Award for Fraser Simpson

The UK Mental Health and Wellbeing Awards 2021, Support During the Pandemic

Members of the Mountbatten Choir, performing One Day Soon

We are thrilled to announce that the UK Mental Health and Wellbeing Awards 2021, Support During the Pandemic, was won by Care for Music Team Member, Fraser Simpson. Fraser won the award on behalf of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy for his work including work that facilitates the Mountbatten Hospice Community Choir Project. Mountbatten delivers hospice and end of life services across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, supporting up to 3,000 people on any one day within their own homes, as well as in the hospices buildings. The Community Choir Project was one of 17 shortlisted projects to be nominated for this prestigious award.

Fraser Simpson at the Online Awards Ceremony

In his acceptance speech, Fraser described how, along with virtually every other care service provider in the UK during the pandemic, for many months Mountbatten’s very active psycho-social program (open to the entire local community) and day, self-help and rehabilitation services had to be delivered very differently – with many of these services being delivered virtually through on-line services and programmes. To keep the choir active, Fraser supported music therapy services to move online, and several of the Hospice’s music groups began to run via zoom, including the Hospice’s more than 50-member strong Community Choir. 

In March 2021, Gary and Tia spoke to members of the Choir via a zoom focus group. The members described how their participation in the choir offered relief from the social isolation of lockdown and a way of staying connected to the Hospice and all the people there whom they greatly missed. They described how the online choir provided, ‘a very welcome sense of purpose and belonging’. They said it gave them a sense of accomplishment (mastering all the new IT things that zoom entailed, for example), and opportunities to see and speak with each other. The zoom choir meetings also gave rise to various spin-off groups such as a choir chat meeting.  

The Choir recorded and released several songs, including one entitled One Day Soon. The song was composed by members of a group of young adults with life-limiting conditions. Choir members described how the song’s lyrics were about hope and the importance of social connection. You can find it here

Fraser has worked as a music therapist for over twenty years. He is South West & South Wales Regional Manager for Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy. His work includes one-to-one music therapy sessions, group sessions, work with families and the Mountbatten Choir. You can read an earlier blog by Fraser about the online choir here

Congratulations Fraser, Nordoff Robbins, Mountbatten, the Young Adults Group, and the Choir Members!

Drawing In

First poems, now pictures. Why?

A resident’s eyebrows at the climatic note of his favourite song

They say you really start to see things when you draw them. Recently, we’ve been experimenting with drawing, the notion of Goethe’s gentle methods always on our mind. We’ll probably never be a Rembrandt (though we are learning and improving). But the process of spending time looking, and learning to look by drawing, reminds us of why ethnographic drawing was integral to ‘classic’ anthropology and why it is being revived by visual anthropologists and communication scholars today. 

Our journey has been supported by close involvement with the Nordoff Robbins PhD researchers, some of whom have been drawing for a while, especially Maren Matell and Wendy McMahon. And, as with so much of what we do in our research (and our lives), we’re guided by memories of the late Mercédès Pavlicevic, music therapist and – artist extraordinaire (Mercédès designed the three book covers for our triptych on the SMART project). 

Apple tree in Tia’s garden, M Pavlicevic, 2010, detail

For Mercédès drawing was a way of knowing and a way of knowing things that might otherwise go unnoticed or unspoken. It was a way of knowing what might be difficult to convey in words. As Gary wrote in his memorial essay (Ansdell 2018: 55), ‘some ideas need to be seen before they can be understood’. In this blog entry we suggest also that some things need to be drawn before they can be seen before they can be understood as ideas. 


Drawings do a lot. They can show us relational engagements between people in a scene. They can convey emotions, facial expression, gesture, postures. They can document the ways that people are placed, and place themselves, within particular scenes and settings. And, unlike photographs (which contain virtually ‘everything’ registered by the film or digital device), drawings are selective. Drawings at once simplify and complexify an image.

But, one might ask, surely, an image that contains, ‘everything’ is better? If you can use a photo, unedited (more on that below), why ever would you not? A photo shows you the ‘real’ person (in two dimensions). Why not simply markup, highlight or point to what you want the reader or fellow-researcher(s) to ‘see’?

