Recently I had the experience of playing alongside of a couple of other musicians. They were excellent. And given how excellent they were, I ended up coming to terms with something about me and my own approach to musical performance.
We were taking turns as solo musicians for a three hour gig, providing background music to an arts gala. A couple of hundred people came through the venue, talking to the artists and eating some really great food. It was quite the evening. Even though we were just there to add ambience, some folk even stopped to listen to our music.
But first, let me tell you about the other two musicians. One was another pianist. His touch on my digital piano was gentle but oh-so-very disciplined. He played some jazz, popular songs, even Christmas music as it was that time of year. The other was a jazz guitarist, performing really well in the style of the iconic Chet Atkins. Both of them held steady to the beat. Furthermore, I never heard a single error as they played, their eyes following along the written music in front of them.
So … now I have a confession to make: I was envious of those other two musicians. I was envious of how disciplined they were, how well practiced, how precise.
And then I wasn’t. The envy went away.
Let me explain.
During my sets, I occasionally made mistakes and once or twice (or maybe more) got lost as to where I was in the music, needing to improvise back into the song to be able to pick it up again. That made for some awkward moments. Oh, and my rhythm was all over the place: reflective of my typical struggle with a sense of time.
While I was playing my mind occasionally went missing, but missing in a weirdly wonderful way. It went exploring for new meaning and new emotional connections within my music. I’ve been playing those pieces for months, some for years, and yet there seemed to be something new within them as I played that night.
I often play with my eyes closed so my mind can just be with the music, centred on the emotions it conveys. Of course, at times I have to have my eyes open to watch my fingers navigate the keyboard. However, for some reason that night I sensed that there was reason to look up.
What I saw was extraordinary: I saw someone standing there, intently listening. This actually happened a few times but I retain a strong memory of one such occasion. What I saw on that listener’s face was a sense of her also being inside the music, in there along with me.
A form of emotional communication was happening between us, a synchronicity mediated by my music. Perhaps for a few moments neither of us felt alone with the emotions we were feeling. At least, on my part, I didn’t. While I can’t be sure what it was like for her, for me it felt like a deep connection. Because I play only original compositions the emotions contained within those pieces originate from within me. For her also to be caught up with them created a moment of deep companionship: she and I sharing those feelings together.
There were times like this in my practice as a psychologist, times of emotional synchronicity with my client. It was more than just acknowledgement of the feelings of my client, more than just being a good observer for non-verbal emotional cues: it was the felt experience of the client’s emotions within me. I was subjectively experiencing the client’s chaos or despair, identical to how I feel those emotions when they arise in the circumstances of my own life.
But something else was going on as well. The client was feeling something back, something from inside of me. My clients told me about this when they returned to therapy after I hadn’t seen them for a while. They said they came back because of what they had felt when they’d been in before. They mentioned feelings of safety, of hope, of wellbeing. I suspect that as much as I felt their distress in those moments of emotional synchronicity, they felt the optimism, the calm assurance and the wellness from within me.
This sharing of subjective experience didn’t always happen in my work as a psychotherapist. It wasn’t the only helpful, healing, sort of thing that occurred in the therapy room. Indeed there are approaches to psychotherapy that don’t include it at all, approaches that are objectively prescriptive in terms of assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The phenomenon of subjective emotional connection doesn’t figure into how they purport to work.
I’m deeply grateful that both ways exist … for music and for therapy. The performance of music by the other two musicians at the gala was a great fit for some folk. They loved the recognizable tunes, remembering their own meaningful moments with those songs. I could tell by watching them listen. And, I’m sure the objectively defined therapies fit for some types of clients. They must because when they are tested in clinical trials positive results for their effectiveness was demonstrated.
As both consumers and providers (of the arts and therapy) we sort ourselves out according to what works for us, what helps us most fully be ourselves … our best selves.
Seeking out what works and what doesn’t helps us navigate the worlds of beauty, and of grace, and of both perplexity and sorrow, of fear and joy. That night, I came to more deeply acknowledge and accept what works for me. And, I came to see it needn’t be prescribed for everyone else. Those other two musicians are truly great in being the type of musician they are.
We can delight in the capacity for difference between us; humans are just that interesting. The greater our acceptance of difference, the more we can experience safety, peace and belonging with, and beside, each other.
Clickable links to previous blogs
November 2023 - Just notes
October 2023 - About endings
September 2023 - Sacred ground
August 2023 - Are we there yet?
July 2023 - How smart is SMART?
June 2023 - Only half there
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.