By Paul Roberts
Special to The PREVIEW
Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free hand-drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at noon.
The goal is to have fun exploring tonal possibilities of the drum and rhythmic patterns and improvisation. The class also incorporates singing and body percussion. All are welcome. Hand drums will be provided for those who don’t have one.
The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave. For further information, email email@example.com or call 731-3117.
Due to the snowballing of interest and enthusiasm, the drumming class is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
Winter is coming; what better time to develop a game plan for stoking the fire of one’s body, mind and spirit? Drumming releases endorphins in the human brain that cause feelings of happiness and euphoria. The class provides an opportunity to gather with other people, share in a common experience and do something enjoyable.
From 1967-70, I worked as a music therapist at McLean, a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts. During that time, Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor, took a keen interest in my work and became my good friend and mentor. Later, he became world-renowned as the subject of the best-selling book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
According to Schwartz, every culture that has ever been looked at has had some form of music. What seemed to intrigue him about my work at McLean was how I was encouraging the music culture of adolescent patients. At a presentation I gave to the hospital staff, he said:
“One of the things I kept wondering as Paul would describe to me his experiences with the patient bands was, how come a bunch of presumably disturbed people, who have a great deal of difficulty organizing themselves, interacting with other people, integrating their own performances with other people’s performances, somehow within this context, under these circumstances, are quite able to do something remarkable? That is, produce a collective experience, which many so-called normal people are incapable of producing — and develop a community. Well, I heard a lot of what was going on through Paul’s words and through his eyes, but I really didn’t see what was going on, until just a few weeks ago, when they had a dance. Then all this came alive and was real for me. There was a tremendous sense of community both within the band and the audience.”
During our consultations, Schwartz helped me to conceptualize some of the dynamics surrounding the use of music therapy with psychiatric patients. One of his teaching techniques was to mirror back to me, in his own words, what I was describing to him. I recorded some of his words. Today, 50 years later, they still offer a useful perspective on what has now become a hot topic —music therapy:
“Music provides us with a different modality for having a relationship that is not dependent on the ordinary mechanisms for communication. Music is a non-rational experience that doesn’t rely on words. It can be a bridge between this kind of ‘disconnected’ person and those who have access to both the ordinary and nonverbal modes of communication.”
“Music evokes a responsiveness that can be generally shared. Many different kinds of people can share it commonly, regardless of their salary, their status or even their mental state.”
“Music as a social medium serves as a focus for a kind of energy mobilization. An otherwise passive patient can sometimes allow him or herself to participate actively in a music group.”
“The musical experience in which the patient is involved is happening within a group context. His relation to the music gets tied together with his relation to the people in the group where the music is being made.”
“One of the most important things about this involvement is the fact that these patients are creating something. So many of the patients in the hospital feel empty and useless, as though they have nothing to contribute. The experience of being in a band will not cure that alone, but when a patient is confronted with the reality that he’s created a sound that other people are enjoying, and that it is coordinated with other musicians’ similarly created sounds, it becomes harder to continue those negative attitudes.”
Years later, Schwartz wrote to me, “It’s not often that one can combine love of music and therapeutic activity, in such a way as to really make a difference. I’m glad you’re doing it and that I had some part in facilitating that activity.”
Schwartz helped me develop a deep appreciation for what music can mean in people’s lives. His wisdom and compassion continues to have a profound effect on me. As he famously said, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
By Paul Roberts