiences of the beautiful, both in and outside of therapy sessions, will help to develop awareness of clinically important aspects of these experiences, for patient and therapist alike.

      Yes, yes, yes! Let’s talk more, and focus more on Beauty. Feeling Clive in our hearts, as we do so.


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