Experiencing Music – Restoring the Spiritual

Music as Well-being

by June Boyce-Tillman (Author)
©2016 Monographs XII, 406 Pages
Series: Music and Spirituality, Volume 2


This book concerns an examination of the totality of the musical experience with a view to restoring the soul within it. It starts with an analysis of the strands in the landscape of contemporary spirituality. It examines the descriptors spiritual but not religious, and spiritual and religious, looking in particular at the place of faith narratives in various spiritualities. These strands are linked with the domains of the musicking experience: Materials, Expression, Construction and Values. The book sets out a model of the spiritual experience as a negotiated relationship between the musicker and the music. It looks in detail at various models of musicking drawn from music therapy, ethnomusicology, musicology and cultural studies. It examines the relationship between Christianity and music as well as examining some practical projects showing the effect of various Value systems in musicking, particularly in intercultural dialogue. It finally proposes an ecclesiology of musical events that includes both orate and literate traditions and so is supportive of inclusive community.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Praise for Experiencing Music –Restoring the Spiritual
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • Prelude: And Still I Wander … through Greek Mythology and the Idea of the Soul
  • Chapter One: The Development of Religionless Spirituality
  • Chapter Two: The Cult of Creativity
  • Chapter Three: The Development of a Phenomenography of the Musical Experience
  • Interlude One: A Place of Transformation: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Chapter Four: The Environment
  • Chapter Five: Music and Expression
  • Chapter Six: Musical Construction
  • Chapter Seven: Values in Musicking
  • Interlude Two: Music and Christian Theology
  • Chapter Eight: Crossing a Threshold: Encountering the Spiritual
  • Chapter Nine: The Extrapersonal Dimension: The Use of the Musical Liminality as a Space for Peace and Justice Making
  • Chapter Ten: Radical Musical Inclusion: An Ecclesiology of Music
  • Postlude: Orpheus Rediscovered: The Way Forward
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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This book has taken at least twenty years to write. It started with a PhD from the Institute of Education, London University; many people, both professional colleagues and personal friends, have helped me along the way. I am extremely grateful to the Philosophy of Music Education Review which has published many of my ideas over a period of time in a series of articles; its conferences enabled me to refine these ideas – in particular thanks to my friends Estelle Jorgensen and Iris Yob.

Another place where refining of the ideas has taken place is the Early Childhood Music Education Seminar of the International Society for Music Education with the help of my good friend Carol Scott-Kassner; all of these people encouraged me to write this book. Panos Kanellopoulos also made some very insightful comments on the paper I gave at the Philosophy of Music Education Conference in New York in 2013, which are included here.

A further area of exploration has been writing for liturgical contexts which enabled me to examine the effect of context on spirituality and here I am grateful to many feminist friends who have been prepared to experiment with me (Boyce-Tillman 2014). Collaboration with Kay Norrington and the Southern Sinfonia has enabled me to develop experimental large scale pieces. Stainer and Bell published my collection of hymns (Boyce-Tillman 2006c) and allowed me to use them in this book. Olivier Urbain and the music and peace-making group informed my work on Values. Finally the access to Winchester Cathedral as a performance space is due to the Very Rev James Atwell whose view of the cathedral as a place for everyone has informed not only the access that he gave to so many different groups of people but also the spirit in which that access has been granted. I am grateful to Elizabeth and Stanley Baxter at Holy Rood House, Centre for Health and Pastoral Care, Thirsk, Yorkshire where many of the initial ideas were interrogated.

This book is dedicated to Sir John Tavener and his wife, Lady Tavener. It contains many rich fruits from my friendship with them. It is hoped that at the University of Winchester – from which Sir John held an honorary ← xi | xii → doctorate – we shall, in association with Winchester Cathedral, launch the Tavener Centre for the Study of Spirituality and Music, with a programme of regular concerts, festivals and conferences.

I am also grateful to Petra Griffiths of the Living Spirituality Network and the forming of the group interested in the Spirituality of Music within that organisation.

