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Music, Health, and Wellbeing$

Raymond MacDonald, Gunter Kreutz, and Laura Mitchell

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586974

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586974.001.0001

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Community Music and Social/Health Psychology: Linking Theoretical and Practical Concerns

Community Music and Social/Health Psychology: Linking Theoretical and Practical Concerns

Chapter 6 Community Music and Social/Health Psychology: Linking Theoretical and Practical Concerns
Music, Health, and Wellbeing

Michael Murray

Alexandra Lamont

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

A different approach to music-making in groups is that of community music, a form of musical activity that is designed to transform and mobilize communities. This approach has many similarities to other forms of community art, and has considerable potential to achieve more than purely musical goals in terms of identity, health, and wellbeing. This chapter considers in more detail what is meant by the term community and how it connects with community music. It explores a number of examples from diverse settings, and looks at the short- and long-term impact of community music on the participants and the wider community.

Keywords:   music-making, community music, musical activity, community health, community wellbeing

Music is an inherently social act, and one which contains enormous potential to bring people together and to facilitate various forms of social action. The process of engaging with other people through music has been applied to a wide range of health-related functions, including: communication and emotional sharing for those with disabilities and special needs; maintaining healthy brain activity and counteracting cognitive decline in the elderly; alleviating depression and anxiety by raising spirits; providing regular commitments to attend events which combat inactivity; and providing social support which reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness (Clift et al. 2010).

However, despite this intrinsic sociability, much of the research on the effects of music for health and wellbeing has focused on the individual in one way or another, particularly through the use of individual psychological measures of constructs such as quality of life, satisfaction, or emotional wellbeing (e.g. Bailey and Davidson 2005; Clift et al. 2010) as well as more direct measures of physical health such as levels of cortisol (Kreutz et al. 2004). This draws on a tradition of individual and largely positivist research arguing that health and subjective wellbeing can be simply predicted by various individual characteristics and activities. For example, it has been demonstrated that being more physically active can help redress many lifestyle stresses and lead to greater levels of subjective wellbeing (Biddle and Ekkekakis 2005). Similarly, choral singing has been shown to reduce tension and increase hedonic tone (Valentine and Evans 2001). The group in this kind of approach functions simply as an enabling context in which musical activity can take place.

A different approach to music-making in groups is that of community music, a form of musical activity that is designed to transform and mobilize communities. This approach has many similarities to other forms of community art, and has considerable potential to achieve more than purely musical goals in terms of identity, health, and wellbeing (e.g. Faulkner and Davidson 2006). The aim of this chapter is to consider in more detail what is meant by the term community and how it connects with community music, to explore a number of examples from diverse settings, and to consider the short- and long-term impact of community music on the participants and the wider community.

Dimensions of community

Community is very much a contested term, theoretically, politically and practically. Hillery (1955) identified 94 different definitions of community in the research literature and after reviewing (p.77) these concluded that there is ‘no complete agreement as to the nature of community’ (p. 119). A number of different social scientific approaches to understanding the concept have been put forward over the past few years, including those informed by critical perspectives on social capital, empowerment, and community action (e.g. Campbell and Murray 2004; Ledwith 2005; Arneil 2006; see also Daykin, Chapter 5, this volume). To complement Daykin’s chapter we focus here on approaches drawing on social representation and narrative theory.

Social representation theory is concerned with exploring the shared and dynamic nature of social knowledge that develops in everyday social interaction and provides people with an orientation to their social and material world. As Moscovici (1973) explained, social representations ‘do not represent simply “opinions about”, “images of” or “attitudes towards”, but “theories” or “branches of knowledge” in their own right, for the discovery and organisation of reality’ (p. xiii). A community can be defined as a group or collective with a common social representation and a common identity (Howarth 2001). It is the common assumptions which provide coherence to a community and distinguishes it from another. Communities can also be a resource for empowerment whereby they can take action as a collective to access resources and to challenge negative social representations of them held by outsiders (e.g. Murray and Crummett 2010). It is through this process of challenge and counter-challenge that a community becomes more aware of its strengths.

