The Field of Play in Music Therapy Education

By Debbie Carroll

Abstract

In this paper, I illustrate how the Field of Play model, developed by Carolyn Kenny (1989) as a guide for the theory and practice of music therapy, can also serve as a model for music therapy education. Descriptions of each of the fields that comprise this model - aesthetic, musical space, Field of Play, ritual, a particular state of consciousness, power and creative process - provide a springboard for reflecting on my role as a music therapy educator in sowing a Field of Play with my students. I also build on Kenny’s Field of Play concept by discussing theoretical and philosophical ideas from scholars outside of the field of music therapy that inform my work. I conclude with some "food" for thought, including a list of questions for reflection aimed at encouraging you, the reader, to begin, or continue, reflecting on the assumptions, theories and values that ground your work as music therapy clinician, educator and/or researcher.

Setting the Stage

Landscape by the St Lawrence River
Landscape by the St Lawrence River

This paper is based on a presentation I gave during a one-day pre-conference of the 4e Colloque intersectoriel sur les psychothérapies par les arts, which took place on October 22, 2004 in Pointe-du-Lac (Carroll, 2004). This village, by the city of Trois Rivières, is located east of Montreal on the northern shores of the St. Lawrence River, a waterway that winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.

In this beautiful rustic setting, music, art and drama therapists gathered together to share their clinical and teaching practices. The pre-conference was organized by Josée Préfontaine[1] and Marianne Bargiel of the Institut québecois de musicothérapie and by the Association québecoise de musicothérapie. The theme of the conference was "Le champs du jeu dans les psychothérapies par les arts" [The Field of Play in the creative arts therapies] and its aim was to explore Carolyn Kenny’s Field of Play model within the context of the different creative arts therapies. We were fortunate to have Carolyn as our invited guest! She set the tone of the conference with a group experiential introduction to the Field of Play. In the closing ceremony - on the sandy beach - Carolyn led us in a beautiful Navajo chant that was accompanied by a drummer. It was an inspiring way to connect with each other one more time before continuing on our separate paths !

An educator in the classroom
An educator in the classroom

When Josée invited me to speak about the Field of Play in the training of music therapists at the Université du Québec in Montréal (UQÀM), where I have been teaching since 1985, I gladly accepted. I knew Carolyn Kenny well and was already familiar with her writings. What’s more, I was in the process of developing a theoretical landscape for my doctoral research on children’s intuitive musical understandings, which I situated within a Field of Play.

Envisioning the Field of Play in Music Therapy Training and the Role of Educator

The image of an interactive and expanding playspace of discovery, individual meaning-making and social construction of knowledge captures the spirit and intent with which I assume my role as music therapist and educator. As illustrated in Figure 1, I situate myself as a music therapy educator in a Field of Play by building on Kenny’s model (1989) and offering ideas from scholars outside the field of music therapy.

Kenny (1989) developed her multidimensional Field of Play model as a guide for the theory and practice of music therapy. It comprises seven interrelated elements or fields, each one representing its own unique quality of experience. They appear in the upper portion of the green Field of Play circle in Figure 1. There are three primary fields and four secondary fields. The three primary fields are the aesthetic, musical space and field of play. The four secondary fields are ritual, a particular state of consciousness, power and creative process. In the lower portion of the green circle, I include several theoretical constructs from philosophers and educational theorists that inform my teaching, clinical work and research - fusion of horizons (Gadamer, 1989b), zone of proximal development - ZPD (Vygotsky, 1978), self-regulation, knowing-in-action (Schön, 1987) and multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1999). I will discuss them as they relate to and expand on Kenny’s Field of Play as a model for music therapy education.

Figure 1.   The Field of Play Model (adapted from Kenny, 1989)
Figure 1. The Field of Play Model (adapted from Kenny, 1989)

This textured landscape of interconnecting theoretical perspectives is in harmony with my epistemological thinking that there are many ways of knowing and multiple perspectives from which to understand them. My belief that there are many pathways to knowing and multiple ways of revealing what one knows resonates with Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (1999), and is consistent with my conceptualization of play as a state of being that values divergent thinking and seeing with new eyes. The image of a green field of play that I portray as a fusion of horizons (Gadamer, 1989b) of yellow - students’ aesthetics ( imagine a yellow circle for each student) and blue - educator’s aesthetics, is consistent with a social constructivist stance and a hermeneutic stance. Kenny (1989) notes that "whenever two aesthetics link, a sevenfold interactive process begins." (p. 123). In the context of group work, while the music therapy group "becomes an aesthetic, in and of itself", the "simplicity of the basic human one-to-one dialogue remains a constant" (p. 123). Similarly, when I share my reflections as educator, I am considering the group of students as a whole as well as my one-to-one interactions with students.

The aesthetic is the first primary field of Kenny’s Field of Play model, and forms the foundation for all the other fields. Kenny describes the aesthetic as "a field of beauty which is the human person" (1989, p. 75). She envisions the aesthetic field as a defined yet open space, allowing for ritual (stability, routine) and creative process (change). Her characterization of the person as a "self-organizing system that naturally moves towards wholeness and expansion, given the strengths and limitations of the conditions in the field" (p. 84), resonates with my own humanistic and situated view of human growth and development.

We all have an inner drive to know and reach our potential. I envision inner drive as a spark that needs to be fuelled through meaningful activity that is goal-oriented, resource-rich, culturally sensitive and socially-mediated. I see my role as educator, facilitator, role model, resource person and guide. For me, the principal task is to spark students’ innate desire to learn and to nurture that desire by being a role model and by being aware of the importance of bringing out the student in myself and the teacher in my students. I make every effort to give my students as much freedom and autonomy as possible and as much guidance and structure as necessary. In so doing, the hope is that each student becomes increasing autonomous and self-regulated in their creative process of life-long learning. What does it mean to be self-regulated? Self-regulation occurs when an individual’s previous meaningful experiences are internalized, becoming a source and resource for future learning experiences. Indeed, the seeds of self-regulation lie in the child’s internalized experiences of secure attachment with the mother or primary caregiver. Self-regulation, understood in this way, as the transfer from socially supported activity to individually regulated activity, is consistent with a social constructivist stance. These ideas are rooted in Vygotsky’s [2] (1962, 1978) evolving sociocultural theory of the mind. The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is a key concept of this theory of development. Vygotsky defines the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance" (1978, p.86). The notion of the ZPD as a learning space, or field of play, suggests an active, self-regulated individual making meaning and expanding his understandings within the context of a resourceful and supportive environment.

According to Kenny, the "aesthetic of the therapist [and I would add, educator] is a powerful field, which either supports or inhibits the patient’s [or student’s] attempts at growth through establishing conditions by her way of being and acting" (1989, p. 94). As educator, I ask myself: What are the conditions, both enabling and constraining, that I bring to the learning space? One of the ways I seek to enable student’s learning is by valuing the unique contributions that each one brings to the learning space, namely the attitudes, life experiences and musical past that make up their own "field of beauty." Another way is by being a role model. I teach by doing, modeling, encouraging, empowering and by valuing both process and product. I view teaching as a learning experience and recognize the importance of emulating the qualities that are especially valued in the clinical context, such as listening, empathy and patience. As Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins said to their music therapy students in 1974 during their final teaching collaboration, "As therapists, we have had to develop the same personal qualities we ask of the children as clients" (in Aigen, 1996, p. 29). For example, as a discerning listener and observer /witness, I am very aware of the impact my presence as faculty practicum supervisor might have on the student’s ability to establish and maintain contact with their clients. I also acknowledge the possible influences of my presence on the on-site supervisors as well as on the clients themselves. Therefore, I am sensitive to my ways-of-being, what I do, where I sit (inside or outside the therapeutic space; as participant or as observer) and how I offer my observations to the student and supervisor. I usually invite them to share their observations and reflections before offering mine.

The second primary field, the musical space, is a safe, trusting and sacred space that has its source in the aesthetics of the music therapy client/student and music therapist/educator. The musical space is an intimate field that is characterized by the developing client/student –therapist/educator relationship. This field holds potential for the emergence of the third primary field, the field of play, which is an open and expanding space of experimentation, fluidity, dealing with ambiguities and shifting perspectives.

Group supervision meetings are special moments for students to share their practicum experiences in a safe and supportive space, and, in the process, come to new understandings and new ways of being and doing. Sometimes, we use musical improvisation to role-play specific situations to work through personal and clinical issues. An issue often raised by students is the fear of losing control of the group. Before we begin playing, we might discuss issues of structure versus freedom, and reflect on the following questions: How much structure do I need? How much freedom can I tolerate? How do I deal with these issues in my everyday life? We might then play around with different levels of structure and freedom within the context of a group improvisation. Another issue is what to do when a client seems resistant and does not want to participate in the activity. We might experiment with different ways of engaging a client musically, using specific clinical improvisation techniques for reflecting, eliciting andstructuring responses or leading the client toward a greater freedom of expression, always aiming to provide as much structure as necessary and as much freedom as possible. We might also explore instruments other than those typically used in sessions with a particular client, perhaps inviting the ‘client’ to choose a variety of instruments and place them in a semi-circle in front of her. Through specific role-play exercises, students learn to deal with uncertainty and explore new ways of knowing in a trusting musical space with the "belief in the power of sound to change and form" (p. 94).

The students’ first experiences in the clinical setting can be disorienting and destabilizing because there can be a clash between the "known", that is, their assumptions of what the clinical reality would be like, and the "unknown", namely their actual experiences. Moreover, acknowledging that there are no specific clear-cut musical recipes for specific clinical conditions can be difficult for the students. My task is to help the students deal with this dilemma. I often give them the following piece of advice: Do not be too preoccupied with the question - What activities should I plan for my client? Rather, listen, observe and then ask yourself: What is the client bringing to the therapeutic space? and, How can I use my musical and personal resources to provide a supportive, stimulating and interactive musical space that is in tune with my clients’ responses, and that in turn will motivate them to access the field of play and enable me to work on therapeutic goals and objectives?

Once the field of play is accessed, the four secondary fields begin to emerge: ritual - a space for experimenting and risk-taking "within the security of constants" (p.106); a particular state of consciousness - a field of "focused relaxation and intense concentration, yet playfulness"; power - "actualization and action" (p.95) and creative process, which is both product and process, shaping and being shaped by the interplay of all the other fields.

For Kenny (1989, 1996, 2006), the concept of the field allows us to focus and value what is in the field, while acknowledging that the process that unfolds in this space is personally, socially and culturally situated in time and place. From my humanistic and social constructivist stance, I value the transforming and empowering potential of the social context. In the clinical improvisation courses that I have been teaching since 1986, students practice a series of improvisational exercises in pairs or in small groups so that they, in turn, can apply their musical resources with clinical intent through the use of clinical improvisational techniques within the context of specific "client"/"therapist" role-play situations (Carroll & Lefebvre, 2009, c1996). They also critically review selected readings from the music therapy literature, on their own or with a classmate, and then present their reviews in class. They are then asked to evaluate their "performances" and provide a rationale for the mark they give themselves. In so doing, they assume responsibility for their own learning, and exercise their role as leaders within the context of the group.

The educational theorist, Jerome Bruner (1979, 1986, 1990), contends that the process of knowing lies not only in "getting it but in being able to carry it" (p. 86). Having to communicate to others what you know, namely making implicit knowledge explicit, requires clarity of thought and language, which in turn, can trigger an empowering process of knowing-in-action. Knowing-in-action and reflections-on-actions are terms coined by Schön (1987) to describe an approach to educating reflective practitioners (teachers, therapists, medical doctors, etc.). I use these terms to describe the dynamic recursive process of doing, or knowing-in-action, and reflecting, or reflections-on-actions which Schön defines as "thinking back to, or back on, what we have done" (p. 26).

The German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1989b) , who was known as the father of hermeneutics, asserts that our understandings are limited by our own finite horizons, but these horizons can be extended and fused with the horizons of others through dialogue. He used the term fusion of horizons to refer to the hermeneutic notion that understanding is created through dialogue.

Like Bruner, Gadamer, Kenny and others (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1991, 1998; Wertsch et al, 1995), I value the social nature of learning that occurs in the Field of Play. I view the process of knowing as potentially transformative, because we understand in a new way; or, in Elliot Eisner’s (1991) words, with an enlightened eye. I consider the products of learning (e.g. exams and other course requirements) to be part of the process of life-long learning and knowing, which is why I usually invite students to hand in their assignments a week before the deadline so I can offer feedback to guide them in writing their final version. I consider students’ questions and queries as clear indications that they are taking responsibility for their own learning. Misunderstanding and questioning are opportunities for learning. Gadamer (1989b) contends that "questions always bring out the undetermined possibilities of a thing (…). From a dialectic, Hegelian perspective, uncertainty and ambiguity can be a catalyst for learning because it invites new possibilities for making meaning or knowing-in action" (p. 338). By encouraging students to ask themselves, and each other, why they do what they do, and how their actions might affect the clients with whom they work, I aim to sensitize them to a therapeutic way of thinking. I also encourage them to take the time to reflect on what they have experienced, to write about it in their journals, to speak to others, and above all, not to judge their emotions; in short, to become reflective practitioners.

Kenny’s description of the Field of Play as "an organic, process-oriented energy system" (p. 136), with some fields being more contained (musical space, ritual, power) and others more open (aesthetic, Field of Play, particular state of consciousness, creative process), can be seen as a metaphor for the human condition and our need to continually move back and forth between reflection and action, stability and change. According to Dewey (1934), "nothing takes root in mind when there is no balance between doing and receiving" (p. 45). For an experience to qualify as aesthetic there must be continuous movement between the known and the unknown, stability and change, creating and reflecting. Too much action or too much reflection distorts an experience. William James (1890) compares the unfolding of a conscious experience to the alternating flights and perching of a bird. Perchings are moments in which prior doings are absorbed and evaluated. Flights are moments of new meanings, the reshaping of experience as a result of previous doings. They represent a qualitative change in understanding from the previous flight. Too much flight distances us from the stored pile of accumulated meanings. Conversely, too much lingering causes the experiences to whither away. Kenny uses a similar image to show the interplay between the four secondary fields – ritual, a particular state of consciousness, power and creative process. Rituals "can aesthetically, create a home base, a sense of security, so that one can feel safe enough to fly into a particular state of consciousness"(p. 86), which in turn can generate a sense of power and the incentive to engage in a creative process and realize one’s potential.

As educator, I try to ensure that there is a fluid movement between the known (perchings) and the unknown (flights), but I also acknowledge that moments of uncertainty and misunderstanding offer opportunities for learning. All the music therapy courses I teach are based on an embodied approach to learning (Bresler, 2004), or learning by doing. According to Frederick Tims, Professor of Music Therapy at Michigan State University, experiential learning is the most effective method for training music therapists because it allows them to embark on an empowering journey of knowing-in-action and reflections-on-action that begins with being unaware of not knowing something to becoming aware of not knowing, to being unaware of knowing and finally becoming fully aware of knowing. (1982, Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Music Therapy)

Note that the root word of education is to educe, to draw out and make implicit knowledge explicit. Socrates compares the teacher to a midwife whose task is to bring forth what is already there. The educational theorist and one of the founding fathers of social learning theory, Etienne Wenger (1998), makes a distinction between training and education. Training creates an inbound trajectory or path with a focus on competence in a particular practice. Education, on the other hand, should guide students on an outbound path, of actively exploring new ways of being. For Wenger, "Education is not merely formative, it is transformative" (p. 263). Although I am a trainer, ensuring that students develop the musical, clinical and professional competencies essential for music therapy practice, I see myself primarily as an educator working within a field of play. I might add that my role as faculty practicum supervisor brings me into another field of play that involves students, on-site practicum supervisors, administrators and myself. Consequently, it is the task of the music therapy educator/faculty supervisor to ensure that what happens in the classroom and in the clinical setting shape and is shaped by the other. Michael Cole (1999), neo-Vygotskian theorist and researcher uses the metaphor of the garden to think about the role of culture and context in fostering human development. He points out that "gardens do not exist independently of the larger ecological system within which they are embedded" (p. 92). In other words, we need to concern ourselves not only with what happens inside the garden, but the ways in which the garden impacts the society at large.

In the final section, I reflect on the nature of play- as an intrinsically rewarding way of doing things, as empowerment and transformation, and as a catalyst for both self-control and self-expression. From the perspective of Kenny’s Field of Play concept, the paradox of play lies in the interplay of the open secondary fields (particular state of consciousness, creative process) and contained secondary fields (ritual, power), that all find expression in the field of play.

Reflections on Play

Play creates a zone of proximal development for the child…in play it is as though he stands taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies and is itself a major source of development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102)

This compelling quotation highlights the potential for growth and empowerment that is inherent in play. Play is a major source of development, particularly if we consider that children’s formative learning experiences occur through spontaneous play in the arts ~ singing, dancing, music-making, drawing, dramatics. The notion that play is a means by which children come to understand the world in which they live (Isaacs, 2001, c1933) underscores the centrality of play in the construction of knowledge and as a catalyst for change and growth. As Nachmanovitch (1990) states: "In play we manifest fresh interactive ways of relating with people, animals, things, ideas, images, ourselves (…). Play fosters richness of response and adaptive flexibility. This is the evolutionary value of play – play makes us flexible" (p. 43). The ability to play is also a sign of psychological well-being. In his seminal text, Playing and Reality (1971), Winnicott contends that psychological healing can only occur through play, as is clearly illustrated in the following quote: "…where playing is not possible, then the work done by the therapist is directed towards bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play." (p. 38)

