Jeffry Steele, MU765 (Hebert)
April 20, 2008
Group singing for working or incarcerated adults: groundwork for new initiatives
This qualitative study seeks to document the benefits experienced by adults from group singing and to explore paths towards new group singing initiatives in both the workplace and the prison system. Interviews will be carried out 1) with 3-4 employees of Pfizer Corporation (New York, NY) who sing with The Pfizer Choraliers and 2) with 3-4 inmates at the Northeastern Correctional Center (W. Concord, MA) who participate in the music program offered there (which is not specifically choral). Recorded interviews will be structured around a set of questions to ascertain informants’ musical, social and cultural background along with their aspirations and level of life satisfaction. As some informants may respond more openly to a general interest in their life rather than specific questioning, the interview will necessarily be flexibly structured. Then they will be asked about the benefits they experience from participation in music-making and possible changes in their self-concept since beginning their respective music programs. Informants’ opinions about how to interest fellow employees or inmates will also be solicited. Three interviews will be conducted with each informant, one week apart, to build rapport with the interviewer and so that variations in mood may be factored in. Results will be geared toward suggestions useful in the expansion or improvement of these music programs as well as the implementation of related programs elsewhere. While the many studies outlined below point the way towards this proposed research, none have been discovered by this author that are specific to group singing in these settings.
Research carried out over recent years has recognised that human beings have an innate need to make music, that music occurs in all societies around the globe and that a significant proportion of music-making involves the human voice in what we commonly refer to as singing. (Durrant, 2005)
Singing in groups can be credited to a great diversity of phenomena, including:
- morale building
- social change
- emotional healing
- conflict resolution
- spiritual expression
- stress reduction
Compared with other societies, many adults in the United States have been cut off from the valuable resource of participatory singing.
Does there exist an innate human need to sing? Durrant (2003) cites research suggesting that singing, of a sort, preceded language — as homo habilis humans sought expressions to go with memories of particular events. Vocal sounds that expressed anger, surprise, grief, etc. each had their own contour and timbrel qualities that are likely retained in the language (melody, instrumentation, etc.) of music. Philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) believed that language resulted from this sort of ‘music’, while biologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) thought of music as coming out of language (Durrant, 2003, p. 41). Given that researchers cannot go back and make field recording of pre-language humans, the contrast between these two views is subtle. In the current epoch, Durrant writes, “People’s emotional lives are more complex than the logical verbal language they have at their disposal” (p. 42).
Music Consumption vs Music-Making
Even before humans had words, therefore, it was natural for humans to express emotions through vocalization. The addition of language added greater specificity to the emotions. The voice is the most personal of musical instruments, produced entirely within the human body—capable of re-creating feeling-states in listeners with each familiarly human nuance in timbre, elocution and facial expression. “It’s not what Dylan sings,” said John Lennon, “it’s the way he sings it.” (Mojo, 2005, p. 46). The digital age has brought with it the building of personalized song collections by people hungering to identify and experience time and again the emotions aroused at hearing the singing of their own species. Many adults who lacked engagement with their school music curriculum become simply consumers of music — their listening choices being entwined with their own “self-identity.” (North and Hargreaves, 2007a, b, c;); (Lamont, et. al., 2003); (Durrant, 2001).
Before the advent of commercial recording technology the only way to hear music at home was to play instruments or sing. At the turn of the century, while still a child, Alban Berg would play four-hand transcriptions at the piano with his sister (and later, with his wife) (Monson, 1974). Score reading was the only means available — apart from attending concerts — to familiarize oneself with great music of the the past as well as the present. We who today may listen to a professional recording of given Beethoven symphony whenever or wherever we please cannot approach the kinesthetic connection experienced by those forced to read the notes and sound them with their own hands. 1952, a half-century later, was the year that saw the proceeds from phonograph records exceed those from sheet music (Garofalo, 2008) — the portent of a steady decline in collective ability to play or sing at sight. While recent developments have democratized the tools of music production — packing digital recording and sound creation capability into affordable laptop computers — this new-found ease in producing a polished product leaves users with less incentive to master an instrument or the voice.
