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Music therapy - The Community Music Therapy project – ‘Music is about mystery Music is spiritual’



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

From Therapy to Community – Stuart Wood, Rachel Verney and Jessica Atkinson

Before the Community Music Therapy project started, Fridays were usually quiet. By midway through the project, Friday afternoons were a riot of crashing gongs, booming drums and impromptu gospel singing, For nearly two hours each week the day room would be filled with instruments, and converted from a thoroughfare into a fluid improvisational space where patients, carers, therapy staff and administrators all became participants in the same music. Psychologists could find themselves duetting with stroke patients, managers with care assistants and nurses with visitors.

This group had been set up to provide a time when the diverse people passing through the unit each week could stop and make music together as equals. At the core was a small set of regular members - patients who were involved in other parts of the programme - and staff. Each week this body of musicians would welcome a variety of newcomers to the music-making, whether new inpatients, visitors, students or staff. Our ethos of inclusion invariably attracted new members who were able to tap into the power of music to connect people. Staff members came from across the range of professionals, and included therapists, nursing staff and the chaplain. Initially, their attendance was out of curiosity or support. Many became regular members, valuing the special contact with patients and colleagues that this allowed.

The group's music grew into a weekly event, anticipated eagerly. It seemed to embody the shared purpose of the unit, creating a feeling of being a community.

Early on, the group members were: a former GP and a young man with head injuries, an elderly Urdu-speaking gentleman who had suffered a stroke, a lady from Trinidad with MS, the unit's chaplain and a rehabilitation assistant. We learned about each member, including the lives of patients prior to their injuries.

Through improvisation they were all able to listen, respond and think as musicians. It was wonderful to observe how the group could accommodate so much - the unexpected outbursts of one, the deep sadness of another, or the occasional awkwardness of staff members. Around the music-making, talk would often turn to how we could improve our shared playing. We developed not only a common style, but also a common set of rules, including how to listen to others, how to 'dive in' to improvising, and when to stop!

The non-staff members of this group were also taking part in other sessions in the week. They brought many of their experiences and ideas from the other groups to enrich and enhance the music we made. Soon participants were deepening their understanding of the improvisations and the concerts or workshops they had attended. Some even brought their compositions from small workshops to the Friday Group for everyone to enjoy.

We were struck by the impact the group made in the unit as a whole. It could hardly be kept secret that this huge body of musicians was meeting in the day room each week. Our sounds permeated, as music does, through walls, out of windows, and down corridors. When therapists came to the group, they could see and hear for themselves how their patients were developing. More importantly, they could share music-making as equal partners with their own patients, with colleagues and strangers.

Staff commented on how the group seemed to bring the 'outside world' into the unit. A senior manager said: 'Music brings a new dimension to the working life of the team by bringing the outside into the unit for the staff – the opposite to what it does for the patients. It loosened the institution up.' This effect of 'loosening' was taken up by others:

The project allowed people to be around mystery, experienced in music, in a way that is not dangerous. This softened a previous brittleness in the unit that existed because rehabilitation is about things that are measured, rigid and physical, but music is about mystery... Music is a spiritual entity, and when you have a musician around, the edges of things get softened.

The source of the experience

Healer other

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Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy