Recently, I was involved in running a workshop for music therapists on the subject of improvised movement and music. For those of you who have read my blog before, you will know this is an interest of mine. There were many high points to the day, meeting new people, using the lovely facilities at UWE performing arts centre and enjoying the freedom of uninhibited movement. One particular moment stands out, I was asked to play the piano whilst four people moved in pairs. The idea was that in pairs, people mirrored each others movements. They did this, with and without their eyes closed. The aim of the exercise was to explore interaction in close movement. My remit was to play holding, supportive music. I found myself becoming very absorbed in observing the movers. They were so intense and seemed to be highly emotional, as they moved gently and beautifully together.
I used the piano to simultaneously reflect the group, and the pairs. This is a duel reflection skill, using improvise music to reflect the group as a whole, but also to reflect individuals. The music has an overall feel, and has small elements in it which represent individuals. The other process I used was to represent each duo with a different hand. This is a multi-layered response, which as far as I know is only possible in music. To have a multiplicity of reflection, happening simultaneously in sound. Admittedly this is a skill, and one I developed over years working in music therapy groups. Thirdly, when the couples moved physically away from each other, I played large intervals to represent the space between them. This is something I was taught in music therapy training; but it seems so instinctive to represent physical spaces in sounds. What fascinates me is that physical movements and sounds seem to be intimately connected. When I dance to live music, its like the music is in my body. When I play music in response to others movements, its like the music emanates from their bodies.
Music is essentially a physical art form, made of vibrations. This is an obvious statement, but so easy to forget in a world saturated with sounds. Perhaps its important to keep remembering this as music therapists, and make sure we think carefully about physical responses. It’s also vastly important for performing, you almost have an ethical responsibility to think about what you are doing to others when you play music. This is why it’s so important to get sound levels right, a concert that is too loud can physically damage people.
The exercise I accompanied on the piano was an intense experience and high point of the day. It felt like the movers were expressing their humanity and connectedness, even though they were strangers. The music I played supported them emotionally and reflected their movements, it was a privilege to play. I have many friends who are dance, movement therapists and I really value their input and insights into movement and music. I would like to suggest that more dialogue happen between the two professions of music therapy and dance and movement therapy, so we can share skills, and acknowledge our shared heritage in sounds.