I have just recently returned from Bergen, Norway and the 4th Nordic Music Therapy Conference. This was my first trip to Norway and I was quite impressed with the beautiful countryside and the friendly nature of the people I encountered. The headmaster at the Fana Folkehøgskole was particularly welcoming and the nearby arborett with beautiful flowers in bloom provided a peaceful setting for quiet walks.
Prior to this conference there had been a symposium on "Standards in Qualitative Research" organized by Brynjulf Stige. (Thank you Brynjulf for an invigorating experience!) After introductions and several lively discussions on proposed "standards" we broke into small groups to discuss various topics in qualitative research. I decided to participate in a group that was discussing Arts Based Research approaches.
I am interested in this topic for many reasons. First, I firmly believe that this is a very innovative approach to research that can offer new understandings for our field. It makes sense that if we can rely on music as the primary tool in therapy we should be able to rely on music and the arts as both a way of generating data for research as well as a means of presenting our results. Second, as I am currently co-writing a chapter with Diane Austin on arts based research for the second edition of Barbara Wheeler's music therapy research book, I have been immersed in writings in other fields which utilize arts based research approaches. I have been surprised to find how others in education and the social sciences have been employing these methods (Bagley & Cancienne, 2002; Jipson & Paley, 1997; Lawrence-Lightfood & Davis, 1997; McNiff, 1998) and very intrigued about the variety of methods utilized.
Our arts based research working group, which consisted of Dorit Amir, Carolyn Arnason, Diane Austin, Lars Ole Bonde Jane Edwards, Even Ruud, Gro Trondalen, and I spent time talking about various aspects of arts based research. We discussed a variety of ideas and Diane shared aspects of an arts based study that she had completed (which will be included in the Wheeler book). It was a discussion that was both serious and thoughtful as well as one that had moments of humor and lightness. We shared ideas, challenged each others ways of thinking and opened doors to new approaches of research. I thank our working group for their openness and wealth of ideas.
When we returned to the larger group, we were asked to share a summary from our small working group. In keeping with our arts based theme our group decided to create a poem/song as our summary. It wasn't meant to be a presentation of research findings, but rather a creative response to our task of summarizing our interesting and fruitful discussion.
I felt though that our presentation summary of the work we did in the small group didn't work as I had hoped. We didn't get our point across about the potential of this research approach. Rather, it seemed to come across as superficial and silly. There is certainly no one to fault for the lack of resonance between our presentation and the group's response; I am just intrigued by my own feelings regarding this missed connection. I had felt so clear in our working group about this research approach and the possibilities associated with it. And yet it attempting to present a glimpse into arts based research, I felt misunderstood.
I was reminded of previous experiences which occurred when I first came into the field of music therapy 22 years ago. In these instances I would try and explain what music therapy was and frequently I was greeted by skeptical responses. I knew I believed in music therapy, but I couldn't seem to articulate my inner knowledge for my listeners. This was also similar to my experiences in trying to talk about qualitative research in the 1980s when it wasn't known and accepted as a viable research method. People (and professors) looked at me in disbelief as I tried to describe a research attitude which didn't have a hypothesis or didn't follow a specific protocol. I couldn't articulate in a meaningful manner my inner sense of knowing qualitative research was not only viable but essential for our field.
So here I am as a professional with years of experience both as a clinician and researcher with this familiar feeling that creates such discomfort in me. I trust my inner knowledge which tells me that arts based research can offer a way of examining music therapy that will provide new understandings that only the arts can provide and at the same time I must live through the familiar experience of frustration in not being able to convey that inner knowledge in meaningful manner.
This frustration is uncomfortable. I want to be understood and yet I feel alone (except for our working group). I am tired of these experiences, I much prefer the resonance of presenting something that is understood and accepted. Yet, thankfully I am also fueled by this experience in that the lack of resonance only makes me more determined to wrestle with this topic until I can make my thoughts clear and get my point across in a meaningful manner.
Wish me luck.
Bagley C. & Cancienne, M.B. (2002). Dancing the Data. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.
Jipson, J. & Paley, N. (1997). Daredevil Research: Recreating Analytic Practice. New York, Peter Lang Publishers.
Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. & Davis, J.H.(1997). The Art and Science of Portriature. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
McNiff, S. (1998). Art-Based Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Wheeler, B. (in press). Music Therapy Research, Edition 2. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Forinash, Michelle (2003) It Was a Familiar Feeling. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2003-it-was-familiar-feeling