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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But what is genius? And if indeed it does exist does that mean we can only appreciate and be moved by music written by designated geniuses? Should we ignore Hanson, Korngold, Rubbra, Arnold, Magnard et al because they are not generally recognised to be geniuses?
I'm not too interested in whether Glazunov was a genius. I appreciate and have been moved by his music - and that is what matters for me.
This preoccupation with genius is a dualistic barrier to some very deserving composers receiving the recognition they deserve. Bring on the non-geniuses!
I don't know what the definition of a genius is. Therefore I cannot say if Glazunov is one or not.
As above, I appreciate and have been moved by his music - and that is what matters for me.
If you don't know about "mirror neurons" - you might find them interesting. When we see someone making a gesture, part of our brain reacts as if we were making it ourselves.
My feeling is that for music of any kind to reach someone, it's gestural content needs to be something the audience can recognize and want to connect with.
Responding to Pliable's more general point - One thing to consider about the positive effects music can have is - if that's true, negative effects are also possible. Various people are going to find wildly disparate pieces of music life affirming - and it's totally a different strokes for different folks proposition. What's positive for some will be negative for others - and from a Buddhist perspective, with no permanently fixed identity - something that's works for us at one point in our lives may well not work at others, and visa versa.
Lyle, I'm delighted to find your comment here -- you went through my mind as I was writing my first comment. I must read about 'mirror neurons'. Before a physical disaster put an end to it when I was 15, I was set for a career as a conductor and I did conduct under the tutelage of Emil Spira, Webern's last private pupil. I think that explains why to this day it is impossible for me to keep my arms still when listening to certain works. Indeed, just recently listening to Barbirolli's glorious recording of the Sibelius 2nd, halfway thought the last movement I had a compulsion to stand and conduct purely to see if I had so absorbed JB's conception that my gestures would at this point mirror his, not visually, of course, but in that my gestures were absolutely at one with the music, if that makes any sense. And they were. I rather shocked myself.
And so, Lyle, I agree with you totally re gestural content, which must bring to mind music and movement therapy for, in particular, children with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down's, Asperger's, etc., something I've done a little to promote here.
Your last point cannot be overemphasized. And one use of Sentics is that it can be used to determine what music appeals to the subject, which in turns means what music is best used in Sentic therapy, or any other. My thanks.
In 'The Developmental origins of Musicality
Sandra Trehub points out some of the features that outline the universal nature of music. Pitch levels that vary in a regular fashion, melodic contours that are interesting but not too much so (small integer relationships)tempo and timing are some of the topics discussed in the article. The point is that any kind of music will be found to bind the listener socially to the rest of human kind and that is where the healing aspects lie, not in the particularity of the local music listened to-pop or classical may be a curative for what ails the patient.