One answer is linked to our ethical responsibilities (more on that below). Another answer is linked to what we’re trying to do with an image. Sometimes, for some purposes, a photograph is ‘better’. But other times, you might want to ‘zoom’ in, to consider only one part of an image, ‘uncluttered’ by background, or things that might divert the eye (think of colour-staining a slide for a microscope or astronomical image, think of Goethe’s many documentary drawings of plant morphology [Goethe 1972]). Sometimes, in other words, you might want a ‘prepared’ image for examination. And whether a slide made up for a microscope or a portrait of a person, the image is produced to guide the eye, to support it to see certain things from certain angles, and in certain ways, more clearly. But there is at least one other answer, linked to what drawing does for the person who draws, and to philosopher Wittgenstein’s admonition that we need to, ‘‘look and see … don’t think but look!’ (DeNora 2014: 7). 


Looking – at a photo or anything else – can be intensive, but it can also be cursory, indeed, illusory. Wittgenstein said that our eyes tend to follow particular paths such that we notice what we ‘expect’ to notice. What we ‘see’ tends, in other words, to derive from and reinforce hidebound expectations.  Our ‘vision’ takes shape in our minds and in ways that project identity on to what we seem – merely – to ‘see’. We add to images things that are not there because we think they ‘must’ be there (emperor’s beautiful clothes), and we subtract things that are there (a gorilla in the very middle of a basketball game [Simons and Chabris 1999; DeNora 2014:  6-7]). When either of these things happens, it is because – as Wittgenstein put it –  we are thinking more – and looking less (DeNora 2014: 110). 

But if we’re looking to draw something, we have to look intently. While ‘looking and thinking’ are never inseparable, adding drawing, or trying to draw, into the mix can be of help. Drawing can be used to as a corrective to the, often tacit, habit of leaping to conclusions about ‘what is there to see’. It is, in John Law’s sense (Law 2004), a ‘brake’ on perception. Drawing – even quick drawing – slows us down. It requires us to ‘stay with’ things. A photo, these days, can be taken in a fraction of a second.But it takes time to capture a line or the placement of a hand or an eyebrow. And when we put that eyebrow on a page and see that it looks ‘wrong’, when we erase and try again, we begin to see how we were not really looking at the thing properly, how maybe we took for granted that our subject looked a certain way. Attempting to capture an image with pencil and paper can ‘tell us’ what it is we have not seen. 

So drawing is an important partner in the business of looking, seeing and thinking about things. Drawing is perhaps less about the ways of the hand than the ways of the eye, or at least, it is a way of training our eyes to see – more, differently, troubling or queering habitual assumptions. And that means that drawing offers a means, potentially, for getting, literally, closer to our subjects because drawing is an intimate art: as we draw, we are imaginatively, sometimes empathically, engaging with our subjects. While drawing, and taking in what we learn about a subject by drawing, we may be thinking, wondering – when did her hair go white, was it laughter that produced those lines around his eyes, how was it that his face is only shaved today on one side, or why does she repeatedly pat her knee like that? We turn over in our minds potential questions, theories, hunches and ideas and in ways that are unobtrusive, that are attentive but that try hard not to disturb (Ansdell and Pavlicevic 2010). 

And so, for us, drawing is a prosthetic technology – just like a pair of prescription lenses, drawing can extend visual capacity. To draw is, at least some of the time, to be heavily surprised. What the eye and hand produce can surprise the mind. And this means that drawing is a technique that supports ethnographic understanding.


For these three reasons, the process of looking and making marks on paper, and the resulting representations, are now part of our ‘gentle methods’ repertoire. As already described in other entries in this blog, we’re spending a lot of time watching (re-watching, pausing, rewinding, fast-forwarding, playing without sound, playing without image) video footage of people in musical processes. 

We have been working with short video clips, indexing, second by second (often split second). Sometimes the ratio of time spent per minute of video has been more than 10 hours, which we like to think of as enlargement to the power of 600 x 1. We write up in detail what each person in the frame is doing, their interactions, what they do in and with music, their gestures and facial expressions, the movements of hands, feet, eyebrows. We look at how each participant uses materials (e.g., a walking stick as a drum beater, a Zimmer frame as a dance partner), how people sit in their chairs (and which chairs), and how they move about the visible space… We sample – exemplary moments, moments of specific musical processes (e.g., cadences) and according to time intervals. (On our process of choosing good examples for analysis, the two entries on ‘cherry picking’ and ‘cherry arranging’

We look at people as physical wholes, in groups, and we look at specific physical parts of people, such as hands, eyes, mouths, chins, feet. And we look at all the people in the setting, all of them together – younger, older, care staff, residents, music therapist… All of this fine-grained detail is in turn linked to broader analytical questions about people – all the people – together, in musical engagement and how, by observing that engagement, we can learn more about people and about what caring for music can do for people. We have been looking at people in relation to repertoire, social and occupational roles, person-centred ‘pathway’ case studies, particular musical devices, features, tropes and the integration of music with types of activity and interaction… And at a certain point, and for specific reasons, we then go to the drawing board….