Reasons to Make Music
Psychologist Abraham Maslow talks about the “higher needs” all humans have — one being “to be free for self-development” (p. 75). He speaks of seeking paths towards “peak experiences” as
. . . the intrinsic values, the ultimate values of being, which in turn is a therapeutic-like help toward both the curing-of-sicknesses kind of therapy and also the growth toward self-actualization, the growth toward full humanness. (Maslow, p. 168)
Maslow is credited with ushering the term “self-actualization” into common usage by the psychological community (Dennis & Powers, p. 58); he elsewhere defines it as “the fullest height . . . that the particular individual can come to” (p. 74). Both he and Durrant refer to “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” rewards, the former of which “sustain the interest of the learner in seeking out further learning experiences” (Durrant, 2003, p. 29). Related and overlapping terms found in the literature attributable musical experiences are: self-identity (Lamont, et. al., 2003), self-concept (Colwell and Davis, 2005), music self-concept (Sanders, 2000) and life satisfaction (Bailey and Davidson, 2003), and global self-worth (Shields, 2001), among others. John Dewey’s (1859-1952) writings on “aesthetic experience,” —which brought scientific inquiry to what operates for humans on a “gut level” — are a precursor Maslow’s work on “peak experience” (Dennis and Powers, 1974).
A deeper investigation of extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards may be found in psychological, health and consumer research. Materialism — seeking happiness through objects — is found in most cases to be negatively associated with “well-being,” due to its conflict with “collective-oriented” values held by most people (Burroughs and Rindfleisch, 2002). In comparing symphony orchestra musicians with clerical, human relations and industrial workers, job satisfaction was found to be higher for the former (Kivimäki and Jokinen, 1994).
Several studies on adult instrumental students document the attraction making music continues to hold for adults who universally — unlike children — study music by choice. “Personal pleasure” in playing piano music was found in three-quarters of former and current adult students by Cooper (2001). The most-cited benefits of playing instrumental music found in adults by Choido (1997) were “self-expression, fun and personal enrichment.” In another survey of adults (Jutras, 2006), “skill improvement” and “dream fulfilled” were the benefits most highly rated by piano students. Simply the fact that many adults choose to pay for and occupy their leisure time with lessons speaks to the importance of music-making to the human spirit.
Bowles (1991) concludes that “a surprising amount of self-directed music experience and learning was reported” (choral and instrumental) in a survey of concert-goers. Hays and Minichiello (2005) affirm that music participation “provides people with ways of understanding and developing their self-identity; connecting with others; maintaining well-being; and experiencing and expressing spirituality” — for 52 Australians over the age of 60. Researching German singing societies in Pennsylvania, Hinkle (1987) observed “self-directed learning and desire for personal enrichment.” When college music students were asked about the impact music-making had in their lives, they reported that, in addition to deepening their musical knowledge, it allowed them to feel like “active contributors to a group outcome,” develop “a strong sense of belonging”, enhance their social skills and build up “a strong sense of self-esteem and satisfaction” (Kokotski and Hallum, 2007). In a study carried out during a Gilbert and Sullivan festival, “making music, or being present when it is made, is therefore about keeping a sense of community alive, so that music listening can be a shared experience that reinforces identity and belonging” (Pitts, 2001). Philosophy on community aspects of music-making and learning may be found in writing by Jorgensen (1995). In the black community, the behaviors resulting from singing spirituals has long been referred to as “getting happy” (Standifer, 1980).
Work to further corroborate the beneficial effects of music making can be found in music therapy research. Colwell (2005) speaks of gains in “self-concept” in hospitalized children after the experience of computer-assisted music composition activities. Even in a single session of songwriting therapy, Jones (2005) documented significant elevation of mood in a group of chemically dependent adolescents. Of particular interest — although subjects in this study were not making music — was the finding that blood oxygen levels of hospitalized children increased significantly after live music was performed for them (Longhi and Pickett, 2008). Physiological measurements such as this provide specific internal observation data unavailable through the interview, questionnaire or external observation data collection more common to music therapy or music education research. A study by Shields (2001) finds evidence of “the importance of music and role of music, music education and the music teacher as mentor” in the lives of at-risk urban adolescents. Improvisational drumming with adult male sexual offenders can positively affect reduced risk of recidivism through “the development of intimacy, social skills, pro-social behavior, and awareness and expressions of emotions” (Watson, 2002). Secker (2007) cites evidence of positive outcomes for the mentally ill through their participation in artistic activities.
