Commemorative 9/11 Symposium Marked by Elegance and Grace

Author / Writer: Carolyn Kenny


Yesterday (September 11, 2004), I had the great pleasure to participate in a one-day symposium, “Music:  A Universal Language for Harmony.” The purpose of the symposium was to explore the cultural and therapeutic impact of music. We gathered in Melnitz Hall at the University of California Los Angeles for the event, which was sponsored by The Ethica Society, the Nour Foundation, the UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine, and the University of California Irvine Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine.

The brochure description for the symposium was so exceptional that I’m going to quote the entire message:

“Reflecting on the third anniversary of the unforgettable events of September 22, 2001, we realize that something inside all of us changed on that day as we began to seek answers to questions we had long neglected to ask ourselves. Now that the debris has long settled and our daily routines have once again begun to dictate our lives, it seems that the need to reevaluate our priorities remains—a need that clearly transcends race, gender, culture, or religion. Perhaps this need is rooted in discovering what truly matters to us in an increasingly interdependent, violent, and at times seemingly chaotic world, a need to return to the universal values and principles that define us as human beings.

“In searching for basic commonalities that underlie the foundations of our existence, we find that music has repeatedly played an integral role throughout the centuries. Transcending racial, cultural, and ideological boundaries, music functions as a universal language capable of bringing together and uniting human beings of all origins, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Used in many cultures and traditions as a vehicle for inner reflection and contemplation, music invigorates the human spirit, strengthens higher love, and helps to ease our problems and difficulties. In recent years, contemporary research has even shown that music is an effective therapeutic agent, enhancing learning abilities and positively influencing individual behavior.

“It is against this backdrop that today’s symposium brings together prominent thinkers and experts from the fields of cultural study and music therapy education to discuss the cultural and therapeutic impact of music.”

In the morning, we heard a keynote speech from Nohema Fernandez, a Cuban-born pianist who is the current Dean of the Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California Irvine.

Some of the provocative comments from panel participants were:

“Surprise is the most important thing in music . . . I’m not sure that music has anything to ‘say’. . . it’s the element of surprise that is most important . . . Paying attention is the most important part of music.  Once you have an expectation of ‘meaning,’ you eliminate the surprise, the newness . . . Music is completely non-specific . . . Music will always mean something different.”
Mark Swed, Music Critic
Los Angeles Times

“Artists have one problem. They are always creating. We need to find ways to keep supporting them in this creative process . . . we need to honor creativity.”
Margie Reese, General Manager
City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department

“The expression of music, the expression of rhythm is a basic and foundational thing.” Tom Schnabel, Program Director
World Music at the Hollywood Bowl Producer, KCRW

In the afternoon, music therapist, Barbara Reuer offered a keynote speech about the practical applications of music therapy. And a panel of participants including myself, David Luce, and Ron Borczon, all music therapists and music educators, and Kamran Bayegan, founder and co-director of the New York Early Music Series and professor, City University of New York engaged in a discussion bridging the cultural dialogue and the applied aspects of music therapy.

We were treated to musical interludes from Afghanistan and Kurdish musicians.

In attendance were doctors, scientists, ethnomusicologists, composers, medical students, and members of the public who were regular attendants at Nour Foundation events.

Questions from the audience were deep and intellectually informed. This was an exceptionally good way to mark the unfortunate anniversary of 9/11.

But what struck me most was the aesthetic texture of the event, decidedly inspired by the nature of the Nour Foundation (, which is dedicated to exploring the common moral, ethical, and cultural principles underlying various philosophies and schools of thought,  and the Ethica Foundation which has as its goal the facilitation of an open dialogue on the meaning and practical application of ethics and morality in today’s modern world. I felt the influence of these two organizations in the qualities of grace, elegance, depth, ease, commitment, and intellectual sophistication demonstrated by our hosts and  protocols for the symposium. The UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine foster collaborative research and clinical programs on the UCLA campus dedicated to the practice, teaching and science of Mind-Body, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine. And the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California Irvine focuses on promoting integrative medicine through rigorous fundamental and clinical research on complementary healing practices. It educates medical students, health professionals and the public about such practices and creates a model of clinical care that emphasizes healing of the whole person.

The work of these organizations should encourage music therapists around the world. And certainly the profile of music therapy is growing steadily in the climate of support and advocacy provided by these organizations and events.

Today (September 12, 2004), I am left with a feeling of reassurance not only that music therapy is steadily moving into the center of the discourses on health and healing in North America, but also a feeling of reassurance that “in an increasingly interdependent, violent, and at times seemingly chaotic world, we can . . . “work together to identify the shared “values and principles that define us as human beings” in a respectful and productive manner.   [ end ]


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