Written by Acksharaa Balaji, B.M. Music Therapy Berklee College of Music
Current Advanced Graduate Music Therapy Student at New York University Steinhardt
One of the greatest things about each individual person is their cultural heritage and how that influences something as widely discussed as a political opinion to something as unique as a comfort meal. When thinking about how much music is out there in the world, it genuinely is overwhelming. What if there’s a style of music out there that is just what you need to hear but you haven’t been remotely exposed to it? What if you want to learn about another culture’s musical styles and techniques but have no idea where to start? I do not claim to have all the answers or any for that matter. However, what I do want to encourage you to consider is how a teacher/learner of cultural musical styles may create a space where they can teach/learn about such topics and feel encouraged to broaden their ideas of music. The goal is to support music therapists in including these ideas in their interventions and practice.
I write this post as someone who wants to normalize the use of Indian classical Carnatic music in music therapy practices. I recently conducted my first workshop on this topic and am looking on expanding this topic throughout my next two years at graduate school and beyond. Running this workshop taught me the importance of invitation, as well as creating a safe space for all kinds of questions. Some questions that could be “obvious” to me, may not be for others; that is why they have come to learn! A constant reminder to myself was that I am learning from my audience just as much as they are learning from me. After all, this was the first time I had ever conducted a workshop. I encourage readers to not take this blog post as a “how-to” manual but rather as a self-assessment of what resonates with you.
How does one go about teaching the music of their culture? First, consider your own world of knowledge. What do you have to offer? The music that has shaped you and connects you to your culture is a fundamental area that should not be forgotten during discussion. The job of the presenter is to invite the audience into your world. This begins the pathway to a clearer understanding of the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. The cloud of appreciation forms a safe space and serves an important role for the audience where they are more willing to ask questions and bring the music you have introduced to them in their music therapy practice.
When presenting about your musical culture, it is difficult to cover every single foundational root that makes the music what it is. By over-generalizing you could risk overlooking your personal connection with that music, dampening that cloud of appreciation. This emphasizes the significance in explaining the basic foundation of a style to understand why certain techniques may hold various levels of importance. Additionally, when talking about an entire musical topic that may be new for so many people,it would make the concept more approachable to sort various topic areas into different parts or even presentations. Who says you can’t run multiple workshops about your topic? There will always be someone who will listen.
As a learner, what are your intentions? Are you open to changing your perspective on something by learning more about it? These questions are vital to reflect on whenever you are learning something new. In all honesty, it is intimidating to learn about cultures different to your own. Evaluate that perhaps this is a basic feeling that others may experience with you. Let’s say that we have accepted this feeling altogether. Perhaps, it does not mean anything bad and speaks more to your intentions with learning something new. It could speak to your interest and desire in decolonizing a Eurocentric field. Deep down, there is a part of you wanting to expand your repertoire to other languages, or wanting to connect with a client of colour who may not know mainstream English music. Ask questions! There really is no such thing as a stupid question when learning. You want to be informed and clear about how to bring forward new interventions.
The main person I think about when considering this hypothetical (or reality for me) is my mother, an Indian woman, whose entire life revolves around Carnatic music. I think about if one day, should she work with a music therapist, what type of music will they bring forward to her. When she talks about her preferred music, will the MT be able to satisfy her musical needs and administer interventions that fulfill her desire to be one with Carnatic music?
The majority of people are generally afraid to indulge in presenting or learning from cultures that are not their own. In my humble opinion, I see intimidation as a desire to learn. We should learn to accept that this fear speaks to a need for an accurate and respectful execution of cultural humility. In turn, we create a space within and for ourselves and others to learn and support an indispensable diverse field.
Hello, AMTAS! My name is Tess Vreeland, and I’m your secretary for the 2023 year. The purpose of this blog is to provide updates on AMTA regions, provide informative tools and information for furthering music therapy student careers, and promote collaboration among music therapy students across America. If you have any questions or any proposals regarding the blog, feel free to email me!
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