Outline of a paper to be presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Music Therapy Association, Sydney, August 1982.
It's not even a legend, it's merely a myth, that all blind people are gifted musically and it is equally eroneous to suggest that music is automatically "the solace of the blind". There is no such solace. Among blind people there is a small number of highly talented musicians who learn quickly, remember accurately and perform or teach with excellence. Yet another group become highly successful musicians by many long years of hard work. A larger number scrape along in a moderate manner often in the frustrating knowledge that, had they the ability to see and to sight-read, their repertoire would be wider and their learning capacity increased.
Music is nevertheless an invaluable source of therapy and recreation for individuals who are visually impaired. The first group who come to mind are those who lose, or are losing, their sight in adult life. All too often they, or well-meaning relatives, purchase some expensive musical instrument – usually organ or piano – in the belief that this will be a ready source of pleasure and satisfaction and that performing will come easily though the person might never have set finger to key. In such cases music therapy can avert disappointment and disillusion through
(a) working at a level appropriate to the client,
(b) developing listening skills and deepening understanding of music, or
(c) providing opportunities for improvisation on a variety of instruments in a variety of ways, so developing confidence and an urge to be creative.
It is usual for severe visual impairment or loss of vision to be accompanied by either fear and a loss of confidence, or more rarely, a beligerent determination to overcome no matter what the cost. Music, a comfortable medium, can stimulate the client to come to terms with either of these attitudes. Music for relaxation and music for movement (both to facilitate mobility and to encourage vigorous exercise) are almost always relevant... Discussion of the disability, its immediate effects and its long term consequences can also be promoted through music, a practical medium for the release of tension and the common ground of conversation.
Generally speaking however, the possibilities and implications of music for the visually impaired are precisely the same as those for other clients. Movement, the release of tension, for the shut-ins and geriatrics, and the emotionally disturbed, as a source of non-threatening recreation and disciplining for the retarded as a means of expressing anger or fear. The list is well known to us all. Worth special mention however is the potential of music in socialization, either among visually impaired people, or more important, within the general community. The inability of a visually impaired person to communicate with people through eye contact or by other visual means is not such a disadvantage when he has something special, like music, to offer. To be able to sing or play in the local musical societies or join the church choir, provides opportunities for closer contact with a small group of people. These kinds of relationships can be more satisfying for visually impaired people, and indeed for everyone, than more casual associations with large numbers of acquaintances.
What kind of music and how to use it? The answer is as broad as the range of people within the community.next page