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The Essay
Show #216
Music Therapy
David Gunn

You probably remember the old joke, a composer carrying a shopping bag full of his scores runs into his therapistís office, flops down on the couch, and exclaims, "doctor, youíve got to help me; Iím a walking neurosis!" I wonít bother with the punch line, because this is a very real problem in this day of modern music composition, a burgeoning psychological crisis that should not be made light of. Most contemporary composers are by nature beset with problems many times greater than the rest of us, and flippant pop psychology platitudes found in self-help manuals simply fall short. Say, a composer canít see his way past an aleatoric progression from a minor tritone to an augmented rallentando. He doesnít dare share his failure with anyone else in the musical community, lest he be ridiculed or robbed. What does he do? He schedules an appointment with Dr. Tarnhelm, his music therapist. The doctor, if he is a professional, will get to the root of his musical problems by exploring his past lives, his sublimated attraction towards his piano tuner, what he hated most about being a child non-prodigy, the most wretched moment in counterpoint class, his fear of corduroy, everything. Eschewing the quick fix, the music therapist may bring in long dead relatives or early ignominious compositions to briefly humiliate the composer into a state of mental compliance. When he has broken through the numerous barriers that any tunesmith erects around himself when he composes, then the therapist can at last tinker with the very deep-seated issues, such as a well-founded fear of music therapy.

Naturally, musical mental health doesnít come cheap. Therapeutic practitioners spend many years and renege on thousands of student loans to perfect their craft, and itís only human nature for them to want to recoup their losses in time and money. But donít make the mistake of seeking out unskilled hands to treat a composerís emotional disorders just to save a few bucks. Psychological techniques that provide successful conflict resolution in rats may not work as facilely in composers. Personality growth may be stunted and behavior modification may take on a frightening frankensteinian aspect.

Letís rifle Dr. Tarnhelmís file folders to find a suitable example. Composer D141 is a young, idealistic woman who studied music theory at a midwestern university where she was taught the indelicacies of writing parallel fifths, yet she does so anyway. Observing her body language, the doctor suspects the composer suffers from an uncontrollable feeling of self-loathing coupled with Klondikeís Ailment. By using hallucinogenic mind control and limited but severe beatings, he is able to peel away multiple layers of accumulated angst and break down the composerís rigid anal-retentiveness. Next, he places subliminal suggestions in her subconscious that, after a suitable number of sessions, free her to write an hour-long symphony entirely in parallel motion, which is subsequently used as the music for an award-winning Icelandic travelogue video.

It should be noted here that music therapy has nothing to do with the use of music in therapy, which some doctored geezer from Kansas turned into a book thirty-some years ago that dealt with establishing interpersonal relationships, mustering self-esteem through self-actualization, and using rhythm to energize and bring order. The first two themes are easily and inexpensively addressed through those self-help books that line the check-out aisle in suburban grocery stores, and the third is better suited to a Beano Bengaze exercise video. So there.

Of course, some composers simply have nothing to say and no writing skills with which to not say it. Here, the music therapist must simply have the charlatan killed. But for the bulk of composers stymied by external pressures or internal Son-of-Sam-like voices, the music therapist is a professional confidant well worth getting to know, even for only 50-minute blocks at a time, even if the knowing degenerates into the Biblical sense.

Ainít no Biblical Son-of-Sam voices here, though, or self-loathing non-child prodigies or couch-floppiní corduroy-cringiní neurotics. It just us, episode 216 of Kalvos & Damianís New Music Bazaar, your New Music Therapy of the Air, ready and willing to resolve conflicts among and modify the behavior of the more egregiously argumentative tunes on todayís programmatic palette, a task for which we must first turn creative control of the show over to Kalvos.