In the production of this book I am grateful to Oliver Osman for his proof reading skills, to Hannah Ward for helping me with the index and to my personal assistant, Charlotte Osman. The University of Winchester provided research support; my colleague Dr Malcolm Floyd helped me to develop the earlier ideas in this book and Dr Olu Taiwo contributed a great deal to my understanding of the place of the beat in orate drumming traditions. Dr Sarah Morgan’s thesis on the community choir also informed my thinking on orate singing traditions. Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Professor Joy Carter, David Walters (and other colleagues in the Winchester Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing) and Dr Simon Jobson have supported my work in a variety of ways. At North West University, South Africa, I am grateful to Hetta Potgieter, Liesl van der Merwe and Dirkie Nell for their continued encouragement and opportunities to share my work.

Many friends have helped and encouraged me along the way, especially the Rev Wilma Roest, the Rev Bill Scott, the Rev David Page, Sue Lawes, Dr Carol Boulter, Professor Mary Grey, Professor Michael Finnissy, Ianthe Pratt and Myra Poole. I am very grateful to Lucy Melville at Peter Lang for her encouragement in setting up the series Music and Spirituality, in which this book sits. I am grateful to my two sons – Matthew and Richard and my granddaughter, Scarlett – some of whose stories appear in this book – for their continued encouragement of my creative enterprises.

The Rev Dr June Boyce-Tillman MBE FRSA FHEA Professor of Applied Music, Artistic Convenor for the Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing, University of Winchester, Extraordinary Professor North-West University, South Africa.

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Figure One The Sequence of Musical Development (Swanwick and Tillman 1986)

Figure Two A Model of Enculturation (Boyce-Tillman 1996)

Figure Three The Five Domains of the Musical Experience (Boyce-Tillman 2004)

Figure Four The Spiritual Experience in Music (Boyce-Tillman 2006a and c)

Figure Five Table of Metric and Return Beat (Taiwo 2012)

Figure Six The Metric Beat (Taiwo 2012)

Figure Seven The Return Beat (Taiwo 2012)

Figure Eight Positions of Power (Carter Heyward 2003)

Figure Nine Value Systems (Boyce-Tillman 2007)

Figure Ten Community Choir Leadership (Morgan 2013)

Figure Eleven The Spiritual Experience in Music (Boyce-Tillman 2006a and c)

Figure Twelve The Absence of the Spiritual Experience (Boyce-Tillman 2005)

Figure Thirteen A Child’s Concert (Boyce-Tillman 2005)

Figure Fourteen ‘They are playing our tune’ (Boyce-Tillman 2005)

Figure Fifteen A Classical Concert (Boyce-Tillman 2005)

Figure Sixteen A Virtuoso Performance (Boyce-Tillman 2005)

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This book represents a journey through experiences in a variety of classrooms and lecture halls, studies of the mystical experience, religious music by women composers, especially Hildegard of Bingen, the philosophy of Michel Foucault, feminism and ecotheology, interfaith dialogue through music-making, the Anglican priesthood, creating and performing one-woman multi-disciplinary performances and composing and conducting large pieces for young people with a variety of other ensembles represents an interdisciplinary weaving together of philosophy, theology, music (as approached by musicology, ethnomusicology and music therapy), hymns, poetry and musical practice in the form of a crystallisation project (Richardson 2000). I have gradually moved towards this methodology and way of presenting; it sees truth as a crystal with different facets acting as lenses to reveal different aspects of it:

Crystallization combines multiple forms of analysis and multiple genres of representation into a coherent text or series of related texts, building a rich and openly partial account of a phenomenon that problematizes its own construction, highlights researchers’ vulnerabilities and positionality, makes claims about socially constructed meanings, and reveals the indeterminacy of knowledge claims even as it makes them. (Ellingson 2009 p. 4)

The structure I have chosen for the book starts with a Prelude, which is complete in its own right and uses Greek mythology and Christianity as the basis of a process of interrogation of the principles and practices that underpin music in Western cultures.1 This book is essentially a journey into the musical experience drawing on my own musical autobiography. My grandfather was the local dance band pianist in a New Forest village ← 1 | 2 → and played mostly by ear; but he wanted his granddaughter to enter the world of classical music (epitomised by his 78rpm recording of Jose Iturbi playing Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu which I listened to with him many times). I was too young when he died to realise what I had missed by not learning his skills.

