Category Archives: Spiritual

Guided Imagery in Music


A Mandala created as part of the Guided Imagery in Music Course

As part of my PhD course I recently attended Level 1 training in Guided Imagery in Music, with Professor Leslie Bunt at The University of the West of England, further details available at:

Guided Imagery in Music is a particular branch of music therapy which focuses on receptive responses accompanied by a therapist.

GIM has a lot to offer the music therapy community. Not only do we need live improvised music making, we also need recorded music. Many of us use recordings in our clinical work, but how aware are we really of the techniques required to use them? GIM should be part of all music therapists training, it seems to be such an intuitive step in the development of the profession of music therapy.

The training involves listening to programmes of classical music. Beginning with a gentle start of listening whilst doing other activities such as drawing Mandalas (Fincher, 1991) or writing a narrative, developing into listening in deep states of relaxation whilst being closely attuned to by a therapist.

This is the first time that a Guided Imagery in Music course has been run at The University of the West of England. Receptive therapy in music is like the missing jigsaw piece in the music therapy spectrum, and it feels absolutely right for GIM to have a higher profile and an increasing number of therapists are starting to recognise its value.

GIM was originated by  Bonny (2002) following an epiphany experience in a prayer meeting, playing the violin, Bonny started to research the therapeutic benefits of listening to classical recorded music. Sessions in GIM start with a carefully controlled induction in which the therapist first finds out about the individual’s life, and creates a relaxation activity that facilitates the ‘traveller’ to enter an altered state. This is not strange as it sounds, since ‘altered states’ are a natural part of our everyday lives. The moments between waking and sleeping, or when we day-dream are all ‘altered states’ (Meyer, 2007).

The imagery and amount of direction is carefully considered by the therapist, designed to aid therapeutic process. The traveller is invited to visualise imagery, such as a pathway, a boat or a house.

GIM has two more levels in which the therapists learn to keep the travellers safe, before they can practice. One of the aspects that interests me is the analysis of sessions, looking in close detail at the musical analysis of a piece of classical music and then tracking the journeys it creates. I love this sort of analysis looking at small details in music. Which is part of the reason for doing a PhD.

On a personal note, I had one experience of travelling on the course, I was very surprised at the profundity of the experience, and I am still thinking about it two weeks later…

“Mandala created with sea-glass, pebbles, rocks, shells, toy instruments, lights and drawing”.



Bonny, H.L. (2002) Music and Consciouness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music: Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers

Fincher, S.F. (1991) Creating Mandalas for Insight: Healing and Self-Expression. Boston: Shambhala.

Meyer, E. (2007) Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. London: Bantam Books.











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Filed under Academic, Guided Imagery in Music, jazz, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, PhD, Research Methods, Spiritual, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized

Magic Synaesthesia and Lost Words


Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment -Saxophone Timbre’

Researching the intersection between art, music, words and modalities of expression.

I recently wrote an assignment on ‘the ineffable’ in musical experience, how we become lost for words when we try to speak about music. Through attempting to write this (with words) I found myself reaching into the visual to try to describe the musical.

Music for me triggers shapes, colours, spatial sensations and touch (Cytowic, 2002; Marks, 1975). Compounded with this I have visual stress syndrome, which means I process colours and light differently, and black and white print moves around on the page.

So in order to explore the PhD study of improvised musical experiences. My first impulse is to draw.

Since January I have spent time researching art focused on shapes; such as the work of textile designer Tibor Reich or linocuts of Angie Lewin. Both of these artists take their inspiration from the natural world, using shapes that are already present around us, but it is the artist job to notice them and bring them to our attention. In the same way, music for me has a particular natural form, and it is this I have been trying to express. The process was:

  • Choosing two colours which related to timbre, then drawing large fluid lines
  • Drawing further shapes to represent different aspects of the music
  • Adding smaller lines in
  • Repeating the process.

Each picture is rather like a continually developing jazz standard, the first one is created, but then the second becomes an improvisation on the first, the third on the second and so on.


Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment – Bass and Voice’

As I drew these pictures particular thoughts dreamt up, the lines felt like drawing bodies together, with music inside. I had words such as ‘ musical archeology, digging-deeper and magic’ bouncing around my mind. It was if, in the act of visually realising the shapes, they came into sharper focus and shifted from my unconscious to conscious mind. This then enabled clearer thought about the musical experiences. For example, on drawing shapes based on traditional notation, this morphed into inner body shapes, clef’s became kidneys, note stems veins. I became aware of drawing the embodiment of music.


Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment – Bodies and Notations’

To return for a moment to the subject of ‘ineffability’. It is almost as if some experiences are without words. That there exists a musical realm, a visual realm which is sensory, embodied and felt. This is music as ‘musical thought’, visual as ‘visual thought’ – only then is it translated into words. It is possible that this ‘other dimension’ is closer to our primitive selves, to our authentic selves, and it is only in the arts, especially in improvised arts, that we connect and reveal this part to each other.



Cytowic, R.E. (2002) Synaesthesia: A Union of the Senses: Massachuetts: MIT Press.

Marks, L.E. (1975) On Coloured-Hearing Synesthesia: Cross-Modal Translations of Sensory Dimensions. Ppsychological Bulletin. 82(3). pp. 303-331.

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Improvisational Musical Roles in Worship


Since moving to Wiltshire I have been involved with a worship band linked to the local team of Anglican churches. The band provides worship music for around 40 people, once a month, in a rural hall. The band is made up of, electric violin, voices, keyboard, fretless bass and trombone. There are four of us in the band, I double on bass and trombone, and the keyboard and violinist double on voices. This is a fairly unusual line up, but we manage to make it work through sensitive listening and careful blending of our sounds.

The music we play is common to a modern church setting, songs written by Christian artists such as Lou Fellingham, Martin Smith and Chris Tomlin. These are essentially contemporary folk songs, with simple melodies, words and repetitive chord structures. We also play traditional hymns such as, ‘How great thou art’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Many of these were also folk songs. Christian composers in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries took popular melodies and added Christian words and harmonic arrangements. ‘How great thou art’ was originally a Swedish traditional melody and was arranged into a hymn by Bogerg in 1885. ‘Amazing grace’ was an original composition written by Newton to illustration a sermon in 1779. As a band we make new arrangements of these hymns, changing the style, tempo, metre and harmony. This is what we call ‘putting our own spin on things’, taking traditional music and making it new.

Improvisation underpins our musical approach, and we value highly, flexibility and spontaneous response in worship. Although this approach is not unique, I am aware that these sort of processes in worship settings are not very often analysed or written about. So I thought it would be interesting in this blog to attempt to write about and analyse the musical roles.

Our aim is to provide a potential space for the congregation to engage with spiritual and social processes (Winnicott, 1971). We use the music to create an atmosphere, model and lead people into this space, and invite them to contribute. Contributions can take on a variety of guises and be anything from spontaneous prayer, songs to sharing personal stories. There is a core population that tend to come every month, and a shifting population which consists of people who are curious and visit occasionally. In general I would expect people to come from the traditional churches for a different kind of worship experience. The congregation is made up of people from a variety of denominational backgrounds, and a wide geographic area. This is mainly to do with the nature of Wiltshire, being a wide-spread rural county, and few churches in the area. In a way, what happens each time, is that a community is created for that moment, that evening. It’s similar to Monson’s (1996) idea of creating a community in jazz performance. Each time a performance takes place a community is created. This is because in spontaneous music making, everyone who is present is contributing to the whole, and this applies to both worship music and jazz.

