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  • Arts Health ECRN

Royal Society of Public Health Event: Challenges for Research into Group Singing (London, UK)

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Blog post written by Dr Jenny Groarke (Queen's University Belfast | AHECRN Northern Ireland Representative) On Monday the 17th of December 2018 at the Royal Society for Public Health (London, UK) a group of researchers met to discuss challenges in research on group singing, and to set an agenda for best practice choir research. The meeting was organised by Dr Genevieve Dingle (University of QLD, Australia) and Prof Stephen Clift (Canterbury Christ Church University, UK).

The meeting was led by Genevieve, and began with group members introducing themselves and describing their choir projects. The multi-disciplinary group included researchers in clinical, developmental, educational, health, social, evolutionary and music psychology, public health, music therapy, and community music. Many group members were also musicians, singers and choir leaders themselves. Next we worked in small groups to discuss big questions that remain unanswered in the field, such as:

  • How do the health and wellbeing benefits of singing unfold over time?

  • How does singing measure up against other enjoyable activities – or against group therapies?

  • How does singing affect health and wellbeing in non-western cultures?

Again in small groups, ethics and related issues in design were discussed. Some ethical issues mentioned included the withdrawal of a beneficial intervention once a research project has come to an end, and similarly, how to balance rigorous trial design (i.e., the requirement that participants don’t engage in group singing between the end of the intervention and a follow-up assessment) with the belief that singing is a long-term resource for health and wellbeing.

There was a large group discussion on relevant theoretical frameworks. Individual members of the group then described approaches used in quantitative research on singing, summarising the advantages and disadvantages of different biological measures, self-report measures, cognitive/neuropsychological assessments, ecological momentary assessments and observational methods. After lunch, individual researchers introduced a range of qualitative methods for singing research. Some of the less familiar methods introduced were the world café approach for large group dialogue, and artefact analysis where interview responses are elicited using photos, texts, or pieces of music. Applications of creative arts research methods in singing and autoethnography were also touched upon. There was a group discussion on successful strategies for publishing and funding. Clear message framing was identified as the most important determinant of success. Finally, we discussed the potential for a set of common measures to be used across multiple sites and studies for the purpose of benchmarking choir projects. In advance of the meeting attendees submitted self-report measures and theoretical frameworks relevant to choir singing research that were compiled in a book of resources. A joint publication is currently in preparation outlining the results of our discussion and key recommendations put forward at the meeting. We closed the day with a group singing exercise and further discussion in the local pub. The meeting was an inspiring day forming new connections and collaborations, as well as, a much-needed opportunity to reconnect with old colleagues and friends (especially those known only from Twitter!). There is now considerable consensus that group singing has benefits for health and wellbeing, and that this holds across a range of conditions and settings. Despite a large body of evidence methodological shortcomings remain in much choir research. At the same time, there is a need to move beyond studies on the efficacy of singing for health and wellbeing and to begin addressing some of the ‘big questions’ that remain in our field. Thanks so much to Jenny for writing this very informative blog post. If you are interested in writing a blog about an arts and health related event please get in touch!

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