A related concept is that of narrative, which can be defined as an organized interpretation of events (Sarbin 1986). Research on narrative has often focused on the individual story, but we can analyse narrative at different social levels from the individual to the societal (Murray 2000). A community narrative is the shared story held by members of a community. It defines the community’s history and how it is distinguished from neighbouring communities. As such narrative provides a temporal and historical dimension to social representations. It is not only concerned about past events but can also be concerned about future possibilities. The narrative can thus become an organizing framework to facilitate social change.

Community psychology and community arts

Much of the concerns of community psychology focus on the process of working with communities to promote such social change. This involves challenging established restrictive social representations and promoting a new narrative that offers potential for something different. In participating in community action the residents of a community have the opportunity of challenging established power and also of growing in power themselves (cf. Campbell and Jovchelovitch 2000). This process of empowerment has been central to community action (Ledwith 2005). It is a much debated concept, particularly with regard to the extent to which it is real or symbolic. As with the individualistic approach looking at subjective wellbeing, much of the research on empowerment has concentrated on feelings or a sense of empowerment rather than actual changes in power relationships. Community psychology offers the potential of promoting real social change.

Community health psychology attempts to work with groups or communities to identify how they see their worlds and to explore opportunities for change. The initial focus is on exploring their worlds in a collaborative manner, rather than imposing a particular agenda. As Jovchelovitch (2007) explained:

Contrary to the idea that local representational systems need to be changed or improved as a matter of course, the first task of researchers [and, we would add, of community musicians] is to ‘understand the understandings’ of local people and listen to the other (p. 165).

(p.78) It is through this process of listening and support that residents can be encouraged to reflect upon their practices and to grow in confidence through collective action.

One form of collective action is that promoted through community arts. Webster (2005, p. 2) has distinguished community arts from other forms of art on three criteria:

  1. 1) It promotes participation, regardless of the existing level of skill or ‘talent’;

  2. 2) It is undertaken by a group who either have the same collective identity, or a goal greater than the art form itself, or both;

  3. 3) It is developed primarily to provide opportunities for people who through economic or social circumstance have little access to the means to participate in the Arts.

Webster further argued that community art is ‘not defined by art form but by process’ (Webster 2005, p. 2). The success of community arts is thus not in the classic sense of its aesthetic quality, but rather the extent that it can contribute to some form of personal and social transformation. As Meade and Shaw (2007) articulate, the power of community arts lies in its capacity to

enter attentively into the experience of others, excavating and exploring causes of flaws and wounds in society, thinking critically about structures and relations of power and acting creatively and collectively to transform the world for the better (p. 414).

As with other forms of community psychology, work in community arts can be compromised to serve the interests of the state more so than that of the community. Meade and Shaw (2007) caution that the arts can provide ‘a convenient means of political displacement, distracting attention from the real causes of social problems’ (p. 416). In this sense we can contrast art as anaesthetic, by which it dulls awareness of the state, with art as aesthetic, which can enable people to see through the hidden veils of control and also assert a new agenda. This tension between accommodation and critique is played out in the everyday practice of community art. It is why it is necessary for community arts workers to reflect upon the process and to consider who are the main beneficiaries of the actions. The same tensions are apparent in community music.

Community music

Sound Sense, a UK agency that promotes community music, defines it as a practice that

involves musicians from any musical discipline working with people to develop active and creative participation in music. It is concerned with putting equal opportunities into practice, can happen in all types of communities (whether based on place, institution, interest, age or gender group) and reflects the context in which it takes place… [it] helps people to make music – on their own terms. It reflects their lives and experiences. And, as well as providing an enjoyable and fulfilling experience, community music brings people together through music… it can help people express things, empower them, create positive attitudes, build confidence, provide skills and open up routes to new opportunities (http://www.soundsense.com).

