Three o’clock in the afternoon.
I am starting my therapeutic harp shift at a local hospice.
As usual, the service opens with a thirty-minutes music offering in the corridor. The first notes resonate and heads peek out from behind the doors. Care givers and family members check and see what’s going on, to tell their beloved ones. - ”Ain’ that our neighbour’s TV?” - “No, no! You won’t believe it: there’s a woman with a harp in the corridor!”.
Smiles arise, along with meaningful glances. An old lady in a wheelchair comes closer to stay and listen, her wrinkled chin in her hand, while Eleanor Plunkett turns into Amapola and the gentle rumba recalls sweet ballroom memories. Later on in the session, Ed Sheeran and Leonard Cohen trade their strings for mine in a couple of tender six-eight ballads, to cradle a young man and his father.
Day by day, my repertoire grows with the music I transcribe and arrange to fulfill my patients requests, nurturing an expertise in choosing a proper selection of familiar tunes also for those who can’t tell their preferences.
Grasping, guessing, sensing the right music for everyone, with no judgement, respecting all genres and tastes, just like an ethnomusicologist would do.
That’s OK, but what about me, what about my own preferences? How do they relate to this commitment to widen my perspectives and how do they affect me as a therapeutic musician?
I was recently given the assignment of writing my “sonic autobiography”.
The task disclosed a full set of questions, answers and discoveries.
Sonic autobiography is the story of sounds, noises and music that surrounded you from your birth (or even before) to now.
And, most important, it is both about the sonic experiences you loved and those you hated.
I’m not afraid to say that every TM should take the time to put on paper his/her personal sonic history. It can be frightening at first and you can feel pretty stuck. Maybe there are too many things to recall and it’s easy to get lost in remembrance.
What should I begin with? How many pages? Should it resemble a clinical anamnesis, a comedian’s monologue or a sentimental novel? For whom am I writing this?
The last question is the simplest to answer: you should write it just for yourself, as a self-care practice.
No agenda, no plans, a genuine stream of consciousness is the best approach to let emerge the true essence of your path through sounds.
For those scared of the blank page syndrome, here are a few ice-breaker tips:
Most important of all, this process will give you the chance to read your experiences as a therapeutic musician in light of your individual path through sound and music.
As my sonic autobiography revealed, my personal sonic journey was a patchwork of styles and genres. I spent twenty years skipping from classical piano to hard rock keyboards, accompanying a long train dressed soprano during the day and a long haired tattoed vocalist the very same night. This alternation made me often feel out of place, as if I were someone who wants to live more than one life, someone who refuses to pronounce an oath of allegiance to a single stylistic party, in oder to grab gifts and emotions from different musical worlds.
When I fell in love with the harp in my mid-30’s, all these influences flew into my therapeutic music practice. Everything suddenly made sense and everything was - and is – harmoniously in place.
“Know thyself” says a famous inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
This is an invitation to embrace our path and to acknowledge our limits, so that, by the act of recognizing our sonic identity as a whole, we learn to truly honour and meet in our music the uniqueness and complexity of each human being.
There is a single word that keeps troubling me, since COVID-19 pandemic crisis turned into a harsh reality in Italy at the end of February.
This word is "unessential".
As a therapeutic musician, I'm used to think that my service meets human psycho-social and spiritual needs as essential as life itself.
Nevertheless, in a state of emergency, I have been asked to stop visiting facilities, together with other "unessential visitors".
Questions arise: is music to some extent redundant in our lives?
Would it be possible for a therapeutic musician to convey his/her service in other ways than an actual relationship in presence?
As pandemic spreads, anxiety, depression, restlessness and sleep disorders are peeking out within the population as a consequence of isolation and fear.
To date, we count three suicides and a massive increase in domestic violence related to COVID-19.
Although these issues are overshadowed by the pandemic and may not be recognized as first-line agenda, we are at risk for major individual and social negative outcomes.
Music is a positive reaction we can - and we must - put into practice immediately, for ourselves and for the others.
As a powerful mean of expression and connection, music can bridge the ongoing relational gap and help coping.
We are called to reorganize our service to make it available remotely.
We all know that analog and digital are not the same.
Something will be "lost in translation".
But, as we say in Milan, something is better than nothing.
These days I'm getting familiar with technology and media, reading manuals, watching tutorials to improve my audio-visual editing skills.
Music-based relaxation techniques, harp accompanied fairy tales, mantra chanting and meditation are but a few ideas to orientate our video and podcast content.
Make an agreement with the organization you work with, to make sure you are addressing their specific needs and their equipment.
Work together to keep therapeutic music streamings and recordings available to patients and staff.
Create a special stress relief soundtrack for doctors and nurses.
Take care of the volunteers, extraordinary people who are feeling frozen in their altruism during quarantine.
Free your imagination, your creativity and deep intention.
Music is unique and indispensable, here and now more than ever.
Silvia Maserati: Harpist, Certified Clinical Musician and Therapeutic Music Mentor