Theme 5 (now 5 & 6)

Theme 5.  Singing, intergenerational understanding and well-being. Singing is a fundamental human emotional activity, which, although personal, can lead to group action and cohesion. Unlike speaking, singing is not a skill regarded as critical by society, at least in the western world. Theme 5 explores benefits of singing for aspects of well-being. There are two foci. The first focus is the benefit of intergenerational singing. Music is important to people who are elderly (Cohen, Bailey & Nilsson, 2002), and it is the older members of a culture who often know best the songs of the culture.  Pioneering research on intergenerational learning of art by University of Western Ontario’s Rachel Heydon (2005; Heydon & Daly, in press) predicts several benefits of intergenerational singing, such as providing meaningful experiences for persons who are elderly, giving value to their knowledge, and providing social interaction with children. Children also benefit; intergenerational singing can reduce their stereotypes about older people, for the long term. The second focus of Theme 5 is more general, and aims to develop an understanding of physical and psychological well-being promoted by singing (cf., Bailey & Davidson, 2005; Thurman, & Welch, 2000; Wiens, Janzen, & Murray,). 

Heydon will lead the research of Theme 5 assisted by Carol Beynon, also in the Faculty of Education at Western and director of the internationally renowned Amabile Boy’s Choir. Critically acclaimed musician and UBC Professor, Rena Sharon is committed to understanding the role of music and well-being, and has established the Vancouver International Song Institute (VISI) to provide a context for in depth study of the value of art song.  The broad issue of music and well-being will be led by Sharon assisted by Betty Bailey who demonstrated benefits of singing in cross-cultural studies of choirs and other groups, including the homeless (Bailey & Davidson, 2002, 2003, 2005). The team is augmented by Cambridge University’s Ian Cross (1999), author of an article entitled “Is Music the Most Important Thing We Ever Did?”, and UPEI’s choral educator June Countryman.

Heydon’s guidelines for intergenerational art education will serve as a model for intergenerational music (and singing) education. The team will develop guidelines of how to establish intergenerational singing and song-sharing within different cultures such as in First Nations communities (a group with whom Heydon is working). The Theme 5 group will also explore the value of children teaching elders their songs to determine the symmetries and asymmetries of intergenerational learning of singing.  The team will also collect interviews and carry out qualitative analysis of the self-assessed value of singing.  A literature review of the physiological benefits of singing will be compiled, and studies of physiological effects of singing (on stress, emotion, feeling of well-being) will be carried out.

Digital Archive.  Music educators and psychologists will record and analyse videotaped interactions between elders and children in the teaching of songs so as to test guidelines for establishing intergenerational singing activities for all cultures.  Participation of seniors in recording songs of their heritage will also preserve that heritage. Recordings of intergenerational choirs will be stored and will provide additional data for analysis and demonstration. Recordings of interviews and testimonials describing the value of singing will also be included, as will examples of therapeutic uses of singing. 

Training. Students involved in the intergenerational study will learn skills of interaction with persons of the extreme ends of the lifespan. They will engage in qualitative analysis, and in developing and administering questionnaires. They may encode interactions between elders and children in singing, and learn how to transcribe their recordings for sharing among researchers in cross-cultural contexts. Other students will focus on the benefits of singing for groups and individuals. They will also develop, administer, and analyse life-satisfaction or well-being questionnaires. They will learn techniques of semi-structured interviews and qualitative analysis. Some students who begin singing lessons or join a choir for the first time may engage in a protocol analysis (introspection) and keep detailed logs of their experience. Other students will track well-being of persons taking voice lessons or attending choir in controlled studies offering comparisons with those who do not sing. 


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