A more extensive definition is provided by Veblen (2004) under five different headings:

  • Kinds of music: community music includes all forms of music. A central theme is active music-making, which includes performance, creating, and improvising.

  • Intention: community music emphasizes lifelong learning and open access. It stresses that ‘the social and personal well being of all participants is as important as their musical learning (if not more important)’. Furthermore, it brings people together and promotes individual and collective identity.

  • Participants: it can include a very wide range of participants, including the marginalized and disadvantaged, immigrants, and other kinds of clients seeking aesthetic experiences.

  • (p.79)
  • Teaching: it focuses on active learning and participation, with learners directing their own progress towards personal satisfaction and self-expression. ‘[A] reoccurring theme in musical communities concerns their fluidity of knowledge, expertise, and roles, with individuals participating in various ways from observer, to participants, to creator, to leader.’

  • Context: community music interplays between informal and formal contexts. Thus, community is defined in an expansive manner to include ‘geographically situated, culturally based, artistically concerned, re-created, virtual, imagined or otherwise’.

Together, these definitions not only define what is particular about community music but highlight the similarities and differences with community arts. Whereas community arts downplays the formal aesthetic quality of the arts product with a greater emphasis on process, community music attempts to ensure that both product and process are intertwined. It is through the enjoyment of developing skills that the community music participants can grow in confidence and challenge the negative social representation of their community. They can begin to build a narrative of strength and one of change.

In their review of arts and health initiatives, Macnaughton et al. (2005) developed what they termed the Arts and Health Diamond (see Figure 6.1). On the right-hand side of the diamond are those activities that are focused on the individual and are concerned with either enhancing creativity and wellbeing or supporting healthcare. On the left-hand side of the diamond are those arts activities that focus on the collective and are concerned with promoting community wellbeing or engaging the collective more actively with healthcare. In this chapter we use a similar model. Our attention is more on those musical activities on the left-hand side of the model that contribute to enhancing social wellbeing and also promote some more specific health-relevant action in communities.

Community Music and Social/Health Psychology: Linking Theoretical and Practical Concerns

Fig. 6.1 Arts and Health diamond. From Macnaughton, R.J., White, M., and Stacy, R. (2005). Researching the benefits of arts in health. Health Education, 105, 332–9.

(p.80) Combining these ideas of community health psychology with the focus on the more social axis of the Health and Arts diamond, we can identify two primary orientations of community music initiatives:

  • Promoting social wellbeing: this orientation is concerned with promoting greater identification with the community and greater participation in community activities.

  • Promoting health behaviour change: this orientation is concerned with working with community members to identify particular health challenges and strategies of taking action to combat these and to promote health.

In the remainder of this chapter we provide examples of recent work in community music that falls into these two categories.

Promoting community wellbeing and action

Urban community festival

Craigmillar is a large public housing project on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The early buildings were constructed in the 1930s and the original residents were families who were moved by the local council from decaying and crowded accommodation in the inner city. Although the residents had high expectations when they moved there, they soon found that the estate had very few facilities. By the 1960s the population of the area had grown to 25,000 but it had also developed a very unsavoury reputation in the wider region. For example, it had the highest local level of juvenile delinquency, children taken into care, overcrowding and pulmonary tuberculosis. It also had very high levels of infant mortality and stillbirths.

Despite sustained political pressure by local councillors and various local campaigns, there was little municipal action to enhance the housing stock or to improve facilities. In the early 1960s a group of women in the area decided to organize a community festival. This was in some ways a retort to the world renowned Edinburgh International Festival which had no connection with the residents. After overcoming many local obstacles, the first Craigmillar Festival of Music, Art and Drama was launched in 1964. There were a total of 11 items on the programme—most being musical, including a choir and a percussion band. A leading person in this initiative was the local resident Helen Crummy who subsequently wrote a detailed history of the festival (Crummy 1992). Her account has been described by the arts promoter Richard Demarco as ‘a life-enhancing account of an almost miraculous story’. In her account Crummy vividly details how a small determined group of women spearheaded the original festival. Crummy herself was an activist in the local Labour Party and not only had a large number of contacts and informal training in how to negotiate with bureaucracy but also an awareness of the political dimensions of the festival.