The process of drawing is two-fold. First, we trace, carefully, using tracing paper over a still shot from the video. We trace the outline of bodies, and parts of bodies, the positions, and facial expressions. This means that we can return to the precise moment in the film and lay the transparent traced image over the video image to check and cross-check that its contours are accurate. Second, we draw and fill in details, add colour. And at this stage, very importantly, we take care that recognisable features are altered – of people and of place. 

So, for example, if we are interested in exploring and conveying a specific facial expression, we might subtly alter the shape of a nose or chin, the colour of skin or hair, the body shape. But we will retain the shape of the mouth, the placement of eyebrows, the chin. 

Cadential suspense at 1.57

Similarly, if we are trying to depict a moment of dancing, we might change many features but also try to retain the basic postures, the signs of fitness or frailty present in the original image. 

Blue glove tea dance

So too, if we’re interested in what someone’s hands are doing, we might alter skin tone and hand size but maintain the hand’s position. 

Hands in flight

As a way of anonymising, the cartoon offers important resources. It sidesteps the debate around whether, and how, to blur or block out a face in a photo (recognising that in some cases, an actual photo, with face obscured, may be preferrable if you want to hold on to the in situ background detail – for this drawing is less good). So drawing also helps us think about when it may or may not be necessary to refer to photographic images (and when it might be useful to use mixed media, a blend of ‘real’ and drawn images). 

But we change details for reasons that go beyond anonymisation, and here is where we believe that drawing, and diagrams, have important affordances in their own right. And thinking about when we change things in a drawing takes us back to where we began, with Goethe, his notion of gentle methods, and the idea of multiplicity in unity. 


Drawings are less, and more, than exact likenesses of any one individual. Their divergence from likeness is one reason they are so highly valued in the study of natural history. When a botanist draws a leaf or a plant it is because they want to capture the manifold, possible, potential variations that make it whole (this leaf, that leaf) and how a plant manifests itself  in time (root, leaf, flower, fruit, seed). For these reasons, any one drawing can be understood to be more than a snapshot. Instead it conveys, as Borthoft (2013) puts it, ‘multiplicity in unity’. 

Multiplicity in unity is very different from the reductive notion of ‘unity in multiplicity’ – the abstracting out from each individual common traits and then returning to brand each individual as yet one more ‘type’. Multiplicity in unity recognises instead how each individual may share family resemblances with others but is, at the same time, unique.

So while a photo is an image of one individual, a drawing, by contrast, can be produced such that it is neither an exact likeness of an individual in one moment, nor an abstracted type or composite of many individuals. Instead, it can arrange lines on a page such that its subject can be shown, all at once, in terms of its diversity and variegation. A drawing can transcend this duality to depict the manifold ways that an individual – plant or person – may manifest itself, himself, herself (the mercurial changes in how we might feel, second-to-second – sorrowful, exuberant – or what we might be able to do, from one time or setting to the next, how we can be both a child and an adult at once). The drawing Goethe commissioned from French botanist, Pierre Jean Turpin, of an imaginary plant that depicted in one image a diversity of form that it would never exhibit in an actual example in the world, serves to illustrate what is meant by multiplicity in unity. 

And it serves to remind us of how we need to recognise that there may a great deal of intra-categorical difference between individuals, sometimes perhaps an even greater degree of intra-categorical difference than inter-categorical difference. And that we should not brush aside these intra-categorical differences in an attempt to make individual phenomena conform to our ideas of what they ‘must’ be like, categorically (DeNora 1991: 100). Under some circumstances, a yew tree and a rose have more in common than they have apart (suffering from drought, for example, giving shelter to birds, putting down roots). Under some circumstances, two roses have seemingly more differences between them than do a rose and a yew tree. Brent Dean Robbins describes this notion in relation to Goethe’s botanical study:

“In practice, the ethical responsiveness initially emerges either through a bracketing or, sometimes, a surprising and perhaps even violent shattering of our habitual ways of seeing so that we no longer see past the phenomenon toward our abstract categories, such as “this is a leaf”. Instead, the particularities of the organism’s form emerge from outside the boundaries of our understanding into the shape of a concrete, palpable insight of its magnetic, vital structure which comes into being through the sustaining activity of a vigorously active yet receptive consciousness” (Robbins 2006:7).