In an evening we usually have around eight to ten pre-planned songs, which we play in two sets. What I would like to write about now is the musical relationships and roles. There are many other aspects of the worship which I could focus on, but I will leave that for another time and blog. The following is a summary of the musical roles:

Keyboard and Vocal

  • Musical Lead
  • Leading harmonically
  • Key changes
  • Melodic Motifs

Vocal Two

  • Underpins and supports lead vocal
  • Provides backing vocals
  • Responds to vocal melodic motifs
  • Initiates melodic motifs

Electric Violin

  • Underpins melody
  • Pushes music forward rhythmically
  • Responds to keyboard melodic motifs
  • Provides an alternative timbre
  • Spontaneous melodies

Vocal Three (same musician as electric violin)

  • Underpins melody
  • Provides an alternative timbre and higher register
  • Backing vocals

Fretless Bass Guitar

  • Underpins harmony
  • Grounds, holds, contains
  • Sometimes underpins melody
  • Sometimes initiates new melodies or motifs
  • Responds to keyboard, violin, voices melodic motifs

Tenor Trombone (same musician as bass)

  • Underpins melody
  • Pushes music forward melodically, rhythmically, dynamically
  • Responds to Keyboards, voices, violin melodic motif
  • Alternative timbre
  • Sometimes pushes tonality into atonality or dissonance
  • Spontaneous melodies

The keyboard player provides the lead and gives direction to both the congregation and musicians. Although some of this is pre-planned often the worship moves into spontaneous actions. The keyboard player is a trained organist and follows in a long tradition of improvising. Musicians such as C.P.E Bach, Kollmann, and Vierling all wrote treatises on the art of keyboard improvisation, many of whom used it in sacred settings (Berkowitz, 2010). Melodic motifs are created from the pre-composed melodies, and these are played in-between the verses. The motifs are a significant part of the musical language of the group, and all the musicians pick up on them. This results in a tapestry of short melodic phrases which get repeated throughout the band in different timbres, this works as an invitation to the congregation to sing spontaneously. In a recent meeting, we also utilised suggested word phrases which were flashed onto the overhead screen. This gave a traditional congregation a guide to suggested words for spontaneous singing.

The second vocalist supports and provides backing vocals. The violinist provides a melodic emphasis and pushes the music forward. The electric violin and tenor trombone blend their sounds together, and complement one another. I play trombone in a very soft, lyrically cello like way. In addition the bass provides a grounding, holding containing function. The music therapist Wigram describes this musical role as, ‘creating a stable, containing music that can act as an anchor to the client’s music’ (Wigram, 2004 p. 91). So the bass sometimes ‘acts an as anchor to the congregation’. When I play I switch between trombone and bass, switch. This requires making a choice about what instrument to play. Choice making is always a significant part of creating spontaneous music (Sawyer, 2008). The songs are often in safe guitar keys such as G major or D major, and often on the trombone I push at the boundaries of these keys, creating dissonance. The feeling I have behind this, is that it is ok to challenge the congregation, to draw them out of the safe predictable music, and into something more creative and unknown.

The result is an interweaving of musical roles that creates something bigger than the sum of its parts. Monson (1996) writes about the connections that jazz musicians make through playing music together. I feel we have the same journey. Through creating this spontaneous music over a long period of time (around 7-8 years), we have developed interpersonal connections that go deeply. Making spontaneous music with others bypasses verbal language, and somehow you come to know people in a very personal way. It’s also interesting that as a band we have developed our own verbal language for musical events, such as, ‘going off on one’ for leaving the structure of the song entirely. This phenomenon has been written about by Wilson and MacDonald (2012) who described how jazz musicians and freely improvising musicians create their own verbal language.

The hope behind all this musical activity is that we can create a potential space for worship, and that we and others might be able to engage in a spiritual journey that is edifying and healthy. I think a key to this is entering into a musical process, that in turn leads to a social and a spiritual process.


Berkowitz, A.L. (2010) The Improvising Mind, Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Monson, I. (1996) Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sawyer, R.K. (2008) Learning music from collaboration. International Journal of Educational Research, Vol 47 (1), pp. 50-59.

Wigram, T. (2004) Improvisation: Methods and Techniques of Music Therapy. London, New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Wilson, G. B. and McDonald, R.A.R. (2012) The sign of silence: Negotiating musical identities in an improvising ensemble. Psychology of Music, Vol 40 (5), pp. 558-573.

Winnicott, D.W. (1971) Playing and Reality. London, New York: Routledge.