Initially, local politicians were dismissive of the festival as being a distraction from more serious campaigns. However, Crummy notes that not only did the festival grow in size and quality but the organizing committee began to take up a wide range of local issues. As she comments:

Little by little we were making links between politics (with a small ‘p’) and local culture. And in doing so we were challenging the way in which Politics (with a capital ‘P’) seemed to be the province of men (p. 48).

Thus the Festival Society began to take up a wide range of social issues.

Participation in the various festival activities had an energizing effect on the core members and groups. Crummy describes how this energizing effect grew and widened:

At first they saw the Festival Society just as somewhere they could find the opportunity to meet socially and do their own thing. But gradually as they began to realise how the lack of amenities and resources affects community life, they came to see that perhaps only political action would ever bring about change (p. 53).

(p.81) She continued:

The annual festival had proved to be the key to tapping and releasing the community’s creative imagination and talent. Once released, men and women’s horizons widened. They became aware of the restrictive and damaging effect on family life, of living in an area where there are only houses, scarce community facilities, little work and second class education (p. 58).

Thus the project moved from initial small steps in building community confidence, in challenging the dominant social representation of the community as worthless, to developing a new narrative of strength and confidence to transform their local neighbourhood. As Jovchelovitch (2007) stressed, ‘without experiencing and feeling their power as a community of people, there is little or no disposition to participate and to engage in the hard battles associated with obtaining resources’ (p. 164).

Rural community festival

A contrast to the urban festival was a rural community festival organized in a small isolated village in Newfoundland, Canada. This village had been the subject of substantial outmigration and the residents were generally older people. Again, there were limited local facilities. In this setting the Tramore Arts Festival was established (further details can be found at http://www.tramore.ca). A driving force behind this was Agnes Walsh, a former resident of the area who had subsequently trained in anthropology. She teamed up with a local community activist, Arlene Morrisey, and together they established the festival, which comprised a summer-long series of dramatic and musical events. A feature of these events was the central position given to music and song. In particular, there was a deliberate aim to recapture the traditional songs of the region and the style of singing. In doing so, the emphasis was not on importing professional musicians into the community but rather on working with local residents to develop their own talents, providing them with an opportunity to recognize their own strengths and their own history. Here the contrast was highlighted between music as a commodity that could be purchased and enjoyed in a passive manner and music as a community resource which conveyed local stories, reaffirmed a sense of community history, and could be enjoyed collectively.

The performances proved extremely popular. The local residents were enthused and in addition, the performances began to attract the attention of people further afield and they also began to attract tourists. This attention led to greater publicity (e.g. Dragland 2005) and the exchange of performers with similar groups in Ireland. The festival also began to take up health issues. Initially, this was in collaboration with one of the authors in a project on safety in the fisheries (Murray and Tilley 2006, see further below), but it also included issues about loneliness and social isolation, which were common experiences among the residents.

Through the process of collective music-making the residents reaffirmed their community identity, its history, and traditions which they felt were being ignored or disparaged by the wider society. By making connections with outside agencies and taking their songs to other settings they began to challenge the negative social representation of themselves as being inward looking and resistant to change that they felt were held by outsiders.

Music-making in favelas

The third example of the role of music in community building is provided by Abrahams (2005). He described his visit to a number of favelas or shanty towns that exist around large cities in Brazil. In many of these favelas he found examples of community music projects. He was particularly interested in the extent to which they operated on the principles of Freire’s critical pedagogy (Freire 1970).

