How Ice Music Is Like Music Therapy

This morning I heard the most fascinating story on NPR’s Morning Edition, about the annual Ice Music Festival in Norway.

Each year, Norwegian composer Terje Isungset works with his American collaborator Bill Covitz, who makes marimbas, chimes, cellos, and even horns out of ice. In the video below, you can see how these unique instruments are constructed and hear the hauntingly beautiful music created as musicians make the ice sing. (Start at 4:30 to hear the music while they finish constructing the ice cello.)

So how is ice music like music therapy?

I definitely see a parallel between the process of music therapy and the process of creating music from ice.

Think about it:

Ice is beautiful and natural, but it didn’t go to Julliard. Beautiful music doesn’t happen immediately. Rather, it takes a process – and someone dedicated to the ice itself – to make the music come alive.

But that’s not to say that music clients are cold and stiff objects for the music therapist to “work on.” That’s where this metaphor gets really great.

No, the ice isn’t just sitting around waiting for someone to carve it to specifications fit for the ice festival stage. In fact, Isungset and Covitz can’t use man-made ice. They must work with the ice in all of its imperfect, natural iciness to bring out the beauty it has to offer.

This is true for the musicians, too. Says composer Isungset, “you cannot go on stage and expect a certain song. You have to play with the sound that the instrument actually can make, then try to create good music out of this.” In fact, the very instruments change as they perform. As Isungset noted in his interview, the heat generated by holding an instrument or blowing warm air into it changes its tuning. The very act of making music changes the ice instrument, and the instrument itself changes the music.

This is just like music therapy!

Just like the ice instruments, clients come with beauty to discover, despite – or because of? – whatever challenges or “imperfections” they might have.

Just like the ice carver and composer and musicians, music therapists come with plenty of knowledge and skills to offer, but no fail-proof blueprint for therapy success, and plenty of their own challenges and imperfections besides. The therapist must be prepared to work with the client and whatever he or she has to offer.

And the music? Just like the ice music changes as the instruments themselves change through construction and performance, the music in a therapy session changes as the client and music therapist change through making music together.

Then, the beauty that results from the therapeutic process can be just as breathtaking as music made from ice.

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