I moved through experiencing this rural music scene to initiation into the classical tradition via the examination system of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. From there I entered Oxford University where I had a grounding in the musicology of the 1960s. The degree consisted of history and analysis with written pastiche composition in the style of composers from 1550–1900. This was a place where sexist jokes were the common currency of the lecture hall and, in general, unquestioned by men or women; more significantly it taught a limited range of musical values linked with musical literacy and European traditions I have spent the rest of my life expanding my musical horizons and value-systems. My education was immediately followed by a time spent learning folk guitar at Cecil Sharp House and wandering around London singing Bob Dylan and Malvina Reynolds in an experimental period that represented an embracing of musical freedom not found in my classical instruction. I have spent the rest of my life expanding my musical horizons and value-systems.

I went to work in schools – first primary and then secondary – breaking new ground in initiating composing/improvising in the classroom. All this time, I was observing the children’s musical understanding carefully. When my own children were born I observed very young children’s musical development. These times led me deeper into the musical experience. My research (which included a PhD at London University’s Institute of Education) has enabled me to present a more inclusive model of musicking in parallel with other thinkers such as Christopher Small (1998), George Odam (Paterson and Odam, 2000) and John Paynter (1970).

Meanwhile I was involved in liturgical music at a parish level and was seeing the part that music plays in people’s spiritual experience. I was also experiencing musical healing traditions which have a spiritual dimension. This book does not deal with the history of the relationship between religious traditions and music nor the complex relationship between various healing traditions, spirituality and music which I explored in Constructing ← 2 | 3 → Musical Healing: The Wounds that Sing (2000a). This is simply a detailed exploration of the way the relationship between a person and musicking functions using ideas from process philosophy. Rowan Williams postulates a relationship between religious and artistic sensibility in its ‘affirmation of inaccessible perspectives’ (Williams 2012 p. 14), although he states that you cannot quite assimilate aesthetic and spiritual discourses (Williams 2012 p. 17). John Millbank sees humanity as a poetic being. He calls the human capacity for meaning-making poeticity, which aligns human creativity with the divine art of the eternal Word (Milbank 1997 p. 79). This book explores this relationship in more detail including an interlude on Christian theology and music. Certainly music will be linked with the process of meaning-making. However, I leave it to the reader to decide whether what I have called ‘spiritual’ is, in fact, the aesthetic.

In the last twenty-five years I have attempted to gather together in my songs and hymns insights from theology and musicology (Boyce-Tillman 2006c). Because for most of pre-Enlightenment Europe the majority of ‘high art’ music was written for the Church, the ‘objective’ underpin of much musicology can be laid at the door of the notion of God as constructed by mainstream theologians during that period (Boyce-Tillman 2014) – as male, all-powerful, hierarchical, perfect and unchanging. As a Higher Education lecturer I have had more time and pressure to think and reflect on the experience and explore the literature.

This book reflects that journey in various idiosyncratic ways and therefore may not include the literature that others would consider central to such a journey. It is an exploration of the musical experience by means primarily of observation, experience and interview. I build on the philosophy set out by John Dewey in his seminal text Art as Experience (1934); in this he sees the aesthetic as residing primarily not in the music itself, but the relationship between the musicker and the music. I draw on disciplines that have often been excluded in musicology such as anthropology, therapy, politics, sociology and liminality. In this way it challenges approaches to music that concentrate exclusively on a set of canonic musical texts and seeks to interrogate the so-called aesthetic principles on which this approach has been based. In this context I will use Christopher Small’s (1998) term ‘musicking,’ a verb that encompasses all musical activity from composing to ← 3 | 4 → performing to listening-in-audience to singing in the shower. Using Gregory Bateson’s ecology of mind (1972) and a Geertzian (1973) thick description of a typical concert in a typical symphony hall, Small (1998) demonstrates how musicking forms a ritual through which all the participants explore and celebrate multiple relationships.

