Concurrent in Japan

In July 2017, building on important collaborative work that has grown out of the Concurrent research network meetings, four members of Concurrent took their project Encounters on stage: Exploring Embodied Empathic Improvisation as Performance to the World Congress of Music Therapy in Tsukuba, Japan.

Vicky Karkou, Nicky Haire, Suzi Cunningham (centre) and Philippa Derrington (right) with conference chairs at the World Congress of Music Therapy 2017

As at Concurrent ♯1, Nicky Haire, Philippa Derrington, Vicky Karkou and Suzi Cunningham organized their roundtable presentation around a live improvised non-verbal dialogue between Suzi, a dance movement therapist and performance artist and Nicky, a music therapist and musician. Taking Erving Goffman’s sociological concept of encounters (Goffman, 1961) as a starting point, the two therapists’ experience, alongside the experience of those witnessing it, was then explored and discussed. Arts Therapists were invited to innovate and think around how we understand the ecology of the improvised encounter in a semi-public space; how shared understanding arises, or does not arise, through movement and sound in therapeutic contexts; how these different modalities interplay and the effect of being in dialogue ‘on stage’.

Nicky Haire & Suzi Cunningham improvising together during their presentation

This was the first time that this project had been presented to a music therapy ‘audience’ and it proved to be a very successful presentation and discussion. The roundtable moved beyond a simple ‘role-play’ between therapists that might have illustrated how clinical improvisation occurs in a therapeutic context and provided a unique opportunity to experience the live dynamic vulnerability of such an encounter in an open space. During the discussion after the improvisation, thoughts arose from a wide range of cultural viewpoints. The enthusiasm from individuals to continue sharing the experience and speak directly of how the encounter had affected them appeared to come out of the willingness to engage at a deeper level that Suzi and Nicky had actively explored.

Nicky & Suzi answering questions

Colleagues from Australia spoke about aesthetics and wondered how, as a profession, we could consider this more frequently. The quiet demeanour of the Japanese delegates disappeared as they spoke of their responses. The chair of the event, who was apparently supposed to remain silent throughout the roundtable, described how he had been moved to tears and struggled to put into words how he felt about this emotional reaction. One of his colleagues linked the experience to her response when she sneaked out of bed as a child and found her parents watching television; she attributed a similar mixture of fear and delight at seeing something wonderful, when she knew she was forbidden, to bearing witness to the live improvisation. She spoke of protecting, or treasuring this special experience.


Reflecting on this encounter in Japan we were struck by the authentic and sincere responses. Presenting this kind of improvised dialoguing live brings the audience directly into the encounter and this kind of presentation was unique for a music therapy conference. The responses reflect how authentically embodied the encounter was, and provide important considerations about how we experience our identities and roles as arts therapists in relation to performance and how this can help develop the arts therapies as a discipline.

  • Nicky Haire
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