Along the Line

music as a legacy resource for lifelong learning

Kirseten Haabeth, Et sted langs linjen, 2019

The Special Issue of the Nordic Journal of Art & Researchwas published last week. It features articles from the conference on Art in Education held at OsloMet in collaboration with Kulturtanken, 28-30 August 2019. The issue is co-edited by Mildrid Bjerke, Jan Sverre Knudsen, Lise Lundh & Ragnhild Tronstad. And it features a beautiful illustration by artist Christian Fjeldbu.

The conference took inspiration from UNESCO’s 1996 Delors report, focused on learning as a way of knowing, being, and acting in the – social and material – world. The original call for papers suggested that, “learning to be may include learning to see through visual and other art forms…” It also called for work that could showcase, “the power of artistic experiences as starting points for individual and social processes that are vital to inclusion and education for democracy.” We learn to see, and indeed, to be (together) in and through the ways we engage with artistic materials.

The conference took arts education in primary schools as its starting point and the ten articles in the Special Issue focus on children and young people engaging creatively with artistic materials. For us, focused on music – and by implication – the arts in late and end of life, the concern with young people’s creative engagement could not be more important.

We (Tia, Gary, Fraser, Wolfgang – part of the Care for Music team) regularly observe the residents at Hill House and in our partner hospices as they great pleasure, are revitalised, connected to others, and comforted by their continued love of music. That love is highly enduring. It extends often into those people’s earliest years of life. Songs that they grew up with, that their parents sang or loved, that they sang to their children, music associated with important life phases and events…. In all of these cases, music offers touchstones for reconnection when memory and verbal communication fail. It offers opportunities for being, and for sustaining, selfhood, pleasure and social communion.

So, arts education, and the informal learning early on of songs, can offer a legacy resource further down the line and a resource that can brighten a moment, or a day but that also can do much more. We have seen how familiar, loved music can recall people back to the social fold and in ways that diminish perceived differences between residents, care staff and visitors as everyone is evened out by the common denominator of musical pleasure. We have seen how sometimes music works to make things happen when everything else that has been tried has been unsuccessful – for example, when a resident is frozen and seemingly stuck in a chair is enabled to walk again by getting him engaged with one of his life-long favourite songs. One moment stuck, the next moment on the move and musicking, along with Gary, step-by-step, the ten or so metres required to move from dining room to lounge.  As we described in a previous blog, we have also seen residents and their visiting spouses reconnecting and rekindling bonds of affection and devotion from within the atmospheres of the music that, earlier in their lives, served to symbolise their love and their relationships. 

In these, and many other examples, we note that the work of music therapists, the work of community musicians, whether in in residential care homes, hospices, hospitals or domestic residences, is greatly supported by the legacy of prior musical engagement. This is not to say that people cannot begin a relationship with music in late life for the first time. But it is to say that if people have enjoyed and cared for music early in their lives there is a foundation on which to build, a point for common experience with others, and a modality that can be used to kindle the embers of remembering and re-orienting to others. 

But there is more. Once you get your eye in (and micro-analysis certainly helps), it is possible also to see how residents are still more than capable of learning and adapting. During this long period of social distancing, when Gary convened the music therapy sessions via skype, we watched residents adapting, learning, and assisting each other to orient to the TV screen and the new technological format. From within this process, the shared care for music fuelled the will to make what might otherwise have been a highly tenuous, probably unsatisfactory, situation work. And the music played on. Even if it took considerable care – on the part of Gary (as music therapist), the Care Staff, and, as just discussed, the residents themselves. As Stige puts it (2021: 89), ‘Artistic citizenship requires care to be realised, and care is intricate, sometimes problematic’. And Bresler, in her appreciation of the work of Magne Espeland (Bresler 2021), observes the importance here in this care of craft. In the forward to the Special Issue, Tia wrote:

“…We are learning that all of us (residents, care staff, family, visitors, researchers – the ‘differences’ within and between these categories being often blurred) need human contact and that music, even, especially when close proximity is forbidden, can provide virtual human touch. We are learning that all of us seem to have a knack for establishing, maintaining and normalising new modes of contact and that this need is met through collaborative, ‘artful’ practices, thanks to the basic human [individual] capacity for musicality [and through this for shared, ‘collaborative musicking’] (Pavlicevic and Ansdell 2008). We are learning how the arts, in this case music, offer what Mariko Hara (2019) calls, ‘permeable, sustainable’ resources, spilling out, enriching and enabling other things to happen down the line.”


Bresler, L. (2021). Craftsmanship in Academia: Skilled Improvisation in Research, Teaching, and Leadership. Pp. 3-12 in Holdhus, K, R. Murphy, and M. Espeland (Eds), Music Education as Craft: Reframing Theories and Practices. Springer Nature Switzerland.

Hara, M. and T. DeNora. (2019). The Goodness of Small Things: Why We Need Longitudinal and Ethnographic Studies of Music in Dementia Care. in Penelope Gouk, James Kennaway, Jacomien Prins, Wiebke Thormahlen (Eds.) The Routledge Companion to Music, Mind, and Well-being (pp 303- 315). London: Routledge. 

Pavlicevic, M. and G. Ansdell (2008). Between communicative musicality and collaborative musicing: a perspective from community music therapy. In S. Malloch and C. Trevarthen (Eds). Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship (pp. 357-76). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Stige, B. (2021). Artistic Citizenship and the Crafting of Musica Care. Pp.89-104 in Holdhus, K, R. Murphy, and M. Espeland (Eds), Music Education as Craft: Reframing Theories and Practices. Springer Nature Switzerland.

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