Molyneux, C. (Ed.). (2017). Only Connect: Poems and Stories from New Zealand Music Therapy. Nelson, NZ: Mountain Girl Publishing.
Molyneux, C. (Ed.). (2018). Tales from the Music Therapy Room: Creative Connections. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Reviewer: Caroline Miller1
BA, MA (Clinical Psychology), PG Dip (Clinical Psychology), PG Dip (Dramatherapy)
Supervisor, author/editor of arts therapies publications. Formerly inaugural co-director of the masters programme in arts therapies, Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design, Auckland; dramatherapist in special schools; and private practice.
Only Connect (Molyneux, 2017), republished as Tales from the Music Therapy Room (Molyneux, 2018), is a collection of stories and poems written by music therapists, in response to their music therapy encounters with a variety of clients.
The book is edited by Claire Molyneux, with a foreword by Sarah Hoskyns. There are individual contributions from Claire Molyneux, Marie Willis, Caroline Ayson, Nolan Hodgson, Heather Fletcher, Shari Storie, Libby Johns, Alison Talmage, Roger Hicks, and Ajay Castelino. The cover art is by Anne Bailey; cover-design by Stephanie Nierstenhoefer; illustrations by Robina Adamson; and design and layout by Chris Rutter. All the writers focus on their music therapy experiences in New Zealand (NZ), but the book has a universality which has international relevance. The contributions are in three sections, under the headings “The Therapy Room”, “Poems and Stories from Music Therapy”, and “Personal Journeys”.
Claire Molyneux in her introduction says, “This collection of writing is about love, values and journeys. It has been born out of my personal preoccupation with balancing the demand for objective evidence with the poesis of the therapeutic endeavour” (2018, p.14). Claire has been influential in the music therapy world in NZ; as a therapist, writer, researcher, supervisor and mentor to many of the other writers in the book. In the Introduction, she further writes, “An encounter in the music therapy room exists beyond, within and without words and yet our efforts to communicate what takes place are often reduced to words” and “goals and focus areas and written reports are a tool that show only part of the encounter” (2018, p.113).
Claire continues, “I put out a call for expressions of interest to NZ music therapists to contribute writing that subjectively described the lived experience of music therapy in a way that celebrated the poetic and lyrical nature of the work” (p. xvi). The number of writers who responded and contributed to the book is testament to the chord Claire struck in expressing the desire to share stories of therapeutic encounters in forms which go beyond the required report writing and somewhat circumscribed written forms those reports require. In every therapeutic encounter things happen which are difficult to describe or quantify or convey to others. Yet every therapist can respond to the stories and poems of Only Connect because they are universally recognisable as reflecting the heart connections, the deeper recognitions that therapists and clients can find in the therapeutic encounter, the surprising and heart-warming moments of deep connection, the playfulness and fun which are crucial elements of therapy, and the moments of true recognition of each other. The book contains accounts of personal journeys of music therapists working with their clients, and attempts to convey the essence of that joint work in art- based language and form, in a similar way to arts-based research methods or with echoes of ethnographic research. In my view (Miller, 2017) a number of alternative approaches provide evidence for the arts therapies, and I encourage music therapists and arts therapists to continue to develop the role of therapist/researcher.
I have worked with music therapists in a number of ways, and most closely in the writing of Assessment and Outcomes in the Arts Therapies: A Person- centred Approach (Miller, 2014) and Art Therapists in Multidisciplinary Settings: Working Together for Better Outcomes (Miller, 2016). From these contacts, I hold music therapists in high regard for their musical ability, their excellent training in music therapy, their scrupulous work with clients, their writing skills, and their commitment to research and to providing evidence for the effectiveness of music therapy (for example, Rickson, Castelino, Molyneux, Ridley, & Upjohn-Beatson, 2017). In addition, I now hold them in high regard for their courage in attempting to express the inexpressible, to communicate the uncommunicable essence of therapist/client encounters in poetry and music. The poetry paints pictures, and the poetry and prose evoke a musical response. In reading the book, I seemed often to hear music. Some songs are accompanied by musical notation. Many seem to reflect the music therapists’ skills in improvisation, which they use widely with clients, as the writers improvise with language and form to find a freedom of expression to communicate some of the less recognised elements of therapy. In her Foreword, Sarah Hoskyns writes, “The writers have worked often in a different and new way to communicate a truth, a careful thought, a feeling” (2018, p. 10).
The writing also reflects the NZ environment and culture which both influence the way the therapists work, and then how they express this work. As examples, the cover illustration shows three significant songbirds which are native to NZ, whose songs have an influence on NZ music. The illustrations through the book are delicate black and white sketches of local birds and plants, which match the delicacy of much of the writing. In addition, several writers acknowledge the impact of the Māori culture on their work, and reflect the NZ training programme which meets rigorous international standards while honouring the customs and musical traditions of the Māori people.
The voice of one client, who is a member of the CeleBRation Choir, is included. This is one example of how music therapists work as co-creators and collaborators with clients. The impact of the CeleBRation Choir is also the focus of research projects, which have involved choir members being willing participants and co-researchers in tracking their own voice changes which have occurred through participation in the choir.
This book will appeal to all music therapists and to other arts therapists, as reflecting the soul work of the arts therapies. It has a wider appeal to all therapists who work in person-centred ways, who will recognise those moments of tentative engagement, of bringing magic into rooms designed for more mundane experiences, and for bringing alive the power of connection. The writers use accessible language to capture moments of warmth, humanity and connection which means that the book could also be attractive to family members, teachers and members of other professions, and to music therapy clients. While this writing does not replace the need for research, the concise expression needed for reports, the need for academic publication, it honours parts of the therapeutic experience which are sometimes seen as being outside of those areas, but which are integral to the therapeutic process.
As Carolyn Ayson writes:
I struggled, I did, to write your reports.
So much so that I stopped.
Progress had little place here, every week was played by ear.
I could feel the importance of the sessions, but on paper only one thing felt pleasing to write.
That together you danced to my guitar.
(2018, p. 151)
- An early online version of this review was published in the Music Therapy New Zealand MusT newsletter, March 2018, retrieved from https://www.musictherapy.org.nz.
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