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Music and lifelong meaning.

Moving on from last week’s blog on music and wellbeing, this week I will explore another study surrounding an ageing musician and his experience of musicking over time.

The study 'A narrative investigation of adult music engagement' used interviews, observations, pictures and journals and focused on a retired US professional musician. The powerful insight from the study highlighted the musician’s different life stages transitioning from childhood musical involvement to professional engagement, through to retired, community musicking. Drawing upon themes from the musician’s life story, both the researcher and musician constructed an insightful narrative together. The study illustrated the importance of shifting musical roles throughout the musician’s lifespan, together with the social benefit and wellbeing derived from community musicking.

The main finding from the study concerned the ‘pivotal place of social connections’ in the musician’s life as well as the identity development facilitated through these musicking relationships. Overall, the piece illustrated the vital sense of belonging through time derived from musicking. This is something I am currently studying in another area of personal interest. When we consider how ‘belonging’ becomes more important to us as we age it is vital that as musicians, we have somewhere to find our musicking community. This is sadly being hindered through the loss of venues and many musicians leaving the industry.

One illuminating area in the study also involved the musician’s understanding of the strong correlation between identity and social connections. He articulated this through the magical quotes of ‘music is who we all are, we love making music together’ when talking about his community. This quote summed up the vibe of the piece and also reminded me of my recent peer group with Help Musician’s beneficiaries who were mostly retired yet still active in their identity as musicians and engagement with their instruments. Their music was a core part of who they are and their life meaning. Something so often overlooked within the commercial world.

Looking into my own 35 years as a musician both personally and commercially I can fully understand the sentiment behind the quote of ‘music is who we are’. This sense of identity and meaning was squeezed to its limits during the whole COVID horror show. I and many others that I know and work with were thrown into a dark world of emptiness as we scrambled to work out who we were and what future we have in a new music industry. On the other side of this, music really helped us to get through emotionally both with community and through our creativity. 

Looking deeper into area of COVID and musicians, an interesting survey explored 14 amateur, popular musicians’ experiences of song writing during the lockdown and its impact on their mental health. In the study two main themes emerged: music creation for comfort and music creation for mood regulation.

The consensus amongst the songwriters was that musicking provided a creative outlet to help ‘feel the benefits of music as a source of comfort’, evoking both an increased reflective awareness and the soothing experience of musicking during these emotionally challenging times. This creative engagement was said to enhance wellbeing, lessen anxiety, reduce stress, improve emotional and social wellbeing and increase self- confidence, amongst other factors. Although this solo music making was deemed to be a substitute for the comradery of their preferred ensembled, pre-COVID-19 environment, it was still a vital mental health resource. The study further illustrated the benefits of musicking for these non-professional, amateur musicians, highlighting its potential relevance for the professional working musicians in this study as well. 

Both of these studies resonate deeply with my own experience of a lifetime belonging and identity within musicking and the comforts of using musicking creativity. Music is most definitely ‘who I am’ and it also continues to provide a source of comfort on a personal level. Both studies highlight an important area involving a holistic overview of musicians and musicking which is often overlooked in most of the available research literature undertaken by non-musicians.

I think it takes one to know one! As we’ll discover on the Peer Support Groups offered by Tonic Rider.


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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