Of particular relevance to the goal of this proposed study is quantitative research by Dr. Barry Bittman, CEO and Medical Director of Meadville (PA) Medical Center’s Mind-Body Wellness Center
, on Recreational Music Making. His collaborative studies—some of which, it should be noted, have been funded by musical instrument manufacturers—are concerned with the effects of drum circle participation on stress in the workplace. The data were mostly obtained by comparing blood samples of participants with those of a control group. Since a pilot study published in 2001, increasingly valid and generalizable results have been subsequently sought. Participation in drum circles has via this methodology been credited with “the potential to modulate specific neuroendocrine and neuroimmune parameters in a direction opposite to that expected with the classic stress response” (Bittman, et. al., 2001); reduction in “burnout and mood dimensions, as well as TMD [Total Mood Disturbance]” in long-term care workers and nursing students (Bittman, et. al., 2003; Bittman, et. al., 2004); “amelioration of stress-induced genomic expression” (Bittman, et. al., 2005); and “documented changes in NK [natural killer] cell activity, coupled with gene expression changes for interferon-g, interleukin-10 [stress induced], and improved mood” in Japanese male corporate employees (Wachi, et. al., 2007). The latter study concludes that “RMM [Recreational Music Making] protocol has significant potential for utilization in the corporate wellness environment.” One might add that it also holds significant potential to increase the sale of percussion instruments for the study’s sponsor, though cynicism may be counterproductive in the face of so positive an initiative.
The Particular Case for Group Singing
This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us—wishing us a Happy Christmas etc. They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party.
—letter by unknown British solider on the 1914 “Christmas Truce” (Weintraub,1993)
As evidenced in this letter excerpt, singing can be the catalyst for bringing together those who have been brought up to hate each other. It can also fortify a group’s resolve against powerful odds, such as during the Civil Rights era—“the most musical of political movements in U.S. history” (Goldsmith, 1996).
The church was packed before eight o'clock. People were everywhere in the aisles, sitting and standing in the choir stands, hanging over the railing of the balcony, sitting in trees outside the window.. . . When the last speaker among the students, Bertha Gober, had finished, there was nothing left to say. Tears filled the eyes of hard, grown men who had seen with their own eyes merciless atrocities committed .... And when we rose to sing "We Shall Overcome," nobody could imagine what kept the church on four corners. ... I threw my head back and sang with my whole body (Charles Sherrod, quoted in Zinn 1964, 128-129, re-quoted in Reagon, 1987).
Bernice Johnson Reagon (of the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock) points out how traditional songs gained added power through “the richness of Afro-American harmonic techniques and improvisation in choral singing” (Reagon, 1987).
Some civil rights protest songs crossed borders and struggles, such as “We Shall Not Be Moved” reappearing in Latin American labor strikes as “No Nos Moverán,” or “We Shall Overcome” migrating to India (Bremen, 1999). Nowhere, perhaps, has the power of group singing been felt so uproariously as in the Baltic “Singing Revolution” (1987-91) which sprung from the Estonian Song Festivals, “to which gatherings of some 30,000 people and a public of 300,000 people and more, making up a third of all Estonians, attended!” (Lagerspetz, 1993, p. 359).
Some societies have more of a singing tradition than others, related most likely to the retention of collective values and struggle, a sense of community and belonging. In his study of Finish and Swedish choruses, for example, Durrant (2005) noted “that singers identify themselves socially as well as musically with a group and that choral activity enhanced these singers’ sense of national and cultural identity. . .” Here in most regions of the U.S., pursuit of the American Dream has caused many generations of immigrants to leave collective values behind in exchange for autonomy and promotion of self (see above reference to materialism). This trend towards isolated independence and away from communal interdependence appears to accompany a decrease in familial and cultural singing practices. Inadequate practice of or exposure to participatory singing in the home or neighborhood yields an increasing percentage of adults who believe themselves to be non-singers. This belief has often been instilled, as well, by “a careless negative comment” received at an impressionable age (Richards and Durrant, 2003). “As a nation, we no longer celebrate our cultural heritage in song. We are becoming a nation of non-singers,” wrote Charles Elliott. He adds, “Ironically, this decline has occurred during a time in which the quality of choral performance is at an all-time high, especially in the public schools” (Elliott, 1990). Durrant (1996) paints a gloomier picture for England: “it is apparent that choral activity in many schools is declining or is even a non-existent activity.” But the irony found by Elliott is also a source of explanation, as Richards and Durrant (2003) attribute British non-singing, in part, to high standards for choral performance that ‘ordinary people’ feel too intimidated to meet. They also cite research that “confirms that early behaviour patterns in singing are likely to persist into adulthood unless specific vocal training occurs” (p. 79).
