In Relationship Through Music

“Relationship is the foundation of dialogue.”  This was the statement from Dr. Vivek Murthy that made Brene Brown say: “stop, say that again,” on her podcast the week of April 21, 2020.

Besl Van der Kolk tells us that relationships are the single most powerful protectors against the effects of stress and trauma.  And Vivek Murthy tells us that “relationship is the foundation of dialogue.”

We cannot solve problems together if we are not in dialogue.  We cannot have dialogue if we are not in relationship.  So how are we going to fix this big, huge monster that is out there creating fear and anxiety while simultaneously isolating us?  This problem is too big for any one of us.  We must find a way to solve it together.  We must find ways to be in relationship, to open up the dialogue.

Human beings seek connection.  We are wired to have shared experiences.  Our first relationship is with our primary caregiver.  What do they do?  They look us in the eye and rock us. 

When a baby is crying, we pick them up.  We hold them close.  We begin to rhythmically sway.  As the baby calms, we respond by calming ourselves.  We take deeper breaths.  Our little one takes deeper breaths.  We are swaying together, looking in each other’s eyes, maybe even cooing.  We are attuned, attached, co-regulated.  Without a word, we are in relationship.

Relationship can be established in a short period of time, when we have a shared experience.  The co-regulation required to calm a baby can happen in a matter of seconds.  And those shared experiences become the foundation for attachment and attunement between caregiver and child.  Shared experience lasting seconds, minutes or hours, can build to a lifetime of relationship and dialogue. 

We cannot pick up our neighbor and rock them, but we can hold them within the structure of a song or musical piece.  Together we can listen to a song, sway, hum, sing softly.  Better yet, we could make a little music together.  One three-minute song, or even one 30 second chorus, singing together, clapping, whistling, drumming, gives us a shared experience.  We have each brought our own story to that time and created a new story together.  We have experienced attachment, attunement, co-regulation; we are in relationship.  From this place we can build dialogue.

Richard Sennett, a well-known sociologist and cellist, talks about “bad listeners who bounce back in generalities when they respond.”  He says “they’re not attending to the small phrases, facial gestures or silences that open up a discussion.”  It is so amazing to read that he is talking, in this case, directly about a rehearsal of Schubert’s Octet for wind instruments and strings, in which he partook.  About this conversation, and others that occur both with words and through music, he refers to collaboration being essential (vs. instruction or cooperation).  Are these not the foundations of dialogue built to problem solve?  We can start to see music not just as a metaphor for dialogue but music as dialogue.

Music gives us the tools to jumpstart the necessary foundation for relationship, and then also gives us the tools through which we can continue relationship through dialogue.