Jemima’s research into music therapy

Geographers submit a piece of independent research – a dissertation – in the third year of their degree programme based on fieldwork undertaken during the summer vacation between second and third year. Current student Jemima shares some of her current work with us:

by Jemima Richardson-Jones  

Within the discipline of geography, health is increasingly being understood as a state of being or feeling as opposed to simply the absence of disease (Andrews, 2018). In this sense, health is implicated by a number of material and non-material factors that assemble as we become more or less healthy (Duff, 2014; Andrews, 2018). This raises interesting questions as to how we can expose our bodies to more positive forces in order to become healthier and improve wellbeing.

Music is frequently cited to have therapeutic qualities and improve health. It can empower, stimulate and revive us; help create a sense of belonging and most importantly help to strengthen our identity and sense of self (Connell and Gibson, 2003). This is largely due to the power of music to evoke past situations, times and places, which can generate strong emotive responses (Andrews, 2018).

Sacks (2008) highlights the negative feelings generated through the loss of memory. Those who suffer from amnesia feel they are stuck in a meaningless present since they cannot draw on their past lives and experiences. The elderly feel a similar sense of disempowerment through forgotten experiences.

Indeed, it is often the elderly who ‘fall off the map’ within policy, practice and research and therefore it is important that, within critical health geographies, we pay closer attention to these groups (Brown et al., 2018). Therefore I hoped to focus my research on how music can help the elderly through its ability to evoke rich associations and enable memory recall.

For the elderly, being able to revive aspects of their identity and past lives through reminiscent therapy and the creation of ‘musical auto-biographies’ can be very empowering and positive for wellbeing (Dassa, 2018; Ford et al. 2018; Cady, Harris and Knappenberger, 2008; Evans, Garabedian and Bray, 2017).

 My research therefore involved 12 residents living in a local care-home. I interviewed each participant twice. During the first interview, questions were designed to help create a “Musical Auto-Biography”. We explored each participant’s musical memories chronologically following a framework developed by Dassa (2018). We started initially by looking at the kinds of music the participants listened to in their youth and then progressed towards more recent musical memories.

After the initial interview, I created personalized CDs for each of the participants containing particular songs or pieces that were mentioned during the interview. They were able to listen to the CD independently and freely for a period of three weeks, after which, I returned to carry out the second round of interviews.

During the second interview, I repeated the same methodology and helped the participant to create another “Musical Auto-Biography” in order to make a direct comparison with the first interview. This meant that I was able to explore whether the CD had helped to strengthen these past memories and in turn how this had impacted their health and wellbeing. Although some of the residents had not played the CD, it was clear that many of the participants had enjoyed the experience of reliving some of those musical memories. It was particularly important for them to share and explain the contents of the CD to their friends and family.

Whilst conducting interviews I was also able to carry out participant observation during music-related group activities, such as the “Desert Island Disc” request sessions and “Move-It-To-Music”. It was really insightful to see the power of music to improve health within spaces such as these.  Even those that were less mobile suddenly became animated at the sound of a familiar song.

As a thank-you to all the residents and staff involved in my project, I put on a “Thank-You” concert. It was rewarding to see so many residents had enjoyed being involved. I look forward to analyzing my results and hope that my final dissertation write-up will demonstrate that music is well placed within wellbeing and reminiscence programmes carried out in healthcare spaces.

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