Why Can’t We Just Relax?
After a year riddled with cramped international flights and way too much computer use, I was greatly looking forward to enjoying a therapeutic massage and working some of that tension out. After I arrived at my appointment and we had exchanged the usual pleasantries, my massage therapist seemed amused and interested that I composed music.
“If you have anything relaxing, you should really bring it in next time,” she said. “Maybe it wouldn’t be relaxing for you but I could use it with my other patients instead of this.”
She gestured to a small CD player that was discreetly blanketing the room in unremarkable, new-agey droning. It sounded like something that Ralph Vaughn Williams or John Ireland shat out on one of their worst days—almost offensively inoffensive.
Oh no, I thought, trying to concentrate on relaxing my trigger-finger-prone “Finale hand”. Don’t do it, even though you do have a couple things that might actually be appropriate for being massaged to. Even so, those pieces aren’t *just* background music, and you’re not going to like them being used as such.
But after thinking about it some more (and with no small amount of coaxing) I decided, why not? What’s wrong with something that was created as “concert music” finding a new life as one of the most necessary types of Gebrauchsmusik? At first I had felt there was something vaguely degrading about having a couple of “the kinds of pieces that could be played during a massage,” but then I wondered, what’s the big deal with music that helps some kinds of people relax for their physical therapy? It’s a needed function, and I bet my two candidate pieces weren’t nearly as bad as the canned Windham Hill knock-offs currently in rotation.
Composers often have very specific notions about how and where their music should be experienced, but sometimes it is also important to remember that one of the best ways to help people listen to our works the way we’d like them to is by first allowing them to do so in ways we wouldn’t. Even in these two, relatively tame pieces I mention there is definitely “more going on” than just a pretty wash of affirmative sound, but maybe there’s nothing so wrong with letting people experience only that, at first. Who knows, maybe if anyone is interested enough to ask about this strange new massage-music it might even translate into a new face or two next time the works are performed locally.