Start of the journey

It seems a bit strange to call this the start of the journey, as I’ve been studying for a Professional Doctorate for nearly two years now, but this is the first time I’ve started publicly writing about what I’ve been up to. My research has got to the point where it’s going to be useful for me to keep track of some of the ideas as they develop, and simply writing stuff down is going to help me make sense of it. I’m not writing this with any audience in mind, other than the casually interested follower in my research, or those with an interest in following the process of how my ideas develop.

Sounds like its all about me, then. Not sure how I feel about that. I’m most interested in what happens to my thinking when it encounters other thoughts, which happens a lot simply from the process of reading or through dialogue. There’s something inherently monologic about a blog, isn’t there, unless it becomes a platform for dialogue, which I’m increasingly convinced is what lies at the heart of my research interests. This may therefore be a short process! We’ll see.

The motivation for starting this came from a conversation with Dr. Tim Brennan, one of the supervisors of my DProf at University of Sunderland. We met last week, and he advised writing stuff down as a means of being able to track the process, as it gets into the ‘interesting’ phase. Good idea, I thought.

So, the story so far…

The broad aim of my Doctoral research is to explore the psychological processes involved in musicking and their transferability outside of a musical domain. It’s turning into much more than that, but that’s been the initial ‘project’ idea, and the way in, so to speak. I passed the first year of the DProf in June 2012, and spent the autumn devising and revising a questionnaire to trial with people who work at Sage Gateshead, the music organisation in NE UK which employs me to lead its Higher Education and Research programme. In February / March 2013, I sent the questionnaire round the organisation and got just over 40 responses, which I was pretty pleased about. It represents just under 10% of the organisation’s total employed workforce, and has provided a lot of rich data to analyse.

The questions in the questionnaire were designed to do two things. Firstly, to establish some understanding of the musical habits of people employed within a music organisation, in terms of their background in music, their listening and concert-going interests, and their current participation in making and performing music. Secondly, to understand what difference, if any, the extent of their respective involvement in music made to their experiences in non-musical professional contexts.

Some of the results helped to confirm a few assumptions that could easily be made about people who work in a music organisation. 100% of those surveyed agreed with the statement “I listen to music for enjoyment regularly,” and 97% agreed that, “I enjoy going to live performances of music.” No-one disagreed with that statement. There was almost universal agreement (98% of respondents) in the perception that, “there are a lot of musicians working at The Sage Gateshead.”

93% of respondents (37 people) had “learned how to play a musical instrument, or sung in a group with others, at some point in my life.” I don’t know yet how that compares to the population at large, but it seems high. I’m not sure how you might sing in a group without others, so I realise I need to be careful about whether this question might have been misleading, but I think the meaning of it is reasonably clear nonetheless. Of those 37, 54% (20 respondents) had some form of music qualification, and 62% (23 respondents, or 58% of total respondents) “currently play and / or sing in at least one musical ensemble / workshop group.” Again, without knowing the extent to which the UK population at large are active members of musical ensembles, it’s hard to contextualise this statistic, but it seems high, although not unexpected.

Of those 23, 15 respondents (65%, or 38% of total respondents) were “involved in musical ensembles with other staff members of The Sage Gateshead.” This is where things started to look very interesting. Again, I don’t have other national figures to compare this against, but the idea that more than one in three people within an organisation make music together seems significant. I’ll come back to this point shortly.

91% of respondents agreed that “there is a relationship between your listening tastes in music, and your state of mind,” and a number of respondents were willing to elaborate e.g.

“I listen to particular types of music when in a particular mood and yes particular types of music can affect my mood.”

“I can pinpoint what type of music I am going to listen to depending on how I feel …and even in relation to the seasons and weather . There are some pieces in my collection that are are summer / winter only.”

70% of respondents who had “learned how to play a musical instrument, or sung in a group with others, at some point in my life,” (65% of total respondents) considered themselves to be musical, while 38% of the same group (28% of total respondents) considered themselves to be “a musician.” This last question needs some further work, as the question “do you consider yourself to be a musician?” was only added after the pilot survey stage, in response to participant feedback, so the 8 respondents who completed the pilot questionnaire didn’t get to answer it.

The main body of the questionnaire centred around a series of questions which had been designed to return responses relating to the 8 psychological ‘states’ outlined by Michael Apter in his Reversal Theory model. Every respondent answered questions relating to their experiences of their (non-musical) professional lives. For those who “currently play and / or sing in at least one musical ensemble / workshop group,” they also answered the same set of questions a second time, but this time in relation to their musical activities.

Where I’m currently at is analysing the data that is emerging from this rich sample. For each individual respondent, I’m building a profile of their responses, in relation to both their musical and non-musical experiences. It’s going to take a while to dig into it all, but already two things are most striking.

Firstly, the data seems unusually skewed towards particular psychological states, in both musicking and non-musicking contexts. Either the population of the survey is unusually playful (paratelic), rebellious (negativistic), collaborative (sympathy) and ‘other’-focused (allocentric) or the questions are returning skewed data. It would be lovely to think that it was the former, but I suspect it will be the latter. This is my first attempt at questionnaire design at Doctoral level, after all.

The most interesting thing to emerge so far though is to do with the domain of ‘mastery-sympathy’ or ‘competitive-affectionate’ (or competitive-collaborative) where the average across the sample was -5.1 on an 18- point scale from +14 (strongly competitive) to -14 (strongly affectionate or collaborative). This would indicate a strong level of sympathy / affection / collaboration across the sample generally. For those who considered themselves to be musical, this rose to -5.2 (compared to -4.7 for those who did not consider themselves to be musical, while for those who considered themselves to be musicians, the difference was even more marked (-6.3 for musicians, -3.8 for non-musicians). This would suggest that the collaborative skills required to engage in music-making have a positive impact on collaboration outside of music-making.

However, another explanation for this might be that the data is skewed because of the 8 people in the pilot survey who hadn’t had the opportunity to answer the question, “do you consider yourself to be a musician?” I need to follow that line up.

Notwithstanding, the ‘lived experience’ of music-making and its impact on professional life outside of music has clearly got some mileage in it. There are lots of very interesting comments from respondents which have piqued my interest e.g.

“I would say that working in the Sage Gateshead is akin to being in an orchestra. There are conductors and section leaders. As workers/musicians sometimes we love the music we play and other times we don’t.”

“Learning to perform (especially from memory) has had a profound effect on my confidence to speak in public, to present, to deal with inevitable nerves and to understand adrenalin highs and lows and to use them to my advantage rather than worry too much about them. It has also made me see aspects of my work far more as ‘performance’ (particularly public speaking.”

“If I’m enjoying what I’m doing and find it fulfilling I can get totally absorbed by it whether it’s music or my professional work. There is a creative state which can be reached by being fully absorbed in something no matter what it is. Engaging in music affects my mood more directly and sometimes surprisingly which work doesn’t.”

“I recognise the same emotional and intellectual processes – listening, improvising, being in the moment, responding, creating.”

“There is a crossover between wanting to get it right and making sure everyone is heard .”

“Because I practice being creative in music projects and writing, I think I’m used to looking for connections and making leaps of the imagination, which can cover confusion! Improvising! Music taught me that improvising isn’t made up, it’s using what’s to hand. That helps in the daytimes.”

For now, I need to focus on crunching data, but I can see that once I’ve done that, there is a very rich field of personal experiences which is going to make this research very interesting!