The practice of engaged classical music
The biomedical system, the predominant approach to illness in the West, has done an excellent job of making people believe that the most effective (and often the only) way to treat mental illness is with medications. But you don’t often hear about the horrific side effects of these medications, sometimes worse than the symptoms they are intended to treat, and the fact that drug prescribing is still essentially a guessing game. You don’t hear about the conflict of interest in having psychotropic drug research funded by pharmaceutical companies with a huge financial incentive to generate certain findings. The biomedical model, with its focus on biological causes, also tends to cut off dialogue on other conditions that can affect mental health. A number of ex-patients whom I interviewed found that medications were beneficial to them at some points in their life, but felt that there should be awareness that it may obscure the deeper, social dimensions of the problem.That is an extract from an essay by mental health professional and Buddhist practicioner Maia Duerr, and it appears in Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism, an anthology of articles from the Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. That fellowship is informed by the teachings of the Vietnamese Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh, and in a recent comment I remarked on the remarkable coincidence that the previous owner of a book by the Zen master bought secondhand by me was a complete stranger who shared my not very common surname. Now, in a supreme example of interconnectedness, that previous owner has not only read my post, but has also added a comment of his own that bravely recounts how Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Being Peace helped him through a period of “serious depression resulting from work related stress”.
As someone who in the past has been there and done that – both work related stress and the deeply unpleasant side-effects of medications – his comment resonates with me and endorse my advocacy of non-chemical treatment of such conditions. Classical music has much unrealised potential in this field and I have already written of how A symphony a day keeps the doctor away. To my list of medically beneficial music in that post should be added the curiously overlooked symphonies of Alexander Glazunov. These are a bridge between the winter daydreams of early Tchaikovsky - who died when Galzunov was 28 - and the winter nightmares of Shostakovich - who Glazunov taught. But, thankfully, Glazunov’s eight completed symphonies – there is a fragment of a ninth – are more daydream than nightmare. If you don’t know these life-affirming works the set seen above of the complete symphonies together with his, again curiously overlooked, concertos is highly recommended. The symphonies are passionately played by the authentically Russian sounding Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the – sorry to keep repeating myself, but curiously overlooked - José Serebrier, while the Russian National Orchestra accompany the - yes, overlooked - concertos under the same conductor. And the current UK retail price for the eight CD Warner set of around £36 means the financial side-effects of engaged classical music are not too horrific.
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