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  • A Response to Kirsten Fink-Jensen, “Attunement and Bodily Dialogues in Music Education”
  • Christine Pollard Leist

Kirsten Fink-Jensen offers music educators new insights on lesson planning and engagement with students through careful observation and reflective interpretation of active student involvement in music. She suggests that the phenomenon of musical attunement, including facial expressions, gestures, language, and movements that are articulated through the use of form, timing, and intensity, enables communication. These communicative expressions should be considered as bodily dialogues with the music, between the student and teacher, and among peers. Subsequently, the music educator can use knowledge of the student, observation of the musical attunement, and active engagement to interpret and analyze the student's relationship to the music.

As a music therapist, I am interested in how clients engage with music particularly those clients for whom music is their most powerful means of interaction with the world. I believe that the most effective music therapy treatment session and relationship is one that serves as a metaphor for everyday living. To this end, I am interested in functional outcomes for clients. For example, a person with a brain injury who can hold a mallet while playing a xylophone may have increased success with grasping skills needed for everyday life. Similarly, a person who finds her voice, both in music and in words, in a group psychotherapy session may be better able to interact in her home, work, and social environment. Through a music therapy group experience, a person with terminal illness who reveals his concerns about leaving his partner alone following death may be better able to have a good death when the time comes for the transition. So, I believe that what needs to happen in therapy for functional outcomes happens within and due to the music itself; therefore, the concept of attunement is of importance to music therapy.

Yet, the idea that musical attunement and bodily dialogues represent musical expression and cognition is complex. Can a person become "self-forgetful" when attuned to music? Can musical attunement enable connection between the teacher or therapist and their students or clients? What is the value of considering attunement to music as a process in addition to a product? First, I will address and extend the concept of musical attunement with case examples from music therapy. Second, I will explore bodily dialogues as a mediator among the therapist, client, and peers in the clinical setting. I will conclude with a summary of the strengths of this approach for music education and therapy. [End Page 76]

Fink-Jensen offers a new and complex interpretation of musical engagement that stimulates analysis of traditional views of music therapy. She states that articulations in response to music express musical meaning, not "something coming out from an inner position in a human being." Traditionally music therapists focus on the self-expression possibilities of music engagement; however, the concept of musical attunement and bodily dialogues allows a flexible and changing interpretation of student and client interaction with music. In many cases, responses to music experiences are different from the person's initial appraisal or verbal expression of the piece, either pre-composed or improvised. If a client's articulations express music cognition then an examination of the mechanism for musical attunement is valuable at this time.

The work of Susanne Langer provides a possible mechanism for musical attunement and bodily dialogues. She suggested that music has an "ambivalence of content which words cannot have."1 This ambivalence allows the listener to interact with the music in ways simultaneously similar and different from the intentions of the composer and performer. Langer classified music as a non-discursive symbol with meanings and import that do not translate as readily to language as other symbolic forms. This flexibility of form implies that the listener's involvement with music is active rather than passive. The listener must engage with the music in order to hear and assign meaning to the stimulus.

Colin Lee, a music therapist, addresses the idea that music involvement yields meaning that is different from verbal discourse with his theory, Aesthetic Music Therapy (AeMT), which is grounded in music improvisation between the therapist and client or group...


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