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‘Babeldance’ creating a wordless music and movement performance in Wales

The Company of Babledance

Last week I had the pleasure of being involved in the creation of a new music and movement performance piece called ‘Babeldance’. Taking place in Wales in the beautiful setting of Studio Felin Fach ( which is overlooked by the Black Mountains. Gill Stevens, musician, composer and music therapist ( had invited 7 musicians including myself to take part in a four day workshop session to improvise and compose the beginnings of a wordless, movement opera.  Finnish choreographer Paivi Javinen ( facilitated the four days, together with Gill Stevens, directing and encouraging the musicians to explore movement as a natural extension of music making and the use of non-verbal communication through the devising of babbled words and musical phrases.

The musicians came from a variety of backgrounds, such as jazz, classical and folk, which created a rich and intense experience. Many were trained music therapists as well as performing musicians. Gill provided beautiful accommodation, in the watermill restored by herself and partner and acoustic musician Dylan Fowler ( living in a temporary community, cooking and eating together (with some people coming and going) facilitated collaborative working and made it easier to connect together more quickly in improvisation and sharing of ourselves and our creative ideas.

The theme of the project was non-verbal communication through body movement, music and sounds. It also explored how words without semantic meaning can still be used for communication (hence the title ‘Babeldance’). Gill Stevens drew on her experience as a music therapist working with people with learning disabilities without language, and wanted to express in the piece the experience of these people, and how they might feel living in a world of verbal language, without being able to use expressive language.  At one point the musicians were asked to create a musical dialogue over a member of the group crouched on the floor, ignoring them and ‘talking/musiking’ over them. This felt like a powerful portrayal of the experience of someone in a wheel chair or with learning disabilities who is frequently ignored, or ‘talked over/about’ by other people as if they don’t exist. This is something I have witnessed many times in my work as a music therapist, and have even done myself without thinking. Gill also wanted to explore how made up words can still be used to communicate meaning, and cited the experience of going to an opera which is sung in another language and how its possible to still understand the story and plot without knowing the meaning of the words. Choreographer Paivi Javinen also brought the key theme of how the natural movement of musicians can be extended, and wanted the musicians to explore this as much as possible. Gill and Paivi had previously developed the ideas in Helsinki with a group of Finnish musicians and movers and this was the second devising session. The first two days consisted of delving into improvised music and movement activities to create new potential material; which reminded me of Spolin’s drama games in which actors are invited to used their intuition in improvised drama to access and get in touch with their authentic selves (Spolin, 1963; Spolin Games Online, 2014). Gill studied music at York University under John Paynter and Peter Aston, the authors of a book on class room music projects which I recently wrote about in this blog, ( Gill has briefly described Paynter’s and Aston’s influence on her work and the workshops did seem to reflect a similar ethos. Paynter and Aston were pioneers of music education in the 1960’s and 70’s and advocated artists across art forms working together in both education and performance. In ‘Sound and Silence’, several music and movement projects are described which have some similarities to the activities we undertook as musicians in the project, such as creating dialogues whilst playing and moving, and also moving quickly and slowly in and out of physical spaces. No doubt, Gill could expand further on how this part of her education influenced her work, and it would be interesting to hear what she experienced at University under the direction of John Paynter and Peter Aston.

A significant point in the workshops came on day two when Paivi asked us to image a beautiful landscape and move to the visual image of the landscape whilst listening to improvised music by Gill on the cello. This particular activity seemed to have the effect of opening up our awareness as movers. I felt particularly involved in this activity, and as I moved together with the other musicians, and listened, I felt like I was playing music even though I had no instrument in my hands and wasn’t making any sound. We moved together, some had eyes closed, some open, and we interacted together, through the movement and music. Afterwards, I tried to understand what it was I had experienced. It occurred to me that we, as experienced interactors, therapists and musicians were using our musicality in a holistic way, that the skills we use as musicians to interact, listen and respond to others were being utilised in our movements, rather than our sounds. The psychologist Daniel Stern (1998) writes about the idea of vitality affects, how musicality is interwoven in all modes and mediums, whether its movement, vision, touch, feelings or sound. This seemed to be what we were drawing on at this moment in the workshop.  In connection with this, Pashman (2014) writes about the idea of kinesthetic patterns which are evolved through our emotions and then developed into the smallest movements in our cells and then our muscles and whole bodies. That emotions have a natural physical pattern, which are common to all cultures  which we express through body shapes and movements. This idea of kinesthetic patterns could then be translated to musical shapes, vibrations of the air, the movement of musicians creating sound, the need to move in playing an instrument and singing. In this way, movement and music are intimately connected, and what Paivi was asking us to do in these workshops, was to remember this and become more intensely aware of it.

