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Soundscape Music Therapy – What’s in a Name?

What is a soundscape exactly?

And why did I choose that for the name of my business?

The short (and somewhat embarrassing) version of the story is that the textbook we used for our world music class at the University of Evansville was called Soundscapes. Back in 2004 when I was looking for a musical term to go along with “music therapy” for my business name, this seemed to fit. Actually, it just “felt right.” The longer I’ve had this name for my practice, though, the more I feel that it really is the perfect fit for the work I do.

“Soundscape” fits perfectly with what I believe about music therapy and the role of music in people’s lives. 

Think of a soundscape as analogous to a landscape. A landscape includes the broad view of everything you can see around you. It includes naturally-occurring elements (hills, lakes, trees) and elements structured by humans (flower beds, grass, buildings, lawn furniture). Some features are relatively permanent, and some, like the sunset or a rainbow, are only temporary. We also appreciate a wide variety of landscapes, be they deserts, mountains, oceans, or ice floes. We think of “landscapes” and “landscaping” in aesthetic terms, either appreciating what is already there, or working to create a more pleasing view by changing the landscape itself or changing our own viewpoint.

Now, think of the auditory or “hear-able” elements of an environment. These are the elements that make up a soundscape. They are the sounds of a place, an event, an experience, or a life. Some of the elements are naturally occurring or beyond our control – the sounds of rainfall, laughter, our loved ones’ voices outside the bedroom door. Other elements are those that we choose to add to our environment – music, TV, conversation. Each community, each place, each environment has a different soundscape, depending on the sounds of the weather, the animals, and the people in that place at any given time.

Your soundscape is the sound of your life.

And everyone deserves to have a beautiful soundscape. What does this mean for music therapy? As I’ve been thinking about what this means, I’ve been asking these questions:

What if we choose to accept the elements of our soundscape that are beyond our control?

Your voice doesn’t sound the way it did fifty years ago. Your stroke left you with difficulty playing a steady beat, let alone your guitar. You can’t get out to hear the symphony play anymore. The lady across the drum circle only knows the words to one song (“You Are My Sunshine,” of course.) Maybe you can’t change these things, but you can work within them to experience and express beauty.

What if we choose to work on the elements we can change, for a more aesthetically pleasing, a more musical soundscape?

A music therapist can help you find the music that you need to hear, or the instrument that you helps you to get your music out. You can figure out how to quiet the sounds of clattering tray carts or loud neighbors and bring out more music, more laughter, more conversation.

What if we choose to hear the beauty in our soundscape, regardless of those things we can’t change?

You figure out how to make music with those noisy neighbors. You decide to appreciate our music on the marimba, even if you used to play the piano. That lady in the drum circle singing “You Are My Sunshine” gets a whole new groove going, allowing a entirely new musical beauty to emerge. Sometimes that shift in perspective makes a world of difference, and you can find beauty even in the strangest, most foreign environment.

What if we choose to let that musical beauty spill over into the rest of our lives?

…how we see each other, how we experience day-to-day events, how we handle illness and recovery and death? You learn that your noisy neighbor is an old country boy, too, and you start spending time together playing checkers. Your hands get stronger from all that marimba playing, and you find it’s easier to manage your fork and knife at the dinner table. You spend more time laughing and telling stories with your kids and grandkids, and you know that the love you share is real.

Maybe my job as a music therapist is to help people with soundscaping.

Rather than working to improve the looks of your natural environment through landscaping, I’m helping you improve the sound of your life by bringing out the aural beauty of the elements that are already there. Maybe by beautifying your soundscape, other parts of your life become more beautiful, too.

Soundscape Music Therapy. Yes, I think that name fits perfectly.

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