Thirteen Ways of Looking at Music Therapy

Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” was published in his premiere book of poetry, Harmonium. The founder of of Poetry magazine reflected on the collection: “If one seeks sheer beauty of sound, phrase, rhythm, packed with prismatically colored ideas by a mind at once wise and whimsical, one should open one’s eyes and ears, sharpen one’s wits, widen one’s sympathies to include rare and exquisite aspects of life, and then run for this volume of iridescent poems.”

The selected poem’s thirteen different sections give voice to thirteen different perspectives, somehow relating to the blackbird. Here are some of my favorites line:

“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after” (V).

“I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know” (VIII).

Perhaps MT-BCs can help their clients articulate 13 different perspectives on something important in their lives, behaviors, futures, treatments, etc. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” evokes the style of haiku, but does not conform to its narrow parameters. Writing poems and songs in therapy sessions may take this imitative but playful approach. Critical thinking skills help us to explore every possibility and more accurately examine an issue. (e.g. “What are 13 different ways I could have handled the situation?” “Which 13 people will help me stay sober?” “Which 13 events most positively shaped my life legacy?”)

Take the intervention further and let the client select 13 songs to match their 13 verses. The trained practitioner may carefully select 13 classical songs to guide mental imagery. Thirteen song lyric quotes might inspire original sentiments. Song lyrics will be analyzed.

As the music therapists, what poems will we write? Perhaps we can explore Thirteen Ways of Looking at Music Therapy. Let your curiosity and critical thinking elaborate on 13 clinical populations, 13 non-musical goals, 13 common misconceptions, 13 key research articles, 13 powerful MT techniques, 13 MT moments, 13 reasons we choose this profession, 13 professions we co-treat with, 13 songs every MT-BC can perform, 13 books that influenced your work, 13 approaches/orientations to MT practice, 13 examples of MT accurately portrayed in the media, or 13 things we will help the field accomplish by 2025!

And here it is, the beautiful “Blackbird” performed live by Paul McCartney in the 1970s. This song is great for lyric analysis, practicing fine motor skills, or music listening for relaxation.

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