Paivi, also asked the musicians to be as fully aware as possible of our movements, sounds and to take full responsibility for our actions. It occurred to me that what she was asking  for, was every movement to have a meaning, and every sound to have a meaning. This reminded me of improvising with a good friend who is a Korean music therapist (now living in Australia), she taught me to value every sound I made in improvisation and not to throw away any notes. Paivi’s intention to help us focus on our actions and sounds, was like trying to value everything that was done. This is not dissimilar to the idea in music therapy, when every sound and action that a client makes has a meaning and is considered carefully by the therapist. So in practice, this meant even getting up from the floor, after sitting down, had to be done with consideration and careful thought, to embody it into our performance of sounds and music. I found this a challenging way of thinking, as did some of fellow musicians, since it was new way of being, and required a conscious, cognitive effort (rather like the early stages of learning to play an instrument, and mastering the movements required to manipulate the sound).

The workshops ended with two ‘showing sessions’ to a small select group of listeners (the term audience seems wrong in this context). The two showings were half an hour long, and in six sections which had been pre-planned on the previous day. This provided its own challenges, involving remembering all the different directions and the sequences of events. The showings began with each musician having an individual emotional phrase and expressing this as they walked across the room; this then changed to the phrases and movements becoming merged and connected together in a type of minimalist rhythmic music. As the musicians sat conjoined back to back on the floor, one member attempted to disrupt the flow, trying to use vocal sounds to create disconnection. The musicians dispersed and then sat with their backs to the audience. Three of the musicians moved out into the performance space, expressing different aspects of communication. I was using my trombone, and moved out into the audience, inviting them to interact with me, through body language and trombone music. Paivi, had also asked me to emphasise the natural reaching out movements of the trombone, and I did this using my whole body, as well as my arms. Another musician played the flute, emphasising moving up and down (right down to the floor), and yet another sang a hauntingly beautiful vocal solo, moving up above everyone’s physical space standing on a tall stool. In this way, we as musicians, were exploring our natural movements in making music as well as the physical space of the studio (the studio had several rooms and was a beautiful wooden building). Other parts of the showing, involved creating dialogues which ignored an outsider (which I refer to in paragraph three); expression of frustration through using Taiko drumming;  the interweaving of music and movement together, in a mutual interactional quartet of movers and sound makers, and the use of musical phrases and intuited stillness and movement to created the experience of a whole group operating together, weaving sounds in and out of each other (using our instruments, voices and bodies).

The listeners had different reactions, many expressed being confused by what was happening (especially at the start of the performance). This was viewed as positive since Gill had wanted to explore the experience of people living without language in world where language is a major form of communication. The listeners also said that they felt moved by the showing and that it had given them a lot to digest and think about in a deep way. The meaning behind the showings was not explicit, and so listeners were free to interpret them in an individual way.

The project may develop more depending on funding, and both Gill and Paivi would like to extend it to a larger setting, combing the work from the Finnish and British musicians together, with possible performances in Wales and Helsinki. It was privilege to be part of the workshop, and what will stay with me is meeting new musical-movement friends and the new relationships and old relationships that have been renewed and developed. This blog has just reflected a small part of the content of the few days, and is my own personal point of view. I am sure all involved felt enriched and enlivened by the experience. I would like to thank Gill Stevens for asking me to take part in the project and her skilled compositional directing, and Paivi Javinen for her skilled choreography, also to my fellow musicians who it was a great pleasure to meet and work with.


