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Observations placeholder

Soul music as exemplified in 19th century German psychiatry – Dr Cheryce Kramer 02



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Soul music as exemplified in 19th century German psychiatry –  Dr Cheryce Kramer [from Musical healing in Cultural Contexts]

Gymnastics exercise extended Illenau's musical cures into patterns of movement. The asylum had its own gymnastics hall, a full-time gymnastics instructor and usually provided guitar accompaniment for gymnastics classes. Its gymnastics handbook featured a comprehensive list of disorders and corrective movements. So, for example, the prescription for dreamers was rope-jumping because the rope would knock them in the head if attention strayed; for garrulous patients it was lifting such weights that the sheer physical strain of exertion would prevent them from speaking. The presence of a physician during class insured that the pace, rhythm and complexity of each exercise was tailored to the specific affliction of each patient.

At first glance it might appear that gymnastics was directed towards regulating the behaviour and experience of individual patients. The key to understanding the phenomenal texture of Illenau's exercise programme is, however, to look at the structure of a standard class. Like the asylum concert, gymnastics was directed towards the psychological coordination of groups of patients called Riegen.

I. Order Exercises - groups of gymnasts execute formations and patterns involving march steps, countermarches, chains, figures, loops and walking in circles.
II. Free exercises - gymnasts stretch their legs, arms and torso by holding sustained postures as well as jumping, skipping and sway walking.
III. Apparatus exercises - gymnasts execute jumping exercises involving large and small ropes, double bars and vaults as well as obstacle runs and stilt-walking.
IV. Games - gymnasts assemble for ball games, races and catch games such as hide-and-go-seek.

Traditionally gymnastics as proposed by Turnvater Jahn, the founder of the gymnastics movement in Germany, had consisted in the last three categories of movement. A class would begin with the confrontatlon of the self with itself in arm and leg movements; proceeded to the confrontation of the self with the non-self through the use of ropes, double bars and the vault; and concluded with the confrontation of the self with the other in a variety of competitive team sports and games like hide-and-go-seek. But asylum physicians introduced a new category of exercise called 'order exercises', which involved patients assembling in formations such as the human pinwheel mentioned in the introductory passages of this [essay].

Strikingly these order exercises did not involve confrontation of any kind. Instead they were designed to enhance cooperation and actualize collective experience. The only way to maintain the rotation was for all gymnasts to focus on the collective pattern of movement instead of their own steps. The pinwheel was sustained not as a result of each gymnast performing the same action but rather performing an action commensurate with his or her place in the formation. It is striking evidence of the purported value of collective experience that formation exercises constituted the first order of business in the gymnastics classes held at lllenau.

Prior to limbering up the patients' bodies, asylum physicians limbered up the patients' souls. And they did this by stimulating the registers of psychological coordination and literally strengthening the class's collective Gemuth.


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