Music for life

Promoting social engagement and well-being in older people through community supported participation in musical activities

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This research will explore the role of music in older people’s lives and how participation in making music, particularly in community settings can enhance their social, emotional and cognitive well-being. It will focus on the reciprocal processes by which personal attributes of participants in music making interact with contextual factors to impact upon the benefits that older people derive from music-making.

The research will comprise three case studies, the Sage, Gateshead, the Connect Programme of the Guildhall School of Music, and Westminster Adult Education Service, which each offer a variety of musical activities to older people. In each case study a large sample of older people (up to 500) some of whom have recently begun musical activities (novices), others who are more experienced will be recruited to complete questionnaires and psychological needs scales related to autonomy, competence and relatedness before and after a substantial period of active engagement with music.

Data collection will also include in depth interviews with a representative sample of participants, observations of musical activities and focus group interviews following the observations, and interviews with the musicians facilitating or teaching the activities.

Investigator(s)

Sue Hallam, University of London

Team

  • Andrea Creech, University of London
  • Anita Pincas, University of London
  • Helena Gaunt, Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Maria Varvarigou, Institute of Education
  • Hilary McQueen, Institute of Education

Partners and Collaborators:

  • Guildhall Connect, Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Silver Programme, The Sage, Gateshead
  • Music Department, Westminster Adult Education Service

Contact details

Sue Hallam

Background

Although there is evidence that music can provide a source of enhanced social cohesion, enjoyment, personal development and empowerment, there has been little research exploring the potential for music-making to make a significant contribution to the quality of life of older people. Studies to date have been limited in scope with investigations of musical participation involving very small samples that have not been representative of the ethnic and socio-cultural diversity found amongst the UK population of older people, and the research has been restricted to a few types of musical activities (e.g. choir). Little of the research has been directly concerned with the learning and teaching processes involved in the music-making nor has it investigated the potential impact the relationship between older music participants and their teachers or facilitators may have on outcomes.

Aims/objectives

The overall aim of this project is to investigate the role that participation in creative musical activities has in the lives of older people, the extent to which this may impact upon their social, emotional and cognitive well-being, and the particular processes through which this occurs. The specific research questions are:

  • What is the role of music-making in the lives of older people?
  • Does participation in musical activities enhance the well-being of older people? If so, what are the particular processes which facilitate this?
  • Are there wider benefits to families and/or residential communities when older people engage in music-making?

Sub-questions:

  • What individual factors (gender, age, musical background, educational history, ethnicity, socio-economic status) determine decisions to engage in musical activities and what are the obstacles to attendance?
  • What contextual factors impact on the quality and outcomes of active musical engagement (intergenerational participation, qualifications and experience of the musician teachers/facilitators, the nature and quality of the teaching/facilitating strategies adopted, nature of the interpersonal interactions)?
  • What musical factors impact on the quality and outcomes of active musical engagement (genre, instrumental/vocal, creative/reproductive, small/large group, music technology/acoustic instruments, performance context)?

Beneficiaries of the research

Effective dissemination of the research findings amongst the practitioner community, agencies working with older people, the wider research community and policy-makers will ensure that the benefits of this research are wide-ranging and sustained:

  • The research will identify how the potential benefits of participating in active music making can be enhanced to improve the outcomes in terms of wellbeing and increased personal engagement for those participating. The research will also identify barriers to participation and how these might be overcome. This, in the long term should lead to wider participation.
  • The impact of participation in music for those in residential care will also be explored, including the benefits for the whole residential community. This will inform practice relating to musical activities in residential care homes.
  • The evidence base provided by the research will enable policy makers to make informed decisions about the best and most effective ways to provide older people with access to musical activities and how to better focus investment in such services.
  • Music providers, including community musicians, community music programmes, music departments in the adult and community learning sector and music organisations with a commitment to outreach activities will benefit from the enhanced knowledge this research will generate. This will enable the design of programmes which will have a greater impact.
  • Charitable organisations and other agencies whose remit is to promote initiatives that contribute to sustained quality of life for older people, will benefit from the enhanced knowledge this research will generate.
  • Researchers in the disciplines of arts and humanities, education and psychology will benefit from this research.

