Adaptive characteristics of group singing: perceptions from members of a choir for homeless men

B. Bailey, Jane Davidson

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There is considerable evidence to suggest that music has adaptive characteristics. Individuals use recorded music to transform the emotional landscape to coincide with transitory needs and desires. Also, music has frequently been reported to provoke uncommon emotional and physical reactions often referred to as peak experiences. In many cultures, that have limited industrial and technological development, active participation in musical activities is pervasive and all individuals are considered musical. In contrast, the musical elitism that has evolved in the Western world intimates that musical ability is specific to a talented minority. The elitist notion of musicality restricts the majority to procurers of rather than producers of music. However, experimental and theoretical sources indicate that music is an innate and universal ability and, therefore, active participation in music may have adaptive characteristics at many levels of proficiency. Positive life transformations that occurred for members of a choir for homeless men, since joining the choir, provided an opportunity to determine if group singing was a factor in promoting adaptive behaviour. A phenomenological approach utilizing a semi-structured interview was employed to explore the choristers' group singing experience. Analysis of the interviews indicated that group singing appears positively to influence emotional, social and cognitive processes. The choristers' perceptions of the adaptive characteristics of group singing fell within four principal categories: clinical-type benefits, benefits derived from audience-choir reciprocity, benefits associated with group process and benefits related to mental engagement. Active participation in singing may act to alleviate depression, increase self-esteem, improve social interaction skills and induce cognitive stimulation. The themes adhere to the tenets of flow theory which advocate the importance of mental stimulation and social interaction in increased life satisfaction. The emergent themes provide a preliminary basis for the development of a theory of the adaptive characteristics of group singing and also provide a framework for further investigation in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-256
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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