(p.82) In his survey Abrahams found that the character of the music projects in the favelas differed substantially. Some had been in existence for many years and involved large numbers of the residents whereas others were smaller scale and had few participants. However, all of them were premised upon the Freirean active model of learning. In contrast to formal music education, the community music projects engaged in an active process of learning and building upon the participants’ knowledge of music:

Students attained a level of conscientization outside of formal schooling. While formal training on instruments, or participation in vocal and instrumental ensembles, broadened their experiences, students brought an inner knowing to the learning experience and did not attain it as a result (p. 15).

In addition, participation in the music projects led to broader changes:

There was clear evidence that the perceived benefits of music instruction stretched beyond a well-produced sound in performance… there was also the belief that singing in the choir would teach folks how to work together, rather than to make music that was artistic or of high standards (p. 16).

Here again we see the tension between the aesthetic quality of the musical production and the process of producing the music. The participants were themselves aware of its aesthetic limitations but they were also aware that by practice they could enhance its quality and their own confidence. Again, it was through the collective music-making that they grew in confidence and challenged negative social representations of favelas.

Promoting health action

Safety education

The first example, of using community music as a means of promoting community health action is taken from a study of promoting safety in the fishing industry. Commercial fishing is one of the world’s most dangerous industries. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that every year thousands of fish harvesters are killed and hundreds of thousands injured worldwide. This has led to the introduction of a wide range of safety measures to improve the working conditions aboard fishing vessels but the very nature of the industry which means working on a very unstable platform in changeable weather conditions means that it will remain a dangerous occupation. One strategy to reduce the rate of accidents has been to require fish harvesters to undergo compulsory safety training. However, this approach is not only unpopular among fish harvesters but it tends to individualize the problem.

The eastern seaboard of Canada has historically been a very rich fishing ground. There are two main types of fishing—the inshore fishery which is conducted from small boats not far from shore and the offshore fishery which uses larger industrial vessels. The fish harvesters for both fisheries usually come from small hamlets that are relatively isolated. The tradition has been for children in these hamlets to leave school early to start working in the fisheries.

In the 1990s one of the authors began conducting interviews with residents of these hamlets about their lives. These interviews confirmed not only the high rate of accidents but also the resistance of the fish harvesters to what they perceived as outside interference by government safety agencies (Murray 2007). One of the consequences of this research was the development of a community safety education programme (Murray and Tilley 2006). The aim of this programme was to increase awareness of the importance of safety throughout the hamlets using a variety of community arts activities. All of these activities were developed and enacted by the local people themselves. An important feature was the role of music and song. Local people wrote and performed a series of songs about the importance of safety. Again, the lyrics and the musicianship (p.83) could be criticized as lacking sophistication but the performers were immensely proud and enthused by them. In addition, the performances attracted substantial local interest with large numbers of residents attending them coupled with reports in local newspapers and on radio and television.

Throughout this project there were certain key individuals who played a central role. These included not just the performers but also those who helped behind the scenes organizing the events. Each of them did so because they realized that the project was addressing real social issues—residents of their communities were seriously injured and drowned not infrequently.

Together, the local song-making and musicianship provided the basis for a narrative of hope and possibility rather than one of fatalism and acceptance of the high rate of accidents. Admittedly, in itself the community music events did not contribute to a reduction in accidents, but it provided the basis for further action to involve the residents in a process of social action to promote safety awareness and safety routines.

Music listening and health promotion

The second example of a project explicitly addressing health concerns through music is an innovative study by Batt-Rawden and DeNora (2005) exploring music listening as a tool for health promotion. This study started from the perspective that music listening can be just as engaging an activity as music performance, drawing on Small’s concept of musicking as meaning:

to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composition) or by dancing(Small 1998, p. 9).

