In the fifteen minutes it takes to perform Ravel’s Bolero, the drummer plays 4050 beats, all within a repetitious pattern. During those fifteen minutes, there is no respite. The drummer has to get through the best way they can. Here is the French comedian Jacques Villeret’s take on what it is like to be the drummer in the Bolero. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a video where the drummer’s thoughts are in English).
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to take Villeret seriously, rather than as a comedian. That is, he is portraying one experience of the drummer in the Bolero; being trapped in a situation where there is no respite and no way out. This helps us to use Villeret’s performance to think about a patient in psychotherapy.
We obviously have no idea how Villeret responds to his difficult Bolero experience. It is most likely he would shrug it off. If the orchestra was playing a season, he would prime himself for getting through the Bolero, night after night. As part of the inner talk to keep himself going, he might get angry with Ravel. In his mind, the composer becomes an overrated fool, a man with a pathological hatred of drummers.
Given the amount of effort Villeret has committed to being a drummer, an effort that has led to some success, it is unlikely his experience in the Bolero would lead him to reflect on whether he actually wants to be a drummer. Even more unlikely, is that he would be inspired to reflect what it is like for him to feel trapped. Even more unlikely, is that the experience would help him access times as a child when he felt trapped and powerless, and how those experiences affected the development of his personality. This is particularly interesting because being trapped in a traumatic feeling that seems to have no end, is one of the primary childhood experiences of people who come to therapy.
However, it would probably not occur to Villeret that he is not only struggling with the constraints of the Bolero, but may also be struggling with his own inner world which has been created by formative moments in his past.
One way to think about this is to imagine a drummer who is relieved to play the Bolero. This person might have been forced to hold themselves together in a chaotic childhood environment where they never felt safe. They could experience the simple rhythm of the Bolero as calming.
Of course, we cannot go through life examining every difficult moment as an access point for a deep exploration of our psyche. However, one aspect of the psychotherapy process is the movement of the focus from what the world does to the patient, to how the world helps the patient to understand themselves.
Many patients rebel against this shift in emphasis. “Can’t you see! Ravel’s fame is written in the blood of drummers! Why are you on his side!”
Psychotherapy cannot change the world. It can only help us to understand how our responses are affected by our history.