Paying attention to musical detail

Our Director of Music Services, Dr Simon Procter, writes:

Within the Nordoff Robbins approach we regard the personal as the musical and the musical as the personal. Therefore, just as it’s so important to pay attention to a person, so it’s really important for us to pay attention to the music we are making with our co-musicians – and pay attention to its musical detail. 

The approach is named after Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robbins (a British teacher of children with special needs from the anthroposophical tradition), who worked together in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 

They shocked some of the places where they worked with their actions and their attitudes. One of their “shocking” attitudes was how seriously they took the children they worked with as fellow musicians. They didn’t try to calm children down with lullabies: instead, they attended really closely to all the musical qualities they were being offered and sought to offer. The result was often music that sounded quite “adult” and might be quite sophisticated or dissonant. Another “shocking thing was the fact that they chose to record as much of their work as possible (using a heavy reelto-reel tape recorder in a suitcase that they had to carry around with them) and then spend time listening back to the recordings. There is real value in this because music goes by in real time and we often emerge from it with perceptions and memories that are skewed by our own emotional world – that may have value but listening back to the musical interaction in a more analytical fashion enables us to notice things we will undoubtedly have missed. In particular, it enables us to challenge ourselves around our musical contributions as well as to hear and acknowledge things that we might otherwise missed in the other person’s contributions. 

So, as an example  here is an extract from a documentary made by Norwegian Television in 1971 about Paul Nordoff’s and Clive Robbins’ work in Oslo. They are thinking together about what is happening in the recorded session as they listen in detail to the recording. It’s not just about what they are doing, it’s also about why they are doing it. The detail of the recording matters every bit as much here as it would if the recording were of a studio session done by professional musicians. Our shared music making really matters – it is the very stuff of music therapy.