Music therapy

At EMU, we have a wonderful nationally-recognized music therapy degree program. So, I do know something about what professional music therapy is, but I want to write about something a bit different. I’m referring to personal use of the music in a casually “therapeutic” way—playing or singing to help deal with the stresses of daily life.

It has been my experience that the sound and feel of the bassoon can be quite helpful in releasing tension and anxiety brought on by the daily grind. In fact, while a daily practice routine is necessary to maintain technical proficiency, etc., I periodically just play for the soul! The music needn’t be difficult, the tunes can be personally meaningful, or not. Sometimes a heart-felt free improvisation is just what I needed.

There is something characteristic about each register of the bassoon. In the low register, I feel the resonance and depth of the tone. Moving slowly, I’m drawn in to the warmth and richness of the complexity of the sound. Since the air is moving more slowly, but more volume of air is used for low notes, playing long tones in the low register has the effect of deep, relaxing breathing exercises. For some, this kind of meditative breathing and blowing may be what is needed most.

Certainly, as I move up the scale and pass the top of the bass clef staff, I feel the singing quality emerge. This is where I live as a bassoonist—in the tenor register. Playing beautiful melodies beautifully is the goal of every artist. Moving the air and shaping the phrase is exhilarating. I’ll choose arias or slow movements, and even favorite crooner melodies (playing along with Band-in-a-Box), to just relax and enjoy.

Improvising in the high register has a particular cathartic effect. If you’ve ever heard Paul Winter’s improvisations in response to the howling of wolves in the Rockies, or inspired by the evocative song of the humpback whale, you get the idea. In fact, one of my favorite bassoon sightings in film is in Never Cry Wolf—based on a true story of a biologist on an Alaskan expedition to study the wolves in their habitat.

So, when I’m finished, and I set the bassoon on its stand, I can say,

“Thanks, I needed that.” 🙂


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