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Groups in Music. Strategies from Music Therapy

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Pavlicevic, Mercedes (2003). Groups in Music. Strategies from Music Therapy. London and New-York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 252 pages, ISBN 1 84310 081 9

The book Groups in Music, Strategies from Music Therapy describes, discusses and clarifies the use of music in various types of groups: orchestras, choirs, recreational and community music making and listening, music education and music therapy groups. The book presents and deals with dilemmas such as how to balance individual versus group needs and wants, how to understand group process, how to deal with conflicts among group members and with the group’s hidden agenda, how to view and what to do with complications of being part of institutions, how to understand music concepts such as time and space, how to find meanings in group music, and so on. The author’s basic point of view is that music groups are micro-societies, each with their social hierarchies, values, norms and belief system. Therefore, the book is for people who are involved in any kind of music making in groups: music teachers, music specialists, church musicians, community musicians, orchestral conductors, choir leaders, rock band musicians, leaders of music appreciation groups, composers of music for groups and also music therapists.

The book contains three main parts that include 19 chapters. At the end of the book there is a recommended reading list according to the various chapters as well as subject and author indexes.

Part one is about planning and thinking ahead. The first chapter is about planning discourses and introduces the reader to the complexities of talking about music and its multilevel meanings. The second chapter considers the context of where one works while the third one – In-groups, out-groups, norms and membership – focuses on selecting group members and discusses different types of groups. Chapter four offers good suggestions as to buying and selecting instruments; Chapter five: On being formed by music – is an important chapter not only for beginners but also for experienced music therapists as well. It talks about various kinds of music to be used in the groups and discusses musical structures, goals and impact. Chapter six focuses on the concept of music space and chapter seven offers aims, tasks and roles of the inner and the outer track of group music work.

Part two Executing: ‘Doing’ is about the actual work. Chapter eight talks about forming groups and groups forming, and describe strategies for work in all sorts of groups. It discusses group and individual energy within the group and how to read it, and teaches us that behaviors and acts of group members have to be viewed by the group leader as though they are music. Chapter nine describes the different musical signs and symbols concerning the flow of the group. Issues such as when do the group flow and when it doesn’t? What can we learn from situations and roles that are not flowing; Chapter ten describes issues concerning playing live music in groups and talks about the complexity and awareness of sub-groups within the whole group and the group outside the group – institution, parents, etc. Chapter 11 is about group rituals. Living in South Africa, the author’s experience brought her to understand that the sacred does not necessarily belong only in a religious context, but can be found and have meaning in the secular work we do. The chapter contains a discussion about the importance of emerging, developing and sometimes even imposing rituals within the group. Chapter 12 discusses the various meanings of listening to music and warns us that music can both make us feel part of the group, but also feel very much like outsiders. Chapter 13 concludes this part. It describes certain problems and conflicts when running a group and offers conflict resolutions.

I find this part the most interesting, stimulating, productive and useful one, particularly because it talks about the actual work and encompasses most of the issues that one deals with and needs to be aware of while running a music group. Some of the comments are very important for the beginner music therapist and for these music therapists who work with groups. Here are several examples of such comments: the last remark on page 118 that warns the reader that music can do harm; the discussion on the hidden group – outside – (10.4, page 130), where the author talks about the group outside – the institution as well as other hidden groups which are present in the session in various, hidden ways. The author gives useful advice as to how to pay attention to and how to deal with these topics.

Part three is called: Reflecting – thinking back and forth, and includes 6 chapters. Chapter 14 uses aspects of music psychology in order to help with thinking about the music group’s form and structure, while chapter 15 uses psychological literature of non-verbal communication in order to reflect on the communicative aspects of music – how the group plays, listens to and experiences the music. In chapter 16 the author presents various aspects of identity while distinguishing between individual and group identities and roles. Chapter 17 raises an interesting issue concerning presence and absence in the group. In this chapter the author re-visits many of the vignettes that were written in the first two parts and focuses on specific aspects of being present and absent in the group. In Chapter 18 the author discusses group process, being mainly influenced by group theory and psychodynamic thinking. The last chapter is about evaluating and ending, and focuses on the need for evaluation and how to do it.

The author, Mercedes Pavlicevic, is a well known music therapist with a vast experience of working with various types of groups, who shares in a very generous way her experience and knowledge with the reader. It is written in an easy manner so that everyone, including people who are not professionals can read and understand. I find the format very useful – each part and each chapter starts with an overview of the chapter that prepares the reader as to what to expect. Almost every chapter contains vignettes that engage the reader immediately. I also like the writing style of addressing the reader in a direct manner (for example: page 95 – if you [the reader] are feeling confused.). It has humor in it and allows the reader to be engaged in what he/she reads in a very personal direct way.

Even though the book is not meant for the music therapist (music therapists are not mentioned in the book as potential readers), I find the book to be very useful for the beginner music therapist and to those music therapists who work with groups. It focuses on subjects and issues that music therapists are constantly presented with and offers useful advices concerning how to deal with the working environment, what to pay attention while doing the group, how to solve problems, etc.

The richness of the book is also its drawback. It seems as if the author could not decide if this book is going to be written in a profession academic manner (which I would have preferred) or for the general public. Some references inside the book are written in a professional manner (according to APA style) (see page 49) while many others are not (see page 46, 184, 187, etc.). There is a list of suggested reading according to the chapters but no bibliography list. It would have been helpful for the reader to get more details in the references that are written inside the book and to add references to specific concepts mentioned by the author. For example, in page 45 the author mentions group theory, and in a comment she says: “The term group theory is used loosely here, and refers to a vast literature about group work.” It would have helped to refer the reader to specific references in regard to group theory. Another example: Pages 98-99 – Theoretical discourses – it could have been helpful to have a list of literature references to inform the reader who is not familiar with these discourses. Also, a brief definition or explanation of behaviorism could have helped. In contrast, on page 128 there is a very useful suggestion for further reading (Wylie 1996).

Overall, there is a lot of repetition of subjects and contents that were already written earlier in the book, especially in the first and third parts. For example – 3.2 – out groups – much of the content here was already written in the previous chapter. The repetition makes the reader tired of reading and my suggestion is to read only the parts that are useful at a specific time. There are some inaccuracies in the book, for example – there is no such thing as Arab-Jewish music (page 156). These are two very different musical styles.

What impressed me the most is that throughout the book Pavlicevic is not afraid to show her work in a full manner. In her own vignettes, where she personally conducts the group, she writes not only about successes, good feelings, and interventions that went well, but also about mistakes, failures, interventions that did not work and uneasy and uncomfortable feelings she had while conducting the session. I find it very refreshing, important and useful. As music therapists each of us knows these feelings, but we hardly come across writers who write about his/her bad interventions, about being pre-occupied with own thoughts and not paying attention to what’s going on in the group, about feeling bored, etc. Since this book is for many professionals who work with human beings and make mistakes, it is very helpful and makes the book more credible.

In summary, I recommend the book for music therapists who work with groups, and especially for the beginner music therapist. The book is based on the author’s vast knowledge and experience and therefore its content is very rich. It addresses many issues in regard to music groups, presents many interesting and provocative questions, gives useful advice, and helps to understand group-music-work on its various angles and dimensions.

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