"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

music and healing

I went to see director and choreographer Matthew Bourne's ballet interpretation of Cinderella, music by Prokofiev, the other evening in London, at Sadler's Wells. I enjoyed it. It was typical Matthew Bourne, in the style of his enormously successful Edward Scissorhands, that I saw twice. There was his typical quirky interpretation, this time set in the London Blitz of the Second World War.

But I did not think it had very much soul. Let me explain.

The choreographer Arlene Phillips once said of dance that it engages the brain, the heart, the body and the soul. I can find watching a beautiful ballet an uplifting and spiritual experience. The theme of Michael Mayne’s book Learning to Dance is ‘the dance of life; the dance of the cosmos, of the natural world and of the tiniest particle of matter; the dance of music and paint and words, whereby artists may make journeys into the unknown in order to recapture lost parts of themselves for our mutual healing.’ Shamanic healing rituals certainly involve dance.
This ballet did not for me have that quality, although it was jolly good entertainment.

And I was also reminded that there is a darker side to music, which probably says much about me and the "black dog" that was stalking me at the time I saw Bourne's production.

The psychiatrist Anthony Storr discusses the possible evil powers of music in his book Music and the Mind, citing as one example the music used by the campaigning Hitler to heighten the emotions of the crowd.
Is black metal and death metal music written from wounds and hurts? Is this destructive to the listener? Or does it satisfy some need? Does it in some way harmlessly channel such wounds during a healing process? Storr is confident that ‘Plato and Aristotle were right. Music is a powerful instrument of education which can be used for good or ill,’ and we should, he says, ‘ensure that everyone in our society is given the opportunity of participating in a wide range of different kinds of music.’He refers to Allan Bloom, who expressed an anxiety in his own best selling albeit controversial book The Closing of the American Mind that the popularity of rock music among students was banishing ‘any interest in, or feeling of need for, any other kind of music.’ This is serious, Bloom says, because great music is ‘powerfully educative.’

Don Campbell in The Mozart Effect writes that he looks forward to new knowledge on the use of music in therapy and healing and his hope is that such information ‘may also influence musical performance, composition, and listening tastes, contributing to the development of individuals and fostering a world community more attuned to the healthful and peaceful rhythms of life.’ This he says would indeed be a ‘joyous revolution.’It certainly would be, but sadly most ‘popular’ musicians of today seem to be motivated to write and perform what they think will sell rather than what will be a healing force for good in the world.
And we provide the demand!

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