CYC-Online 138 AUGUST 2010
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Notes on relationships

Laura Steckley

I’ve just come back from my summer holidays where I had the good fortune to attend a couple of jazz festivals. Live music gives me a buzz, its effects nourishing and fortifying. These festivals were like a prolonged feast, and I have returned sated and happy.

I am grateful to have an appreciation of a wide variety of music, and the adults in my early life (particularly my parents) are to thank for this. Music was always playing in my house. My parents shared their music with my sister and me, and they helped us to cultivate our own interests and tastes. I remember dancing around the living room in my romper suit to Herbie Handcock’s Head Hunters, over and over again (I probably ruined this album for my mother). Our music teacher at primary school taught us to sing harmony in the extracurricular choir, and we were supported to learn an instrument and play in a band (again, extracurricular and directed by a different teacher). I derive steady doses of – at the very least – uplift from listening to music; more often, I feel joy. This joy can come in the form of ecstatic abandonment (most recently when hearing Herbie, live, do Head Hunters), or being moved to tears by a beautiful passage of, for instance, Rachmaninoff. These moments make me feel more fully alive, and glad to be so.

My experiences of music are powerful because of the relational context within which they occur. So many of my deep relationships have either started with a shared interest in a musical genre or artist, or this shared interest has been a significant feature of the relationship. I cry at the passage of Rachmaninoff as much for its beauty as for the love my father has for that same passage (and thus, my love for him). Certain songs transport me back to a previous time, and I immediately feel a stirring for someone with whom I was close to then. The enjoyment of Robben Ford's guitar improv. is all the better when my partner grins along – it’s so much more, shared.

Music itself is about relationships: the tonal relationship of the notes makes for sweet harmonies or unsettling discord; the temporal relationship of notes makes the foot tap or the hips swing. So much of music’s subject matter is about relationships, with all forms of love (lost and found) dominating.

Pipher (1994) highlights music’s capacity to express the intensity of emotions that teenagers often feel, in a way that normal speaking cannot. This likely has something to do with why music often becomes more important during adolescence. Resilience literature stresses the importance of hobbies in promoting experiences of mastery, social networking and self-esteem (Gilligan, 1999), and this, of course, includes music lessons of all kinds. Yet simple exposure to music might easily be missed as a potentially powerful enhancer of resilience. I think about this enriching role of music in my life (the foundations of which were laid by significant adults from my childhood) and I realise that this is something worth considering more seriously in practice. While I brought my music to work at times, I didn’t use it in a deliberate, informed way. It was something that eased the shift a bit, and the kids were usually receptive (some more than others). I had a vague sense of self-indulgence and guilt about it, however.

Social pedagogy offers a nice way of thinking about the use of self in caring for children, called The Three Ps: the private, the personal and the professional (Bengtsson et al., 2008). Rather than leaving our personal selves at the door when we enter work and become “professional”, good practice actually demands a presence and connection that is indeed personal. Music is a good example of bringing something personal to the professional relationship that can enhance a young person's life. There are endless ways to share music with kids: teach them to play an instrument; have karaoke nights; make percussion together; create a space where everyone brings a favourite song and gets to talk about why it’s their favourite; start the day with songs that have the word “sun” in them; simply play music in the unit, home or car. If done in a thoughtful, child-centred way, it is good practice.


Bengtsson, E., Chamberlain, C., Crimmens, D., & Stanley, J. (2008). Introducing social pedagogy into residential child care in England. London: NCERCC/SET.

Gilligan, R. (1999). Enhancing the resilience of children and young people in public care by mentoring their talents and interests. Child and Family Social Work, 4. pp. 187-196.

Pipher, M. (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls. New York: Ballantine Books.

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