Community Based Music Makes a Difference

As a music therapist, my job is to make sure that my client/patient can participate in music making, as this is often one of the main goals of my sessions.  Neuroscience research is showing us just how active the brain is when an individual is participating in the music making process.   Those that attend a concert and see music presented are not as involved as those participating.  Music educator Matthew D. Thibeault stated in his article entitled “Music Education for All through Participatory Ensembles” which makes a valid point for music educators to create ensembles for everyone because participation maximizes enjoyment and focus.

The philosophy behind this concept comes from Thomas Turino’s “four-field framework, [which] conceptualizes the musical values and practices of societies where musical participation is nearly universal” (p.54).  He compares this practice of participating in music making to “specialist-oriented presentational field found in most music programs in the U. S. schools” (p. 54).  To me, this says that having students learn a specific instrument that works in a concert setting does not allow for full participatory involvement.  I agree with Mr. Thibeault on this because when everyone can participate, the enjoyment of the music making increases.  I have seen this happen repeatedly in music therapy sessions with hospice patients and their families to individuals with developmental disabilities.  The purpose of Mr. Thibeault’s article is to encourage music educators to step ‘out of the box’ and create different ensembles so everyone can participate instead of always sticking to the presentation of a band concert.

Another unique feature of this article is the Table 1 found on page 56 of the Music Educator’s Journal.  It contrasts what happens in the “presentational field” versus the “participatory field”.  While the table is adapted from Mr. Turino’s original article, it states for us in a clear manner the differences between the two fields.  Some include 1) presentational is for some while participatory is for all, 2) presentational is an event produced for the enjoyment of some while participatory is a social event for all, and 3) presentational focuses on the sound of the musicians while participatory has an inward focus on the participants.

For me, this article clearly accentuates the benefits of community-based music.  My community choir, which includes those with and without disabilities, fits the mold of participatory music.  You do not have to be “specialized” as a singer or music maker.  Anyone can be a part of this group, and some do not necessarily ‘sing’ or make music in a way that most would consider typical.  This article also exemplifies how important music can be to a community and provide a social outlet for all.

Thibeault, M. D. (2015).  Music education for all through participatory ensembles.  Music Educators Journal, 102/2, pp. 54-61.  doi: 10.1177/0027432115610170

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapist