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The European Music Therapy Congress in Napoli: Personal Reflections

Felicity Baker

The 5th European Music Therapy Congress in Napoli, Italy was held on April 21st until April 24th, 2001. Having recently relocated to beautiful Norway from what seems to me like the other end of the world (Australia), the European Music Therapy Congress in Napoli was not only my first attendance at a European Music Therapy Congress, but it was also my first attendance of a music therapy conference held outside of Australia. Given this, it was suggested that my reflections on the conference might be of interest to others.

The conference was held in beautiful Napoli, Italy, an experience that filled all the senses. There were the visual sensations of Napoli – the towering Mount Vesuvius, the Island of Capri rising out of the Bay of Naples and the chaotic Napoli life. The congress was held in the Castel dell’Ovo, a stunning 12th century castle on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. What a grand place to hold a conference! Moving to the gastronomical sensations, I will never forget the smell and taste of Napoli food, particularly their pizza. Last but certainly not least, was the auditory experience. Music, music and more music, morning, noon and night… The concert held on the opening night was particularly special for me. A fabulous Napoli choral group performed a range of both traditional and modern works, including some solo performances by a lady named Brunella Selo. Her powerful and rich voice set my skin crawling with excitement. Over the following three days, various artists showcased Italian music, both folk and classical.

Needless to say, the cultural experience of Napoli was not my main reason for attending the congress. I went to find out what music therapy in Europe was really all about. The congress was well attended with approximately 450 delegates, and presenters coming from 25 different countries. There were 139 presentations from three major focus areas: musicology (25 presentations), clinical practice (77 presentations), and research (37 presentations). In addition, there were 10 workshops and 3 round table discussions. That is an incredibly large number of papers. How was I going to chose what to attend and what not to attend? For me, the process of selection was almost stressful! At times I found it frustrating when two papers I was keen to attend, were scheduled at the same time. I was also keen to hear Diane Austin’s presentation only to find it was scheduled at the same time as my own paper. How unfortunate for me!

The congress presentations were categorized into three main areas: musicology, clinical practice and research. It was the first time that musicology had been given a special place in music therapy conferences. Even Ruud chaired the musicology keynote presentations by Gary Ansdell, Maurizio Spaccazocchi and Isabel Frohne-Hagemann. Even Ruud emphasized the importance of musicology in furthering our understanding of music therapy. I agree wholly with Even’s views on this. I attended many (but of course certainly not all) music therapy presentations where there was little or no discussion about the music. I sat there and listened to the impressive outcomes emerging from research and from clinical practice, but often felt frustrated that music was omitted from the discussion. What music did you use? Why? What was it about the music that you (the presenter) thought was important in facilitating these impressive outcomes – was it something about the structure, the tempo, the instruments, the context, the familiarity and so on. Hearing about the music allowed me to reflect on my own clinical experiences and challenged me to consider alternative perspectives about my own work. The inclusion of musicology reinforced my connection to the music.

The clinical practice category provided a wonderful variety of differing subjects. The keynote presentations by Dagmar Gustorff, Amelia Oldfield and Teresa Paula Leite concentrated on the clinical groups of coma patients, children with autism and their parents, and psychiatric clients respectively. These papers highlight the diversity in clinical work that was presented. Dagmar Gustorff’s paper was particularly interesting for me. Having read the case study of Herr G in Ansdell’s book “Music for Life”, and attempting to use the techniques described by Gustorff in my own work, being able to see the video footage of her work with Herr G was inspiring. A clinical practice paper that stood out for me was that given by Charlotte Lindvang. Firstly, she is a presenter who is engaging and a joy to listen to. Apart from that, her presentation on the ending of a therapeutic process was a strong reminder of situations that music therapy clinicians confront regularly. In my experience, this not a topic that is often discussed outside of supervision (which is a pity), so I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend the paper.

Finally, the research category also provided a variety of different research studies. The keynotes themselves were different. Cochavit Elefant presented on her doctoral research project on girls with Rett’s Syndrome. Brynjulf Stige provided a totally different topic about Ethnography, and in another totally contrasting topic, Annemiek Vink provided an overview of music therapy research with people who have dementia, particularly with those who have agitation. Other research presentations included pilot projects, preliminary findings and research conclusions. Some were clinically based research, empirical designs and surveys. There was enough food for thought to give the beginner researcher (like me), enough to think about for quite some time. Cochavit Elefant’s wonderful keynote was particularly moving for me. Seeing how Cochavit was able to bring out positive qualities to the girls with Rett’s Syndrome that she worked with, brought small tears to my eyes. Her final video footage really highlighted not only the wonderful research she has undertaken, but also what a wonderful clinician she is as well. This was important for me, because it showed how a good clinician can also become a good researcher – something for me to aspire to. However, I also felt that Cochavit’s music therapy approach was similar to mine. Whilst I appreciate listening and learning about the different ways other music therapists work, hearing Cochavit present made realize that I am drawn to music therapists whose approaches are similar to mine. This is something I had never thought about before. Is this a good thing? Perhaps not, I don’t want to be closed minded!

The theme for the conference was “Music Therapy in Europe”. At first I was not sure as to what this really meant. Was there to be any overall comparison or contrast between the different countries or was this to be some sort of reminder of bonding or alliance between the countries of Europe? In one way, the conference addressed both of my questions.

As a newcomer to Europe, I was unsure as to who was part of music therapy in Europe. For example, I never considered delegates from Poland, Portugal, Malta, Bosnia, Greece, and Armenia would not only be attending, but presenting – this shows you just how naive some non-Europeans can be. Whilst looking in the congress program, I scanned the list of countries belonging to the EMTC and realized how important music therapy was in so many European countries. Was it the commitment and general interest in music therapy that brought so many people from such diverse music therapy backgrounds, to congregate in one place for 4 days? Was it people’s desire to come together and meet other music therapists regardless of country of origin? After meeting and interacting with many music therapists, it seemed to me that European music therapists have a strong commitment not just to music therapy in their own respective countries, but to Europe in general. It was people’s willingness to seek out others, and to share and exchange information, which had a great impact on me. It seems to be this prevailing attitude which gives music therapy in Europe its unifying strength. This unifying attitude was further supported by the launch of the video “Music Therapy in Europe”. Before the congress’s opening concert, Gianluigi Di Franco launched the video, which was produced by himself and featured interviews by the three chairpersons of the congresses scientific committee: Even Ruud, Tony Wigram and David Aldridge. The video contained live footage from music therapy’s pioneers: Mary Priestley, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins, Juliette Alvin and Gabriella Wagner (one of Benenson’s students practicing in the Benenson tradition). I had never seen any of this footage before so it was quite an experience to see these pioneer’s “in action”.

However, the congress also allowed me to gain knowledge about the differences between the various countries. For example, I attended a presentation by Popel, Jochims and van Kampen titled “Evaluation of music therapy in German neurorehabilitation – starting point for European comparability”. Included in the results of their study, was a finding that music therapists were employed in 36 neurorehabilitation hospitals (26% of hospitals). To me, this is a great achievement. Neurorehabilitation, my own area of interest, is not that widely practiced by music therapists elsewhere in Europe, nor in my home country Australia. In discussion with others following this presentation, I learned that some music therapists were unaware of even a single person practicing music therapy with patients undergoing neurorehabilitation within their own countries. This is one example that highlighted to me, that whilst music therapy in Europe is strongly unified, there are also large distinctions between the countries. These differences were shared and acknowledged amongst colleagues, providing a platform for which further discussions and exchanges of information could occur at a later date. In this way, differences were considered a tool for future growth and shows that the different countries can also maintain some individuality.

As for the organization of the conference, apart from fighting the crowds to get a glass of wine or plate of food before it ran out, I felt the conference was well organized. Fortunately for the Italians, the conference committee organized a continuous Italian translation of all the papers held in the main hall (Hall A). Although I never had a chance to ask any of the Italians about how this functioned, they appeared satisfied with this. However, for those delegates sitting near an Italian who was listening to the translation, the noise coming out from the headphones was more than just annoying. At one point I had to stand up and move seats to escape the distraction of this. I also had my first experience at listening to a paper translated from one language (in this case Italian) into English. This was a strange experience for me and actually found it quite difficult to listen to the presentation despite the wonderful translation that was given. At the same time, I felt important, like I was at a United Nations conference or something like that.

All in all, the congress was a wonderful experience jam packed with inspiring presentations, opportunities to network and a chance to rejuvenate my passion for my profession. I want to close by congratulating congress committee in organizing and hosting this congress.

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