Music Therapy: A Perspective from the Humanities

By Aigen, Kenneth | Journal of Music Therapy, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Music Therapy: A Perspective from the Humanities


Aigen, Kenneth, Journal of Music Therapy


Ruud, E. (2010). Music therapy: A perspective from the humanities. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona, 209 pages.

For the last 20 years, Barcelona Publishers has quietly gone about providing an invaluable service for music therapy: it has published collections and revisions of works by seminal music therapists such as Helen Bonny, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins, Mary Priestley, Florence Tyson, and William Sears; it has offered publications by second generation music therapy scholars with multi-disciplinary interests and international influence such as Carolyn Kenny; and it hits provided an opportunity for the publication of original works by a large number of authors, such as Brynjulf Stige and Henk Smeijsters, who have focused on applying ideas from contemporary intellectual movements into the great variety of clinical contexts in which music therapy exists. In short, Barcelona is playing an essential role in ensuring that the profession and discipline of music therapy develops and matures in a way that reflects cognizance of the major trends that have defined contemporary intellectual thinking across a wide array of disciplines. The present text by Even Ruud is the latest offering to reflect this mission.

In 10 relatively concise chapters, Ruud explores a number of topics that have come to define much of contemporary discourse in music therapy, such as musical identity, musical meaning, aesthetics, empowerment, health and quality of life, and self-care. Readers familiar with Ruud's writings and contributions will recognize many of the topics discussed and ideas presented, and Ruud acknowledges borrowing from previous articles and essays in putting together the present publication. These topics (and others) receive an interesting treatment and Ruud presents a number of arguments in support of the values and concepts that he believes ought to be part of music therapy.

Many challenges face a reviewer focusing on a book such as this one. Its wide scope and broad range of intended application demand familiarity with a number of scholarly disciplines and concepts. Additionally, as English has become so ubiquitous in scholarly publishing that many authors are expected to write in what may be their second or even third language, it is only fair for reviewers to take into account differences of language and culture in evaluating books. Additionally, I have a great deal of sympathy with the perspective and values championed in this book, something that provides a challenge in offering a balanced review.

I offer diese caveats because while this book offers some unique contributions-there are a number of concerns with it that relate to its fundamental premises and focus. The first and perhaps most basic issue is die referent of the word humanities in die title. In the first sentence of die foreword, Ruud speculates that "an integrated field of music dierapy would perhaps one day be able to syndiesize perspectives both from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and die humanities.... Witii die humanities I include a broad range of academic disciplines, such as taken from die social sciences as well as from philosophy" (p. ix) . There are two problems here:

First, by using the word both in reference to three separate areas of inquiry, it is clear that Ruud believes there is an important twofold division, but it is not clear how the three areas are to be grouped: does he mean diat natural science and social science taken togetiier contrast with the humanities because of die common reliance on the scientific method diat characterize die former two areas, or does he mean diat die social sciences and die humanities are differentiated from natural science because the former two areas focus upon human beings and their creations rather dian on die physical world?

Second, by indicating that he is considering social science disciplines within the humanities, Ruud is botii going against common practice and is sowing the seeds of deep confusion regarding die agenda of his book. …

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