Vygotsky (1978) underlines the paradox inherent in the simultaneous expression of freedom and structure in child’s play, as is clearly illustrated in the following quote: " In play she adopts the least line of resistance - she does what she most feels like doing because play is connected with pleasure - and at the same time she learns to follow the line of greatest resistance by subordinating herself to rules and… renunciation of impulsive action." (p. 99). Gadamer (1989b) alludes to this inherent paradox when he writes that "play itself contains its own, even sacred seriousness" (p. 102). In play, idea and act merge; playfulness and seriousness fuse (Dewey, 1934). There is no conscious distinction or opposition between work and play; each nourishes the other. Within the context of the improvisation courses that I teach, it is in the musical play that students work on developing clinically-oriented musical resources, which they can then access in their developing mastery of the improvisation techniques necessary for music therapy practice. The following quote by Kenny (1989) celebrates our uniqueness as music therapists:

As music therapists, we are quite fortunate, in a sense, because we must play in our workaday world. That’s our job. In our clinical work {and in our teaching}, we play. No small measure of our effectiveness as clinicians {and as educators} has to do with our capacity to engage our patients and clients {and students} in the Field of Play. (p. 82)

Coda ~ Food for Thought

Our perceptions, ways of understanding and being-in-the-world, are coloured by our past experiences, attitudes and underlying assumptions and beliefs. I have designed a flow chart (Figure 2) to illustrate how my teaching, clinical and research practices are inextricably linked to my underlying values and understandings, which, in turn, are grounded in a multidimensional theoretical and philosophical landscape.

Figure 2. Flow chart
Figure 2. Flow chart

In light of Kenny’s call for music therapy trainees to begin articulating a "creative theoretical basis for their work" (1989, p. 129), and in keeping with my belief that educators and clinicians have an ethical and moral responsibility to be reflective practitioners (Schön, 1987), I invite students to consider how their ways of looking-at-the-world shape and are shaped by their ways of being-in-the-world. To this end, I prepared the following list of questions which I give to my students towards the end of their second practicum placement, that is, towards the end of the second year of the three-year undergraduate program at UQÀM. I invite you, the reader, to reflect on the assumptions, theories and values that inform your role as music therapy clinician, educator and/or researcher:

Consider these statements:

  • How I see the world (and myself in the world) shapes how I am in the world (my ways of doing, saying and feeling) → I SEE THE WORLD AS I AM
    We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are ~ ANAIS NIN
  • How I am in the world shapes how I see the world (and myself)
    I am a part of all that I have seen ~ ALFRED LORD TENNYSON

Now complete these two sentences:

  • I SEE THE WORLD AS: _________________________________________________________
  • I AM (My ways of being-in-the-world; My ways with people): ____________________________________

Questions for Reflections

  • What do I learn about myself from how I completed these two sentences?
  • What assumptions and values can I tease out from them?
  • In what ways do my assumptions and values influence who I am and my ways of being?
  • In what ways do my assumptions and values constrain or enable my work with clients?
Consider the instruments I play, the materials I provide, the structure I offer, the freedom I give (structure ←→ non-structure continuum), my expectations, the kinds of responses I encourage or discourage, what happens if my client(s) do not respond in the way I expect or want them to? How do I react? How do I feel? What do I do?
  • What are my assumptions about the role of music in music therapy?
  • What are my assumptions about the client-therapist relationship?
  • What are my views about wellness and sickness?
  • What motivates me to become a music therapist?
  • How do I understand the role of play, creativity and autonomy in music therapy and in everyday life?
  • How do I nurture these quality traits in myself and in those with whom I work?

Notes

[1] Josée Préfontaine, a dear colleague and friend, whom I also had the pleasure of supervising as a music therapy intern, passed away in August 2006 after a courageous battle with leukemia. Her devotion, vision and integrity left an indelible mark on the field of music therapy in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, and she will be forever missed.

[2] In his short lifetime, Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) made innovative and lasting contributions to the field of developmental psychology and education. Vygotsky, along with Jean Piaget (1896-1980) are the two most prominent developmental thinkers of the twentieth century.

References

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Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

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Carroll, D. & Lefebvre, C. (2009, c1996). Techniques d'improvisation cliniques en musicothérapie. Document developed within the context of clinical improvisation courses taught at UQÀM. Revised annually.

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Kenny, C. (2006). Music and Life in the Field of Play:  An Anthology. Barcelona Publishers.

Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free play: Improvisation in life and art. New York: St.Martin’s Press.

Polanyi, M. (1969). Knowing and being: essays edited by Marjorie Grene. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

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Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society:The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1998). Mind as action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wertsch, J.V., Del Rio, P. & Alvarez, A. (Eds.) (1995). Sociocultural studies of mind. Cambridge University Press.

Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Playing and reality. NY: Penguin Books.

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Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy (ISSN 1504-1611)