As with botany, so too with people. Keeping the ‘whole person’ in the picture, imaginatively engaging, depicting acts or people in and across time, changing recognisable details to anonyise but also to depict multiplicity in unity – these things allow us to consider how the eyes, mouth, hands, and postures we depict are both unique to specific individuals and shared, across individuals – including ourselves. It lets us consider how these gestures and moments contain and speak to the individual in the round, across various moments and (in our case, musical) situations. And that in turn returns us to how it is probably misleading to speak too generally, and without slow, gentle attention, about ‘people with dementia’ since, understood socially, temporally, and ecologically, it might be more accurate to say that all of us share in the problem of living associated with certain brain injuries or memory problems. We share these problems in living because all of us exhibit varied qualities and capacities (communicative, cognitive, emotional, empathic) over a moment, day or decade. We share these problems in living because the ways that environments come to be furnished – with materials, representations, communicative media – have consequences for the kinds of problems in living we notice, and from whom. 


Thinking about those consequences highlights, of course, how drawing – as a representative medium – has politics. It is vital that the hand, the pencil and the brush do not overly emphasise dis/ability or reinforce stereotypical assumptions about people, that we do not reduce the manifold to a unity in multiplicity. So too, we need to think about how it was we came to choose to anonymise in the ways we did. Why, for example, are some people are portrayed wearing jewellery or with what seems to be a recent manicure and others not? Why do we choose the colours we’ve chosen (bright and pastel, mostly, as it happens)? When the drawings raise questions like these, they give us a resource for eliciting from each other our often-implicit and unconscious assumptions and attitudes about people and processes. 

Musical moments

One way of questioning these assumptions is, now and again, to – literally – paint ourselves (or some of our willing colleagues) into the picture. To use our own features and set them in to the context of the ‘scene of care’. There can be something slightly disturbing, analytically, perhaps at times also emotionally, about this kind of visualisation. We are using it in a way that is similar to how we use poems – to evoke, and then query, our representations of, and empathetic identification with, participants and their situations. In other words, a drawing or cartoon offers us an occasion to reflect on our own assumptions. and our reactions to ‘seeing ourselves there’ is a way of gaining a kind of momentary, virtual experience of of what it might be like to be us, there (remembering that this is imaginative – only time will tell us…). So drawing can help to ‘draw out’ what was otherwise ‘invisible’ in our orientation and assumed knowledge. We are currently writing a longer piece on this topic, setting it in context of recent work on auto-ethnography, visualisation, and how the visual can sometimes ‘make’ the future (DeNora 2021: 111; Hara and DeNora 2014).

Top: Tia; Gary
Bottom: The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra Research Team, in the poses of actual residents in Hill House. Left to Right: Raymond MacDonald (in his graphic score, orange shirt), Tia DeNora, Robert Burke, Maria Sappho Donohue (with their permission)

For these reasons, along with poetry, drawing is now part of our gentle methods repertoire. We are not trying to ‘make art’ out of what happens in Hill House. We have no desire to publish a ‘cartoon book’. We are cautious about some of the romanticising images we have seen in other places, of ‘old folks’ enjoying (or being ‘revived’ [sic] by the ‘magic’ of music) -that will be a topic of a future blog. But if drawing is documentation, elicitation device, a way of exploring, technically and imaginatively, what we otherwise might not know we know, we are – drawn to it. If it helps us to see what we might otherwise not have noticed, and to think about what we see, not see what we think, we are also grateful for the ways that drawing – draws us in. 


Ansdell, G. 2018. Sketches of Mercédès’ Imagination. British Journal of Music Therapy 32, 2, pp. 52-7.

Ansdell, G and M. Pavlicevic. 2010. Practicing Goethe’s Gentle Empiricism: The Nordoff Robbins Research Heritage. Music Therapy Perspectives, 28, pp. 131-40.

Bortoft, H. 2013. The Form of Wholeness: Multiplicity and Unity. In Context, 29,

Causey, A. 2017. Drawn to see: Drawing as an ethnographic method. North York, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.

