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.
Silvia Maserati: Harpist, Certified Clinical Musician and Therapeutic Music Mentor