Presentation at European Music Therapy Congress, May 2010, Spain

I will be presenting a paper based on my fieldwork with “Singing for the Brain” in the UK at the VIII European Music Therapy Congress “Evidence for Music Therapy Practice, Research & Education”. This conference is in Cádiz in Spain from May 5-9, 2010. 


Music has often been used with people who suffer from dementia (care-receivers) to retrieve their memories by professionals and lay people in various settings. However, although a number of benefits are claimed to come from these practices, the reasons for using music and the perceived benefits that flow from these activities are rarely explicitly explored.

In this paper I will discuss music as a resource to invoke memories of a more vigorous past. These memories may allow care-receivers to temporarily reconnect to family members through biographically relevant music experienced together with their family. My data comes from my participatory observation in a singing group run by Alzheimer’s Society for care-receivers and their carer. Here music is used to activate past memories and strengthen bonds between the caring community, i.e. people with dementia, their carers and volunteers at the singing activity. The moments when the memories of care-receivers are drawn out and shared with the carers are temporary, but the recharged connections between carers and care-receivers have longer term results. First, it helps carers to maintain the quality of caring outside the singing activity as they are reminded of the original relationship they had with the care-receiver. Secondly, these moments that show others the improved mutual connections between care-receivers and carers have a spin-off effect to other attendants, thus we move from affect to effect.

These moments of reconnection through music will be explored and made explicit from a (micro)sociological perspective: How can they help carer and care-receivers increase their social capital in the larger community? In these moments, how are the participants’ identity cast and recast? How does the setting and environment affect the participants’ ability to take on various “roles” that they can feel more confident in? How are stereotypes of older people constructed and/or challenged through musical activities?

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