Original Research

From trauma to well-being: how music and trauma can transform us

Inette Swart
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 10, No 2 | a109 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v10i2.109 | © 2014 Inette Swart | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 February 2016 | Published: 30 November 2014

About the author(s)

Inette Swart, North-West University, Potchefstroom campus, d, South Africa

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Traumatic events can have a profound influence on the way musicians experience “musicing” as well as on their actual performance. An interpretative phenomenological analysis of two case histories is presented here – one being that of a professional singer whose family members were brutally murdered, and the other of a conductor whose mentor committed suicide and who was paralysed for three months after a serious motor vehicle accident. Before turning the focus to the two musicians, issues pertaining to the subject of trauma are highlighted and the author “brackets out” her own experiences with particular reference to work as repétiteur for the opera Winnie and postgraduate piano studies in Warsaw. For the two case study participants, healing comprised a journey consisting of various phases in which music played an integral role. Traumatic influence was seen to have a discernible impact on expression of emotion in music, memory for music, career choices and interpersonal relationships. It was through music that they re- established their connection to self and others, and, after a period of struggling with emotional expression, experienced a deepening of affect. For the conductor, drumming played an essential role in recovering lost motor function and memory. Counselling formed the other pillar in their recovery process, and for the conductor this also entailed a journey leading to spiritual growth. The participants offered advice to others. Both these case histories provide striking examples of how musicing can first suffer in the wake of experiencing overwhelming traumatic events, yet later prove to be instrumental in restoring well-being and bringing about transformation.


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