Batt-Rawden and DeNora were inspired also by Antonovsky’s (1996) concept of salutogenetics (factors that heighten health through enhancing individuals’ sense of coherence and continuity) and Ruud’s (2002) idea from music therapy of using music as a technology of health. In their study, adult participants with chronic illness and prior experience of music-making took part in a series of musical exchanges and interviews where they were encouraged to tell their life stories and stories of being well and being ill through a process of ‘musical narratives and metaphors’ (Batt-Rawden and DeNora 2005, p. 293). Although the primary form of data collection was individual interviews between researcher and participant, all participants were aware of the group nature of the project as the music that was used at varying points was shared within the group, creating a virtual participant community. As well as this sense of community, the stimulation to engage with music listening for health promotion actively inspired participants to connect or reconnect with others. One male participant suffering from depression highlighted musicking as a way of connecting with others:

What I have gained through this project is to reinforce my belief that the strongest effect I gain from music is through playing and singing with other people, this synergy effect is like an encounter of love, it is so mysterious, just like somebody connects you to heaven, it is so strong this playing together, you know… (Batt-Rawden and DeNora 2005, p. 295).

The project served to highlight for individuals the ways in which music could make them feel, giving them a repertoire of self-care activities and self-knowledge which could then lead to even more active types of musicking. One female suffering from depression and back pain explained this process:

It has been very important to me that I have been able to focus on my resources and the kind of resources I have through music… huge contrast to my feelings of weariness and tiredness. This project (p.84) has actually made me make contact with a folk-music group in my community and now I am feeling so good. I have regained control and well-being in my life. It is great (pp. 295–296).

This kind of participatory project is able to inspire people, often with severe health problems, to learn more about themselves and others, and to provide a resource. As one participant noted: ‘it is rare I am so ill that I can’t listen to music’ (p. 301). Such engagement with music listening is a means of providing a positive self-narrative and a different but very effective setting for health promotion.

Common features

Although each of these musical activities took place in different settings, several common features can be identified as follows.

  1. 1) Developing challenge Through participating in a range of different musical activities the community residents become involved in a process challenging the perceived negative social representations of the communities held by outsiders and of developing a narrative of change. They begin to develop a new positive community identity. The ability to show the outsider that they have certain talents provides added energy to the participants.

  2. 2) Focus on local Practically there is a focus on local musicianship. Rather than importing professional players from outside the community, the emphasis is on identifying and supporting local talent or in supporting people to engage with music at their own level of interest and expertise. To the outsider, the performances could be seen in many ways as amateurish but it is the working with the community rather than imposing something on the community which is the key to the success. Residents gain great satisfaction at the achievements of their neighbours.

  3. 3) Energizing impact In all of the projects a common consequence was the energizing impact of the music and other arts activities on the participants (cf. Matarasso 1997). It is not uncommon for many musical ‘performers’ (whether performing or listening) to describe the experience as being the most exciting event in their lives and as being personally transformative. Through public performances and media reports this impact spreads to a much larger audience. However, while these obvious positive benefits are apparent in the short term, there is a greater challenge in terms of the sustainability of the projects.

  4. 4) Role of organizers The prospects of short-term success being sustained often fall on a small number of individuals. These individuals often have previous experience of local politics or community organizing. Underlying their involvement is a drive to improve the quality of life of residents in the area. Although initially concerned about organizing a limited number of musical activities it is not unusual for the organizers to begin to consider community action to address broader social issues.

  5. 5) Importance of social values This final point is one of the most important issues to consider when developing community music activities. In many cases, a central role is played by a limited number of individuals who have limited access to support and resources. Funding is often provided for limited time periods to set up new initiatives. After the initial enthusiasm around the community music events participants can often withdraw and the key leaders may feel frustrated or demoralized. To continue to promote action requires a commitment to the community and to improving the quality of life locally. This is underpinned by a belief system that is infused with social values often informed by political and/or religious ideals about justice and transcendence. It is these ideals that convince the community leaders to continue despite adversity and the lack of any recognition by outsiders.

(p.85) References

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