Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Music and Soul

About Music and Psyche

Paul Ashton and Stephen Bloch are Jungian Psychoanalysts living and working in Cape Town. They both have an abiding interest in music of different sorts and Music and Psyche came together from that interest as well as a fascination and curiosity about how music functions both as an agent of healing and as a medium that touches areas of the psyche that words cannot. Realising that they could not themselves cover such a vast subject in the depth that they wanted to, they invited authors with differing interests and backgrounds to participate in the project by submitting essays on any aspect of music that gripped them at the time of writing.

The result is a lovely book which has been written by 13 different authors. Two of them are music therapists, one a composer, one a singer and theologian, another a psychoanalyst and the remainder from a Jungian background. All share a love of music. To enhance the experience of what the writers are expressing a CD accompanies the book. About half the chapters in the book are "illustrated" on this CD.

There are two interviews, both with individuals who may be referred to as "grandfathers" in the tradition of depth-psychology, as well as having been steeped in music. Mario Jacoby was a professional classical violinist before he became a Jungian analyst and author of many books and papers. Michael Eigen is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with a passion for music. He is also a prolific writer with about 18 books to his credit. These interview subjects use music primarily as a metaphor for the analytic process and encourage psychotherapists to listen within theirsessions with a musical ear.

Although Kevin O'Connell's essay on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is written from a musician's point of view, it is deeply psychological too, raising ideas that connect as much with "soul" as with compositional techniques. When William Willeford writes about "the blues" he is writing as much about the human condition as he is about the music of that name. His essay is one that has been put with two others that demonstrate the healing power of music in a more communal setting. One of these is Melinda Haas's chapter that describes the Venezuelan-developed idea called El Sistema. This is based on a concept that true democratic principles as well as feelings of self-worth can be developed through orchestral playing and that every child should have that opportunity. Chris Wildman writes about his experience as musician in a "playback" theatre type group that assists individuals and groups deal with difficulties that have affected them as a community. His examples bring us insight into the lives of the people he describes as well as into music itself.

Recently a journal appeared with a paper describing the usefulness of music in a neuroscience institution in the US. There was no mention of what type of music was being played and when one of the authors was contacted her response was: "Well we just play music." What an undifferentiated reply! There are so many different types of music and so many individuals in the world who reacte differently to the same music. In Stephen Bloch's chapter on the Black Sun he describes music as an "acoustic image" and demonstrates how different compositions evoke different psychological experiences of what has been described in largely visual terms as "The Black Sun". That chapter and his chapter on Mercy deepen one's psychological understanding as well as supplying examples of music from many different sources that are outside our usual ambit.

In another idiom Paul Ashton writes about the varied effects of sounds generated by different instruments and brings together diverse theories about the different parts of the brain that are implicated in processing the various aspects of which music is composed. These encompass rhythm, tone, tune or melody, and harmony, etc. Music can have an effect on the body and the mind, generating pain relief or aggravating pain, causing excitement or restfulness and giving rise to distinct emotions. How that happens is the subject of his chapter.

Larry Wetzler has written two chapters that link clinical and theoretical concepts (of Winnicott, Bion and Lacan) with the idea of music as a healing "substance." Something similar is discussed, but in a very different way, by Helen Anderson who explores the nature of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 31. Both authors' give clinical examples from their practices. It is apparent that one of them chose the music for the patient whereas the other worked with the music brought. In both cases the music, and the process, was healing.

Two New Yorkers describe musical compositions as products, or at least descriptors, not only of the composer's individual time and place, but of his psychological make-up too. Melinda Haas writes movingly about Mahler and his Ninth Symphony and Laurel Morris about Robert Schumann's life and music. Both writers broaden one's understanding of both music and the psyche.

Bringing us into the 20th Century by exploring particularly its less formal music, John Beebe develops the idea of the anima as expressed though the voices of popular singers. This soulful chapter deepens our thinking about voices, performers, men, women and human psychology. William Willeford in his chapter about "the blues" expands our understanding of that very human condition and demonstrates how effective "singing the blues" or listening to "the blues" can be in alleviating it. Patricia Skar describes her development as musician and analyst and articulates the idea of music being a bridge to the deepest recesses of one's mind or to the widest reaches of the infinite, whichever way one would like to see that.

Music and Psyche ends appropriately with a chapter by the Irish singer and theologian Noirin Ni Riain. Through her writing, and her voice on the accompanying CD, the reader/listener is transported, through silence and music, into a new experience of the ineffable beyond.

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting Edge Fiction, and a growing  list of alternative titles.
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