Pashman, S, E. (2014) When the music moves you: Revisiting the classics in the company of neuroscience. Journal of Music and Dance, Vol 4(2), pp, 10 – 24. Available at: [Accessed 2/11/14].

Paynter, J. and Aston, P. (1970) Sound and Silence, Classroom Projects in Creative Music. Cambridge, London, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Spolin, V. (1963) Improvisation for the Theatre: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Spolin Games Online. (2014) Spolin Games Online. Available at: [Accessed 6th November 2014].

Stern, D. (1998) The Interpersonal World of the Infant, a view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. London, New York: Karnac Books.


Bibliography not quoted in the blog:

Pavlicevic, M. (1997) Music Therapy in Context, Music, Meaning and Relationship. London and Philadelphia: Jessical Kingsley Publishers.

(Read in relation to Mercedes Pavlicevic’s idea of ‘dynamic form’ in music therapy)

















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Improvised Music and Dance in Creative Christian Worship

At the weekend I took part in gathering of creative people at a worship event on the South Coast of England. The evening consisted of dancers, musicians, visual artists, poets, sound and technical crew and hospitality crew. The setting was a formal church hall, with a large canvas and paints set up in one corner and microphones and speakers at one end of the room.

The evening was facilitated by two leaders (who were also dancers), who oversaw the event and made verbal  suggestions and directions for the activities to move from one creative medium to another. They also made their own spiritual interpretations of what was happening in the worship and shared these with the creative artists. The event lasted four hours and had different timed  phases of activity which were pre-arranged, these were:

  • Songs and music led by first group of musicians
  • Songs and music led by second group of musicians
  • Drumming circle
  • Songs and music led by first group of musicians

The dance took place continuously in the centre of the room. I was working with the first group of musicians, playing the trombone. The group I was playing with were very old friends, and people I have known for  25 years, we occasionally work together at similar events  and are always amazed and encouraged at how the musical, social and spiritual connection between us happens despite the passage of time.

The main emphasis of the evening was improvisation, across the all the art forms. For the purposes of this blog I am going to focus on the music and dance expressions, but there were also visual arts, poetry and words which were utilised as part of the evening. Using music improvisation in Christian worship is part of a long historical tradition from the sacred organ improvisations of J.S Bach (Eric Barne Hill, 2014), to Scottish Psalm singing (Education Scotland, 2014) or the hymns and spirituals of the blues (History of Rock, 2014). Having an emphasis on improvisation did not mean that the evening was ad-hoc or unplanned. There is a very common misconception that if something is improvised it is totally spontaneously without pre-thought or planning. This evening had a pre-planned structure the musicians had songs which were pre-composed (and the dancers may also have had some pre-planned dances and equipment such as flags, banners and staffs). The group I was working with had a repertoire of songs that they had  prepared. The evening began with these songs, and they were used for a basis for improvisation. This is similar to the practice of playing the changes in jazz standards, or extemporising on a folk tune. The songs were sung in their entirety a couple of times, to let the people in the room familiarise  themselves with them, and then the guitarists and keyboardist played the chords again several times over, leaving aural space, to allow for other musical or creative events to happen. This method of opening up a song, is a tried and tested formula, used many times by the group over the years, and also a familiar way of creating music in many modern church settings in the UK (and around Europe and the USA as far as I am aware). In the church I attended as a teenager this technique was taught to the musicians and referred to as ‘creating a platform’, in my training as a music therapist it was called ‘frame working’ (Wigram, 2007), and in the study of group creativity it’s called using a ‘referent’ (Sawyer,2012). It is interesting that Saywer, discusses a similar technique in the context of improvised theatre. In the creation of improvised theatre, the ‘referent’ is the basic story and lines of dialogue, both of which the performers use as a grounding on which to improvise and create new theatre each time they perform. In this creative worship context, we created new songs and music out of  existing songs, and the improvised songs were always different.

