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Music: making whole

Last year, whilst in Edinburgh, I had the good fortune to go hear a bunch of fine musicians in the space of about 3 days. (They included Emily Scott, Teitur, Benni Hemm Hemm, Withered Hand, and Alasdair Roberts). Those few days still stand out in my mind – the music connected me to parts of myself that had been a little lost. The music reminded me that those parts still existed and there was some ineffable experience that occurred, best described (though difficult to put into words) as “wholeing”. I was made more more wholly me by the experience.

As I wrote in a previous post about beauty, I find that health (or wholeness) is evidenced by one’s ability to experience beauty (fully feeling the music, or enjoying art, or appreciating the beauty of a sunset). And that we can often see when a person is “out of health” or disintegrated, or “not whole” when we see them not being able to listen to, enjoy, feel, or fully immerse themselves in the music they play or hear.

That is not to say that all music is “beautiful” to all people. Of course it’s not. But I do think that one person’s tastes versus another person’s tastes speaks also to the integration or lack of integration of certain parts of the self. For example, for the longest time I couldn’t listen to rap music (this was before I studied to be a music therapist). OK – you could say that the facts that I was born in Scotland, I studied classical music from a young age, and I wasn’t terribly exposed to popular music, contributed to this “taste”. Of course. But, it’s not just these environmental factors. Something in me was under-developed, or lost, or disconnected.

In the case of rap music, there can be a driving rhythm, a strong bass line, minimal melodic lines, repetitive harmonies. When one really takes all these elements in, on a sensory level, they can awaken sensual, grounded, physical sensations in a person. It was a disconnection to my body that I now realize I was experiencing.When I connected to the music in a sensory way, taking in the elements, listening on a deeper level, I could experience the “disconnected” part of myself. I could become more “whole”, and healthier.

Through my training as a music therapist, and my need to open myself and my ears to many types of music, and the many musics of my clients, I also opened myself to the many forgotten/lost/disassociated parts of myself. As a music therapist, we can guide a client in knowing and accepting the many aspects of themselves, through knowing and owning the many sounds that they make, and the many musics that they listen to. Thoughts anyone?


  1. Brian

    Thank you for describing beauty in this unconventional, more contextually-based way. Beauty has more to do with its meaning and impact on one’s wholeness and well being than on some objective qualities or concrete features. Nice!

    Speaking of beauty, myths, and Scotland, by the way…what do you know about the myth underlying the lyrics of Led Zepplin’s “Battle of Evermore”? It’s always intrigued me.

  2. Suzannah Post author

    You know, to be honest, I don’t know that song so well. The song mentions Avalon. It seems to draw on the theme of darkness and light – death/rebirth myth. I think it’s drawing on the idea of the void moon (between the waxing and waning) as a time of extreme power and potential. Don’t know….definitely connected to old pagan ritual and beliefs.

  3. Dee

    Regarding rap. Once time in the car my mom asked, in a pretty aggravated tone, for me to change the radio station because rap isn’t music. I felt so sad and angry and isolated from her so naturally I launched into a defensive and didactic lecture about expression in different communities, etc.. I’m sure I was charming, anyway despite that conversation, she has now opened her mind to some hip hop and other things most 71 year old white women don’t dig, it’s been nice to see. I think like with cooking, books, everything, sometimes we need a cultural guide to expose us to different things, and through the eyes of someone we love and respect, we can see art, a certain place, or a person in a different light. I actually enjoy Mariah Carey now because a couple of true fans turned me on to her.

    1. Suzannah Post author

      Yes – a cultural guide. I love this idea. This is what a therapist is to some extent. In terms of music therapy, the therapist is a model or “cultural guide” (just as you were for your mother, and your Mariah Carey-loving friends were for you), whose acceptance and appreciation for all sounds, all musics, allows the client to develop an increasingly expanded relationship to music. And in doing so, expand their relationship to themselves and others. The therapist listens to, accepts and appreciates all the sounds that the client is capable of expressing e.g. loud, angry, brash, weak, subdued, playful, creative, sensual etc. In this way, the therapist is even a “cultural guide” for the client’s own self. The client begins to see their own self in a “different light”.

  4. joanne

    Nice blog…I was thinking about the word ‘holy’ as I reflected on your ‘wholly’. Thought I would share this. When there is a meaningful absorbant experience, one which is encapsulating–it may be that the weighted ego becomes lightened, and we might even be transported, or taken out of our body, and for me this can evolve into a feeling of ‘holy’-not in the God sense, but in the sacred sense, whereas we are separated by the ordinary and moved into the sacred sphere of altered experience.
    For me the word ‘beauty’ in the way you are referring to it would be an ‘integration’-sure—that said, the terms ‘beauty’, ‘aesthetic’ and ‘musical’ have at times turned me away from what I seek to know most about art and music-which is-expression, empathy, passion and meaning, and to know that which is expressed by the other. It is the ‘culture’ within the expressed form that takes us into the learning of humaness, reflected in the symbol-the ‘art’. What we see as ‘beauty’ is the essence of nature; but in the translation-we assign and adapt our norms. This is an important realization. And it is the human way. Thanks for this blog. Thought provoking Suzannah!


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