Je Suis Parisien: How Music Soothes Public Grief

“The defense we try to build with our intellect is torn apart. The mirror music holds in front of us gives license to feel how our bodies are, to let our vulnerability out, to dissolve.” –E. Rudd, 2011, “Music and grief—after 22 July”

Marie Strand Skånland and Gro Trondalen published “Music and Grief: Norway After 22 July, 2011″in the 14th volume of Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 2014.

Why the essay? On July 22, 2011 Norway was rocked by a bomb explosion in Oslow and a shooting on the island of Utøya. Ultimately, seventy-seven people were killed and at least two hundred people were injured. Like 9/11 ten years earlier (and the tragedy in Paris yesterday), music played and continues to play an important role in helping support a shocked and grieving public. This essay focuses on how, specifically, music is therapeutic in public mourning and group grief.

What the essay shows? “Norwegians’ customary restraint gave way to the need to comfort each other and express solidarity for one another. Music directly addressed that need and was used as a means of expressing these particular emotions and uniting a nation. The private and the public came together when individuals chose to be private in public.”

Quick summary? “Music creates a space—a sounding musical room—where [the bereaved] can rest in the grief, where they can sink into it, and where music helps them deal with and process it and, in a way, move on in life. This music, which brings out such strong emotions and shakes life into the heavy and difficult stuff, also helps them to come closer and take hold of [the grief], to hold on to it and piece by piece reshape it into something that is bearable and manageable, and that therefore becomes possible to carry with them when they leave that station in life and move on. (Bossius & Lilliestam, 2011, p. 264; English translation by the authors)”


  • “Our singing voice is closely connected to our bodies, breath, emotions, and identities”
  • “It is also true that music acts to amplify the context in which it is performed or heard.”
  • “Allowing oneself to dwell within the music experience and fully acknowledge one’s loss can also help one move on.”
  • “When music functions as a provider of vitality—that is, of emotional stimulation and expression—it supports personal agency and empowerment”
  • Music acts as an “emotional stimulation and expression, as a resource for building social networks and as a provider of meaning and a sense of coherence”
  • “The burden of grief could be shouldered by many, the responsibility of rebuilding shared by entire communities.”
  • Music “captures the emotional tenor of a nation in crisis.”
  • “Music, in its own language, says this: we do care. And that empathy, enacted through music in the wake of tragedy, clearly has a value in and of itself.”
  • “[M]usic sustains the emotions long enough to allow us to process them and perhaps gain a better insight into our internal states and feelings.”
  • “By recognising one’s own emotions in the music, we feel both accepted and consoled, which are important assets when dealing with difficult emotions.”
  • “[M]usic offers an aesthetic experience of one’s emotions and has even been said to ‘beautify the sorrow.'”
  • “Music’s affirmation of our emotions allows us to better relate pain, for example, to something outside of ourselves, which might make it easier to bear.”
  • After the Norwegian tragedy, standing “shoulder-to-shoulder and singing together again strengthened feelings of social bonding and belonging and expressed solidarity with the bereaved”
  • “One of the youngsters who was on Utøya on the day of the shootings, Tom Christian Lindbäck (age nineteen), wrote a rap about the day, and about his feelings toward the mass murderer. Lindbäck told the media that he had written the rap to feel better: ‘It’s absolutely therapy. I didn’t cope so well after all that happened. So it’s clearly therapeutic to work with music, particularly that song, and to release certain emotions.'”
  • One Norwegian woman “searched for music on her MP3 player that she related to death and loss and used it as a safe container for her own emotions in a way that allowed her to feel them as well. In Peter Gabriel’s “I Grieve”, for example, she found both the sting of grief and a glimmer of hope for the future.”
  • Musical artists wanted to “contribute to the situation in some way. Gengaro notes, in reference to Springsteen’s The Rising, that the reason for writing the album was, on the one hand, wholly personal—’that of an artist who works through his own grief with music.'”
  • “Music has always been a vehicle for artists to deal with tragic and troubling events . . . In the wake of 9/11, the emotions of the country were raw. Music very quickly became the salve. As a nation, Americans turned to music to unite themselves through patriotic songs, and to soothe themselves with perennial favorites. When artists began to write new music, they were working through the same range of emotions all Americans felt. They spoke for the victims, the families of victims, the rescue workers, and the average American who felt powerless and vulnerable, or even angry and vengeful. (Gengaro, 2009, p. 33)”

SKÅNLAND, Marie Strand; TRONDALEN, Gro. Music and Grief: Norway After 22 July, 2011. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 2, jun. 2014. ISSN 1504-1611. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 14 Nov. 2015. doi:10.15845/voices.v14i2.757.


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