Sawyer also writes about the collaborative nature of improvised theatre and how the members of the group are caught up in a symbiotic relationship of interactions and reactions, out of which new material is created. This was the driving force behind the evening of creative worship. The musicians began the event and the dancers responded, and then throughout the evening it become a mutual relationship between dancers and musicians. I was very aware of this when I was playing the trombone. At one point I began to play some glissandi and had my eyes closed, when I opened them a group of around 10 dancers were making swooping low movements backwards and forwards. I remember thinking, ‘did I just respond to their movements with my music, or did they respond to me’? The interlaced relationships between dancers and musicians was extremely connected and it was difficult to tell where the ideas had begun and who was responding to who.

An important element in the evening was the facilitation by the two leaders, it reminded me of Winnicott’s (1971) holding and containing space, in which the therapist or carer creates a potential space which allows the child to play, create and grow. Through controlling the environment and the pace of the evening the two leaders were able to facilitate a holding space.

A key skill in musical improvisational activity is the ability to reflect back to others, their mood, experiences, and way of being through music. In music therapy this is often referred to as mirroring and matching (Wigram, 2004). It involves creating in music a person’s way of being, their movements, their sounds, their emotional presentation, and giving back to them a musical portrait of themselves. Chung and Sawyer (2008) write about the importance of the musician reflecting back the mood of listeners in the context of jazz improvisations. They describe how the most effective improvisers in jazz are able to demonstrate sensitivity to their audience and their environment, through musically responding to and reflecting back to the audience their emotional and physical presentation and the general atmosphere in the room. In creative worship the same skills are utilised. The creative practitioners reflect back to the congregation their mood and feelings and way of being, as well as the atmosphere in the general environment, they are expert listeners and expressers. In creative worship the musicians and dancers listen simultaneously (with all their senses) to the congregation and to the holy spirit. The job of the creative practitioner in Christian worship is to express what it is to be human, in that moment and specific place, and also at the same time to make a connection with the spiritual part of being human and spirit of God. Whether you believe in a God or the Holy Spirit or not, the arts and especially improvised arts are intimately connected to spiritual experiences, expressions and transformations. Chung and Sawyer (2008) write about the spiritually transforming potential of jazz, and how improvised music can open up opportunities for change and development. This change and development takes place through the reflection, and connections created by the music between people and the spirit of God. In creative worship the musicians and congregation are caught up in a conversation between each other and a mutual desire to listen for and seek out the spiritual. Using improvisation opens up opportunities for the possibility of  emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual change. This then  creates a space in which the Holy Spirit can work, and speak, and develop people’s lives.

It would be interesting to find out how people experienced this evening, and if there were any tangible changes. For myself, the evening was about connecting and playing music with old friends, expressing who I am now in music, reflecting back the mood, actions and atmosphere of the dance and sharing my own spiritual journey through creative writing and improvised music (which I hoped encouraged others). For me personally, it was an evening of social, spiritual, musical and cognitive development and continuation of my own journey. I should point out that the musicians and dancers consisted of a mixture of professionals and amateurs, and this mix of people brought both variety and skill which enhanced the effectiveness of the evening.

In summary the creation of a holding and containing environment, the skilful leading and facilitation, the use of song structures and musical and movement frameworks, sensitive reflection and listening and the collective and collaborative nature of the evening all combined to create a  potential space for change, growth and spiritual development.

If you would like more information on creative arts worship events happening in the South East, South West or Wales, please contact me at




Chung, T., Sawyer, C. (2008) The Trinity Encounter and All that Jazz, Can Jazz Transform us Spiritually? In: Abernethy, A. D. (ed) Worship that Changes Lives. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.


Education Scotland (2014) Scotland’s Songs. Available from : [Accessed 15th October 2014].


Eric Barne Hill (2014) The Daily Improvisation. Available from: [Accessed 15th October 2014].


History of Rock (2014) A Short History of the Blues. Available from: [Accessed 15th October 2014].


Sawyer, K. (2012) Extending Sociocultural Theory to Group Creativity. Vocations and Learning. Volume 5, pp, 59-75.


Wigram, T. (2004) Improvisation: Methods and Techniques of Music Therapy. London and New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Winnicott, D,W. (1971) Playing and Reality. London and New York: Routledge.













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