Tuesday, May 06, 2008

musical couches

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Chris Wuerscher, the psychologist, choir member, and CPO board member who offered his services to orchestra members in January -- inspiring conductor Bill Eddins to write about "Calgary's Brilliant Move":
It's a widely known fact - musicians are a little "different." Actually most of us are bloody nuts, and that has consequences for both orchestras and musician's families. So what's going to happen when an orchestra actually does something about it?

I've said for years that the best move any orchestra could ever make is to hire a staff psychiatrist...
It was a cold, blustery Friday afternoon when I took the train to Dr. Wuerscher's office. His secretary poured me a cup of tea to warm up, but Chris seemed eager to start right away. His questions sort of poured out in mighty clumps -- I'd start to answer one of them, and realize I'd left all the rest hanging. Still, they were all intriguing questions -- about where music takes us, emotionally and intellectually, and how as professional musicians we experience and sometimes insulate ourselves from music's effects.

It turns out Dr. Chris isn't primarily interested in treating musicians' neuroses -- though he's not opposed to it -- but more in talking about music and how it functions in our lives. We talked about the ephemeral qualities that make for a great performance, the ways music can take us out of ourselves and bring a higher awareness, and the joys and frustrations of working with a large, diverse group of people. Some of those neurotic tendencies may have come up, but that really isn't Chris' focus in these conversations.

He's actually trying to figure out how musicians might be able to help people in other fields to work in more inspired, harmonious ways. His working theory is that the intuitive abilities and non-verbal communication we need to play well in an orchestra aren't unique to musicians, but could have great benefits in a business meeting or negotiation, for example. His approach reminds me a lot of conductor Ben Zander, who has written a very spirited and inspiring book with Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility.

It's a rare enough thing to find a musician who can really convey what music-making is all about -- Ben Zander does this very well in his book, but so well as he can in person. It seems like the whole magic of what music does for us, and what we do for music, is that it can't really be described in words. "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture," someone wrote. That's never stopped people from writing and talking exhaustively about music, and I had a great time talking about it with Chris. Even if we didn't reach any major breakthroughs, he still made me want to come back soon and talk some more -- which I guess is what a good psychologist does.

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