Community Music Therapy and Participatory Performance

Case Study of a Coffee House


  • Elizabeth Mitchell Wilfrid Laurier University



community music therapy, ethnomusicology, participatory, performance, adolescents, mental health


This case study research explores the impact of a musical performance event—the Coffee House—held bi-annually at an adolescent mental health treatment facility in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Any client or staff member is welcomed to perform at this event, which is organized by the facility’s music therapist and framed here as an example of community music therapy. Drawing upon Turino’s (2008) ethnomusicological perspective on performance, I will argue that the Coffee House’s success within this context is due to its participatory ethos, wherein success is primarily defined by the act of participation. Here, performance takes place within an inclusive and supportive atmosphere in which participants can overcome anxiety, engage in the risk-taking of performance, and experience increased self-efficacy and confidence. This ethos also naturally affords a “levelling” of institutional relationship dynamics. Resonant with Aigen’s (2004) vision that “performances as community music therapy can forge a new type of art, one that creates meaning and invites participation” (p. 211), the Coffee House exemplifies the ways in which the values within participatory settings are indeed different and new in comparison to presentational settings that are the norm in Western society.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Mitchell, Wilfrid Laurier University

Elizabeth Mitchell is a registered psychotherapist and accredited music therapist. She is Wilfrid Laurier University’s first “Music Therapist-in-Residence”, a position that encompasses teaching and supervising music therapy students at Laurier, conducting practice-based research, and working clinically at Homewood Health Centre, a mental health and addictions facility in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. A PhD Candidate in the department of music education at Western University, Liz holds a master’s degree in music therapy and has extensive experience working in mental health settings with individuals of all ages. Liz also holds an ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) in piano performance. To fill up her musical soul, Liz loves playing and singing pop tunes at open mics and singing in the Canadian Chamber Choir.

Elizabeth Mitchell



How to Cite

Mitchell, E. (2019). Community Music Therapy and Participatory Performance: Case Study of a Coffee House. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 19(1).