Design

The research will adopt a multi-methods approach through three community case studies. Each will include repeated and between-groups designs with in-depth studies of the individual experiences of those participating. Observations of various types of musical activity will focus on the processes involved in these that generate change. Where possible, control groups will be set up of individuals involved in activities other than music making.

Case study sites:

  1. The Sage, Gateshead, where the weekly ‘Silver Programme’ actively involves 500 people over the age of 50 in an eclectic spread of music activities including singing of all kinds, steel pans, African drumming, guitars, recorder, folk ensemble, music theory, and samba.

  2. Connect project, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, which runs community music projects with people of all ages in East London. ‘Connect’ music projects are distinctive in that their focus is on activities where participants create and perform music together, linking story-telling and reminiscing to creative music-making.

  3. Music Department of the Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES) which offers a range of community music activities for older people. The WAES music programme caters for students at all levels of expertise. Courses in a range of musical genres are offered, specializing in singing, playing instruments, sound engineering and using sequencers, music theory and composing.

Outcomes

  • Conferences at the Institute of Education and the Sage, Gateshead, will include live performances of some of the London-based musical groups participating in the project, workshops illustrating the most successful activities, and dissemination of the research findings.
  • Information about the project will be handed out at performances of any of the groups participating in the research.
  • The findings will be disseminated through a web-site including podcasts, leaflets, the media (press, radio and TV).
  • In addition to the report to the ESRC outputs will include academic and practitioner journal articles, and presentations at academic and professional conferences. The findings will also be included in chapters in edited books relating to active ageing and to the psychology of music.
  • The research will have considerable practical value for the development of policy and practice in relation to the provision of musical activities for older people at local and national level.

Policy implications

1. Key policy and/or practice implications of the research

The research will have considerable practical value for the development of policy and practice in relation to the provision of musical activities for older people at local and national level. Policy and practice implications will focus on promoting social engagement and well-being amongst people through participation in creative musical activities. Implications are likely to include:

  • Developing understanding of how musical opportunities for older people can be delivered in such a way as to optimize the outcomes in terms of wellbeing and increased personal engagement for those participating.
  • Identifying barriers to participation and how these might be overcome. This, in the long term will contribute to wider participation.
  • Informing practice relating to musical activities in residential care homes.
  • Informing policy decisions about the best and most effective ways to provide older people with access to musical activities and how to better focus investment in such services.
  • Providing music providers (including community musicians, community music programmes, music departments in the adult and community learning sector and music organisations with a commitment to outreach activities) with enhanced knowledge that will enable the design of high impact programmes.
  • Informing charitable organisations and other agencies whose remit is to promote initiatives that contribute to sustained quality of life for older people.
  • Contributing to development of knowledge in the disciplines of arts and humanities, education and psychology.

2. Key non-academic user groups that will be targeted

  • Older people in the community.
  • Older people in residential homes, their relatives and carers.
  • Policy makers with responsibility for decisions about the most effective ways to provide older people with access to musical activities.
  • Community musicians.
  • Community music programmes.
  • Music departments in the adult and community learning sector Charities and other organisations representing older people, both living in the community and in care homes.
  • Music organisations with a commitment to outreach activities Educators and trainers of health and social care professionals.
  • Charitable organisations and other agencies whose remit is to promote initiatives that contribute to sustained quality of life for older people.

3. Assistance needed from the NDA programme in this targeting

  • A high profile for the overall NDA programme will facilitate maximisation of the policy and practice impact of the project.
  • Targeted press releases and promotion of findings to a wide range of non-user groups.
  • Facilitation of contacts with non-academic user groups.
  • Support to develop and produce targeted user-friendly information and recommendations in hard copy and on the web.

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