In this search I have been joined by many other people exploring the entirety of the experience rather than a limited part of it. To that end, a variety of purposes have been fulfilled:

The rest of the book follows the plan of the Prelude unpacking its ideas and working it out in more detail. The chapters start by exploring the journey of the soul in Western culture from ancient Greek thought and practice to contemporary semi-secularised society. It interrogates the common contemporary descriptor – spiritual but not religious. Here I describe the development of a spirituality based on process rather than the dogmas and creeds of the defined world religions. The second chapter concentrates on the development of the idea of creativity as an example of where spiritual concepts still exist in contemporary thought revisiting the ideas in Chapter One from a different perspective. The third chapter starts by looking at models of the musicking experience encompassing the ideas of Chapters One and Two; it leads to the development of the phenomenographic/crystalline map that will be explored for the rest of the book. A First Interlude ← 4 | 5 → drawing on Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, forms a bridge to the second section of the book exploring the nature of the Spiritual/liminal space and its transformative potential.

The next four chapters explore the four domains of the musical experience identified in the model – the environment, the self, the debating of ideas and cultural values. A second interlude looks at Music and Christian theology. This is followed by a chapter exploring the fusion of these domains into the Spiritual/liminal experience. As such, this book explores how musical meaning is constructed in lived experience and sees it as essentially relational, contextual and potentially changing. The musical experience is seen as one of encounter through a variety of musicking activities such as listening-in-audience, performing or composing. The model (phenomenographic map) attempts to show how this might work. Bearing in mind that each model has a purpose and cannot encapsulate every aspect of anything, its intention is to represent an ecology of music:

In two further chapters I use a number of case studies to show how the model might work as a tool for musical understanding, particularly in the domain of Values. The final chapter concentrates on two projects that I have initiated to show how I have used the model to develop my own practice. It shows how values based on a reworking of an ecclesiological model have underpinned my thinking and been worked out in my own musicking. It postulates the possibility of creating radically musically inclusive events. These final chapters may also serve to see music as a potential strategy of resistance to the dehumanising effects of the fragmentation within Western culture. The Postlude revisits the themes of the Prelude and Interludes to examine the spiritual dimension of the musical experience and its potential. I hope that this will enable readers to gain a deeper understanding of their own use of music in their lives and also the potentially transformative nature of the musical experience.

1 This was originally given as part of a keynote panel at the International Society of Music Education Conference in Thessaloniki, July 2012.

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And Still I Wander … through Greek Mythology and the Idea of the Soul

The Greek Myths


XII, 406
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (March)
Spirituality Musical Construction Orpheus Greek Mythology Musical experience Ecclesiology of Music Music and Expression
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XII, 406 pp., 16 fig.

Biographical notes

June Boyce-Tillman (Author)

June Boyce-Tillman MBE read music at the University of Oxford and is Professor of Applied Music at the University of Winchester. She has published widely in the area of education, most recently on spirituality. Her doctoral research into children’s musical development has been translated into five languages. She has written about and organised events in the area of interfaith dialogue using music. She has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University and the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts. She is an international performer, especially of the work of Hildegard of Bingen. Her large-scale works for cathedrals such as Winchester, Southwark and Norwich involve professional musicians and school children. She is a hymn writer and has written on and led workshops on music, healing, theology and spirituality and is the artistic convenor of the Winchester Centre for the Arts as Well-being. She is an Extraordinary Professor at North West University, South Africa. She is an ordained Anglican priest and an honorary chaplain to Winchester cathedral and received an MBE for her services to music and education.


Title: Experiencing Music – Restoring the Spiritual