I often don’t listen to a lot of music at the end of my workday, allowing myself a break from my musically analytical mind. It’s something that I do that is specific to me, but is what I’ve learned that works for me to allow for some separation from my work-mind and my home-mind. My husband is also a musician, and though he works in the music industry, doesn’t have the opportunity to engage in music-making like I do every day. For him, listening to music throughout the day allows him to engage better in his work and often leaves him itching to play music when at home. When he starts to play various albums and playlists, I internally (okay, externally) groan and roll my eyes. For me, I need a break, but for him, he needs to express. So the other day, when he began to play an old playlist, I was shocked by the strongest nostalgia of music I hadn’t listened to in 10 years.
I had long thought I had lost this particular playlist amidst the many transitions my iTunes has taken over the years from computer to computer. But when faced with this playlist again, the memories of the music came back with intensity. I began to think about the amount of time I spent curating this playlist, among countless others, when I was growing up and before I became a music therapist. The purity of the connection I had with that music brought tears to my eyes.
All I could think was, “Where did that musician go“?
I think about music very differently these days. Last month, I graduated alongside my incredible cohort with my Master of Arts in Music Therapy from Berklee College of Music. The week leading up to graduation was intense, emotional, and overwhelming. We had worked so hard for two years and had watched one another transform into stronger music therapists. Many of the master theses and projects that were created as a culmination of our studies were highly intellectual and clinical. I was in awe of the clinical protocols and research that had been created, all surrounding music therapy and the current needs within our profession.
For the past two years while in this program, I have been thinking about music in ways similar to:
- How do I support music’s efficacy for this particular pathology?
- How can I explain what has happened neurologically with the patient during our session to the physician?
- Is there a way I can educate my patients on the neural processing of music to encourage their understanding of the benefits of music therapy?
- What do our music preferences reveal about music cognition and the depth of our unique perceptions?
Before I became a music therapist, the extent of my music thinking was generally, “Wow, I love how that song sounds” or “This is how this album makes me feel.” I connected to music deeply and passionately, but the connection was pure. Mysterious. Profound. I didn’t worry about what was happening neurologically. I didn’t even really think about how others responded to the same music other than trying to convince my friends that this band was the best band, and therefore they should love them too. My love for music was all-encompassing.
And then I decided to study it.
There is a process identified first by art therapists known as the “clinification syndrome.” This clinification occurs when “someone neglects their own creative process to a point when it is something they only do at work” (as defined by Ami Kunimara, MT-BC). The art therapists define this phenomenon as the gradual decline of making art the more they focus on their clinical skills.
To me, it sounds a little like growing up.
I first wanted to study music therapy because of these playlists I had curated. The way in which those songs transformed me founded my desire to help others transform through music. I wanted to share what it felt like to create music through live music-making experiences because I understood what it felt like to express the music that was locked into your soul. But the deeper I began to study the clinical, evidenced-based, peer-reviewed protocols, the farther the mystery of the music seemed to get. Being able to explain the neuroscience behind the music changed my perception of the role music played for me growing up. The power behind the mystery of the music began to shift.
Music had become less like magic and more like science.
During one of my classes, we watched the PBS documentary, The Musical Brain, which featured neuroscientist Daniel Levitin studying the musical brain of Sting. Spoiler alert: After Sting engaged in a few studies, Dr. Levitin asked him his thoughts. While I’m paraphrasing here, Sting generally responded that he was unsure whether he wanted to know the scientific depth of his musicality, because it felt like erasing the power of his connection to music. He added that knowing the depth of music scientifically took away some of the allure and mystery, and he was unsure if he wanted that taken away.
When I heard this, I couldn’t help but understand.
I don’t regret having music in my life transform into a more scientific realm because that is my job. It was what I wanted to understand. It was what I decided to dedicate my life to. It is my job to take the pure connection my patients have with music and to help guide them towards the therapeutic goals and tools that my expertise can explain. I understand music’s profoundness, because I’ve experienced its therapeutic power firsthand. But knowing music as a science gives me very different eyes when looking at the role music plays in our daily lives and allows me to be a better music therapist.
Despite two degrees of music therapy under my belt, I’m now left wondering how I can get back to that musician I once was, but with the understanding that my perception has changed. Mostly, I am trying to figure out how to reconcile my expertise with my passion. Some days, it’s a bit melancholic to remember the musician I once was, who very much lacked a scientific and clinical brain. But then, I remember that the musician I once was focused inward and towards the self. Now, my musicianship extends outwards, focusing less on how I can be better, and more towards how I can help others feel better.
The pure musician is still there. Underneath the clinical brain lies a foundation of authentic music connection. Occasionally, the clinical mind simply needs to be reminded of those original, curated playlists that started it all.