How then, does one go about revising this attitude of oneself? From a seven-month, qualitative study involving members of a ‘Can’t Sing Choir’ based at a London adult education college, it was deduced that “psychological barriers to singing are greater than physiological ones,” the former being gradually overcome thanks to the nurturing environment created by the group’s leader (Richards and Durrant, 2003). Singing in groups adds a social dynamic to the intrinsic reward in making music. Bailey and Davidson (2003) find that “group singing appeared to promote therapeutic effects which precipitated from emotional, social and mental engagement”. In his survey of retirement community choruses, Darrough (1990) found among reasons for participation “musical,” followed by “social,” “recreational,” and “therapeutic.”
Singing in the Workplace
There did exist a custom of singing in the U.S. workplace during the first part of the last century. Elwyn Carter (1954) investigated 55 company choruses representing what he described as “a burgeoning movement” in which conductors were hired and choral masterworks performed. While there is not evidence for this movement’s continuance, this author has learned (through his sister, a long-time employee) of the Pfizer Choraliers, who meet for two twelve-week rehearsal periods per year at the New York City office. Their flyer reads:
We like to think of ourselves as ambassadors of goodwill and camaraderie for the company, exuding values of teamwork, performance and community. We are looking for all interested colleagues who like to sing and be part of an age-old tradition within Pfizer. Everyone is welcome – music readers and non-readers alike! (Pfizer intranet, provided by Nancy Steele)
The group performs both in the company lobby as well as in the community (nursing homes, churches and parties).
Emerging in the late 1970s, work-site “wellness” programs have sought to promote health and prevent disease among employees, thereby reducing absenteeism and health care costs for larger businesses (Conrad, 1987). According to Wellness Councils of America
, such programs have been implemented by 81% of companies employing 50 or more. Wachi, et. al. (2007) cite “evidence that job stress increases the risk of psychiatric disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.” A Partnership for Prevention
document cites research that credits work-site health promotion programs with 28% reduction in sick leave absenteeism, 26% reduction in health costs, 30% reduction in workers' compensation and disability management claims costs and $5.93-to-$1 savings-to-cost ratio. Recommendations generated from this proposed study are intended to inform discussions on the initiation of choral singing as an extension of Worksite Wellness programs in Massachusetts corporations.
Singing in Prison
“Can you imagine what a standing ovation feels like after being told all your life that you are worthless?”
— Member of the East Hill Singers
One of the most-mentioned prison choral programs was founded and is directed by Elvera Voth at the Lansing Correctional Facility near Kansas City. Known as the East Hill Singers, this men’s ensemble includes minimum security inmates along with volunteers from the outside community. Mary Cohen assisted Voth for a time and based her doctoral thesis on the experience, stating: “Findings suggest that experiences fostered by this particular choir may carry potential for positive, transformative change” (Cohen, 2007). She also cites a visit from Robert Shaw to lead a sing-along benefit for this prison program—his last out-of-town engagement before passing away—as testament to its importance. It appears that even among the prison population, more people grew up singing a century ago than today. A prison choral concert given at Sing-Sing (!) Penitentiary on April 10, 1897 merited reviewed in the New York Times:
At its conclusion, the Rev. Dr. George H. Corey. . . arose and said: “I wish to say before we part that this is a concert given by a choir which would give credit to any church in the United States. This is one of the most remarkable concerts I have ever attended, and given by gentlemen artists of unusual ability. It seems to me there should be a more formal recognition of the merit of the entertainment and of the kindness of Warden Sage. All who think the same will please rise.” And every person in the room arose. (NYT, 1897)
In her study of a women’s prison choir in Israel, Silber (2005) lists common personal and interpersonal dysfunctions in the prison population cited in the literature: lack of self-esteem; lack of sensitivity toward others; lack of self-control/impulsivity; aggressiveness; need for immediate gratification; lack of trust; and non-acceptance of authority and rules; and proposes that “Skills pertaining to all of these would be exercised in the workings of a choir.” Group activity that promotes interaction, dedication, commitment and communication, is found therefore to be “instrumental in counteracting the alienation of confinement” (Silber, 2005).
A number of correctional facilities in Massachusetts have what is labeled a Music Theory program which, in addition to textbook study, includes participation in performing ‘bands.’
This activity appears to address some, but not all, of the issues outlined by Silber for choral singing. Such a program, however, could provide an opening for discussion of recommendations resulting from this proposed study.