Troubled find relief in music

June 6, 2003

A social anthropologist at Queen's University, Belfast, has found that musical memories can help people who have suffered traumatic loss in Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Volunteers in Omagh, Ballymoney and Belfast, who had been attending centres that help those bereaved and traumatised by the Troubles, took part in the Music, Memory and Healing pilot project run by Katy Radford of Queen's School of Anthropological Studies and funded by the Community Relations Council.

Reporting on the project at a CRC symposium at Queen's, Dr Radford said that music in traditional music therapy tended to be chosen by the therapist. Participants in this pilot brought music that represented their loss so they could commemorate the person. "They were all attracted to this as giving them a new way of telling their story," Dr Radford said.

"People have a couple of hours in which to present the parts of the story they wish to reveal. If they want to sit in silence and just play music, they do that. They don't need to talk if they don't want to."

One man remembered his murdered wife by a series of pieces spanning 40 years, culminating in the last piece of music he remembered her listening to on the radio. A woman who had lost her sister focused on music from their adolescence, some 15 years before her sister died, but recalling a time when they had been happy and carefree. Others compiled a music "mosaic" that represented a series of events.

"It unlocks people who may have been silenced because of their occupation or the culture of fear," Dr Radford said.

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