In the text written by Mercédès Pavlicevic, Music Therapy in context: music, meaning and relationship- Chapter 3, Music Therapy and Universals: Between Culture and Compromise, the author explores the meaning of music therapy as a universal and as a cultural specific phenomenon in an attempt to address a basic premise in support of music therapy: “that humans are susceptible to the power of music since it exists in all human beings” (Pavlicevic, 1997). Within this chapter, Pavlicevic explores the application of cultural music in music therapy practice and music therapy in cross-cultural contexts, as well as examining music universals from the perspective of music therapy.
The concept of the ‘universality’ of music is described as music which has existed in all human cultures and continues to do so, whether the cultures are remote, rural, or tribal or whether they are urban or industrial. Pavlicevic states that music is also universal because it exists in all cultures and that all “world” music has traits which transcend culture specificity because they all have a beat, a melody, and most use instruments which are either plucked, beaten, strummed, “blowed” or bowed.
Pavlicevic first conceptualizes the discipline of music therapy within the cultural concepts of music/illness/health/healing, and the theoretical discourse of ethnomusicology and social psychology, in order to create a clear understanding of how the concept of music universals relate to music therapists. As a music therapist who is interested in the research and application of the concept of the ‘cultural arts’ in practice, I feel that it is important to approach music therapy from a holistic cultural perspective when working with clients; what might be relevant to your understanding of healing and culture as a therapist, might have another representation to the given population in which you are servicing. For example, she defines cultures today as the following: 1) stable cultures which refer to social class, people who have lived in a particular area for generations, or those who subscribe to a particular religious ritual and 2) temporary cultures, such as migrant workers, people who support a political cause during one time or another in their lives or music therapists who are enthusiastic about research or burnt-out. She says that each of these cultures and sub-cultures are specific, which may be identified by the manner of dressing, or a particular style of music.
For music therapists who use improvisation as part of their practice, Pavlicevic suggests that they familiarise themselves with the music of different cultures. She says this is not as to distinguish between clients who are from different cultures but to rather become more familiar, as music therapists, with the different musical energies that diverse “world” musics possess. The energy is culture-specific in that it may be portrayed by particular musical styles and idioms. Also, the therapist, in an improvisation session, might choose to introduce certain music in order to elicit or trigger a quality that she senses is concealed in the client’s playing.
The application of other musical idioms is also suggested to music therapists, instead of being confined to the western-style norm. In Nordoff and Robins (1971) publication, Pavlicevic references how they express the existence of inherent therapeutic qualities which are generated by the distinctive emotional-melodic characteristics of different “world” musics, such as Latin American, Arabian or Slavonic. They approach this from the concept of archetypes in music which enables us to tap into music that transcends our own culture and geography, because of the natural qualities of these genres.
In closing, Pavlicevic (1997) says that the critical feature of improvisation is not to perfect the use of the introduced “cultural” genre (such as Latin American music) but to rather explore its musical energy and quality, which will propel the client towards a broader, more complex, experience of himself; an applicable statement that should be noted by music therapists who utilize cultural arts in their practice.