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Music therapy – Case history of Kevin who had Friedreich's Ataxia



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

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

Kevin and I began working together early on in my career. He has a chronic muscle-wasting condition known as Friedreich's Ataxia and was 35 when he began his individual music therapy which spanned four years. Kevin was the first person I encountered with a life-limiting illness. He had a hunger for improvised music and it is the passion and directness of Kevin's playing which have stood as a consistent reminder to me of music's capacity to transform experience. This is work I have revisited on many occasions and each time I become increasingly aware of Kevin's capacity to use our music-making to rewrite or re-sound the relationship with his condition.

Kevin's music is driven by opposition: the crashing blow of a cymbal, the poignant line of an African flute, the faltering melody of a metallophone. It often comes in bursts of barely controlled sounds and silences, crashing its way into the next phrase or change in instrumentation. This music wails, cries out, rages. It is existential music that both screams at the illness attacking Kevin's body and conveys a vulnerability to its impact. It is expression and transformation, a statement of 'the way things are' and a shift in the way things are.

The music medium itself essentially provides this shift for Kevin. As he literally absorbs the impact of the music he receives powerful somatic feedback, a bodily resonance that he has created. Music can help him feel more physically and psychologically alive. Here is an integrative force to put against the experience of bodily fragmentation. Here is music as psychosomatic transformation and integration.

There is another dimension to Kevin's experience of music therapy, however. He uses the time available after playing to create verbal meaning for the music. Together we play with words, create a verbal aesthetic for our wordless music. Kevin talks about the music as his 'lifeline'. He refers to the 'battle' between the instruments he plays but also how they 'must learn to play together'. In the metaphorical vision we create the cymbal – the instrument that affords him the most powerful body resonance – becomes his illness. But not just that, for each cymbal crash also turns into a form of hitting out at illness and its impact. Life and aliveness are in this music too then, and find a voice in other instruments such as the metallophone, bells and African flute.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy