Compositions to Use in Music Therapy

Posted to Subscribers on 30 July 2011

Dear Subscribers,

Several people wrote about last night's post on music therapy. Until transferring responsibilities to other shoulders, there is no way for me to take on more than I am presently doing, but I will make a few suggestions for those who asked me to recommend music. This is really difficult because there is truly a lot of excellent music from which to choose and just as we cannot compare apples and oranges, it is impossible to narrow my recommendations to anything specific. Moreover, other people who do similar music therapy use completely different selections of music so the place to start is with a small collection that you build by listening to fabulous music.

My Suggestions

1. Our local, i.e. Seattle, classical music radio station has a web site with streamed audio. One of the DJs is fabulous, Sean MacLean. His comments are superb and enhance listening pleasure immensely. He is erudite, warm, and delicious. He is usually on the air in the late afternoon on weekdays. has several streams online that are not on the radio, including an opera channel. Speight Jenkins is the director of the Seattle Opera and is also really well-informed. Though not as famous as La Scala or the Met, the Seattle Opera is actually wonderful as are the online broadcasts, usually of the very finest historic recordings.

2. Marty Ronish used to be the commentator on the Albuquerque classical FM radio broadcasts and she is also absolutely marvelous. I had to google her to find out where she is now. It seems she is broadcasting for the Chicago Symphony. There are people who make announcements and there are those whose input enhances listening pleasure. Her comments are often memorable.

3. A few people wrote that they are going to pay much more attention to music and upgrade their stereo systems. Before you fork out a lot of money, test your current system. You can always listen to an Audiophile recording to see how your present system performs. I used to have the CD of this album but the CD went missing when some contractors were playing their own music on my stereo, but I can vouch for the quality of this youtube upload:

I might make a few suggestions, not many because my own system is very, very old and the speakers are no longer available so I don't think my preferences are easy to replicate. This said, I am partial to what are called flat panel speakers. This began with Magneplanars years ago so when I got speakers for my computer, I looked for smaller speakers that are comparable. They are Monsoons and are wonderful. I paid about $100 but now used ones sell for $350.

The way to buy speakers is to go to a very high end music store with a few of your own CDs. Try bringing a mixture of CDs, such as one that requires a lot of oomph, like organ music, and some with dazzling high notes such as flutes, glass harmonica, or voice. I have some CDs that work for testing: Kathleen Battle singing bel canto, the St. Saens organ concerto, and then perhaps just one of your own all-time favorites that you know well.

You want to listen to the same CD on many different speaker systems and good stores can easily do this in a setting with fine acoustics. You will discover in minutes that each speaker is unique and some appeal more to your senses than others. One of my students is a professional musician, composer and pianist, and very original. She loved the Bose 901 speakers but when you stand near them, you realize that they are puffing. There is so much "sound" that the speakers are actually blowing air. The message is that some sound is also trapped in a box from which it is trying to escape. The flat panel speakers skirt this issue because there is no box. If the engineering is good, the high notes are simply incredible. The lows are less remarkable so compromises have to be made which is why you want to know something about the engineering behind the speakers. Obviously, some speakers will reproduce the sounds you favor better than other speakers but you will learn a lot in just half an hour in a store with a wide selection of speakers. If you are building a new system from scratch, choose the speakers first and then the other equipment.

For computer speakers, I actually read some reviews last night after talking to Gail. I finally got her to listen to both Ida Haendel and Celibidache, but she was listening on a Mac with internal speakers so even on the phone, I could make out what she was hearing but the tinny sounds were also audible to me. For the record, I have occasionally done music therapy using the computer. I also did experiments with the microscope and music using a notebook computer. It is less than wonderful, but some computers have halfway decent speakers.

Most of the external speakers seem to be made for gaming so they are designed to produce heavy bass and nothing much of interest in the highs. There were, however, two exceptions in the reviews that I read: Harmon Kardon Sound Sticks which one subscriber bought after reading yesterday's post (we'll wait for a report) and the other rave reviews were about the Bose Companion 20 (not 2 but 20). I haven't heard either but there are lots of reviews of both of these. Pay special attention to the type of music the reviewers themselves like because it will help you make a better decision.

Music Therapy

So far as doing music therapy is concerned, it would not be advisable to attempt this before first having been a client. Keep in mind that the client is in an altered state so the facilitator has to prompt. Without a knowledge of the terrain, the prompts could be next to meaningless. Personally, I think most hypnotic regressions tend to be vacuous for this same reason. Would you go to a psychiatrist for Jungian therapy if the psychiatrist himself had never undergone Jungian analysis? I don't think so. The issues with music therapy are similar, but you can start by listening more deliberately and perhaps even try meditating to music.

Hopefully, I will live long enough to create a situation in which teaching is once more possible. Meanwhile, my New Year's resolution is to produce lectures on CDs.

Now, for those who are eager to begin putting together a library of CDs for music education or therapy, here are a few suggestions that I have relied on heavily. You will quickly see that the recommendations are diverse. This is recommended. Top of my list is the Fauré Requiem. I first heard it at Yale University after Kennedy was assassinated. Probably, it etched its way into my psyche, but I believe I have used it more than any other piece of music. I have at least half a dozen recordings, no particular favorite. I also use the Mozart and Duruflé Requiems.

The cello is often very useful in music therapy. Countless years ago, I was engaged to a cellist. We never agreed on anything, but my favorite is the Dvorák Cello Concerto for therapy. He would have chosen Haydn. You can also probably find a recording with many different adagio movements from various cello compositions and I believe these will be found useful.

Some people are naturally much more emotional than others. It helps to get into the feelings. I actually organized compositions at one point by the elemental balance. I don't know how to explain this in a few words. Let's just say that Mahler is really good at playing with watery emotions whereas sometimes I find something absolutely wild like Caucasian Sketches by Ippolitov-Ivanov really helpful in getting people to move out of ruts, but you can easily find similar music by better known composers. In any event, here is a fun video with lots of wild flowers and pollinators:

The suggestions could go on and on because the choices are limitless. I like to use some choral music, such as all male monk choirs or all female choirs or sometimes both voices or only children's voices. There would be no end but here's a toe in the water.




The Astrology of Healing





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