DeNora, T. 2014. Making Sense of Reality: culture and perception in everyday life. London: Sage.

DeNora, T. 2021. Hope: The dream we carry. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

DeNora, T. 1991. Fast, Faster, Fastest: Comment on Chambliss’ ‘The Mundanity of Excellence’. Sociological Theory 21, pp. 99-102.

Hara, M. and T. DeNora. 2013. Leaving Something to the Imagination: “Seeing” New Places through a Musical Lens. Pp. 659-72 in J. Richardson, C. Gorbman, and C. Vernallis (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, John (2004) After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge 

Ledford, H. 2018. The lost art of looking at plants. Nature.

Metell, M. (2019). How We Talk when We Talk About Disabled Children and Their Families: An Invitation to Queer the Discourse. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy19(3).

Further reading

Alfonso, A. I.  and M J Ramos. 2004. New graphics for old storiesRepresentation of local memories through drawings. Pp. in Alfonso, A I, L Kurti and S Pink (Eds), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography. London: Routledge.

Goethe, J. W von. 2009 [1790]. The Metamorphosis of Plants. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Halstead, J. and R. Rolvsjord. 2015. The gendering of musical instruments: what is it? Why does it matter to music therapy? Nordic Journal of Music therapy 26, pp. 3-24.

Kuschnir, K. 2016. Ethnographic Drawing: Eleven Benefits of Using a Sketchbook for Fieldwork. Visual Ethnography 5, 1, pp. 103-34. 

Lyon, P. 2020. Using Drawing in Visual Research: Materializing the Invisible. Pp. in L Pauwels & D Mannay (Eds)The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods. London: Sage Publications.

Puurveen, G. A. Phinney, S. M Cox and B. Purves. 2015. Ethical issues in the use of video observations with people with advanced dementia and their caregivers in nursing home environments. Visual Methodologies, Vol 3, 2, pp. 16-26.

Wiles, R, A Coffey, J Robinson and S Heath. 2011. Anonymisation and visual images: issues of respect, ‘voice’ and protection International Journal of Social Research Methodology Vol. 15, No. 1, January 2012, 41–53 

Even Ruud on Rhizomes & Resonant Moments

Iris rhizomes, and frog, in Tia’s garden

Tia’s essay on Even Ruud’s Toward A Sociology of Music Therapy: Musicking as a Cultural Immunogen(Barcelona Publishers, 2020) has just been published in Contemporary Sociology, the American Sociological Association’s bi-monthly book review journal. This picture shows you a rhizome (and a frog) because Ruud’s book deals brilliantly with the notion that health and wellbeing are rhizomatic, that is, capable of taking shape in multiple directions and in relation to things and practices in the surrounding environment. Rereading the review essay one year after it was submitted, we find connections between our analyses of the music sessions in Hill House and Ruud’s focus on the importance, and sociological situation, of ‘moments’ of intense connection (resonance) and wellbeing. 

For Ruud, health and well-being are connected to what sociologist Hartmut Rosa speaks of as ‘resonance’ (Rosa 2019:174). Resonant relations allow us to experience moments in which things feel whole, connected, pleasurable, confident, fulfilled, empowered. Ruud sees Rosa as wanting to promote, as Ruud puts it, ‘a vibrant relation to the world. This, he contends, may involve intense moments of subjective happiness understood as forms of resonant experiences in contrast to a feeling of unhappiness that may rise particularly when and where we find the world unexpectedly indifferent or even repulsive’ (p. 59). But, Ruud goes on to explain, a good life, and wellbeing, is not the outcome merely of accumulated, ‘happy’ moments; it involves a fulfilling relation with environment (people, things, practices) that can be sustained, that give rise to such moments. 

In Hill House, we often see participants experiencing resonant moments, and we’ve seen them building sustainable relationships in, out of, and arising from, those moments. In a moment, for example, it is possible to transcend an otherwise challenging set of circumstances. And in a moment, it is possible to have flashes of insight. For example, it is possible to ‘see’ a person ‘with dementia’ as – a person, full-stop. Which means a person with capabilities, for example for dancing, singing, smiling, or sharing musical pleasure. That moment of vision – for residents themselves, for care staff and family members – can carry over into other moments outside music. A moment is, in other words, much more than one moment, passing in time. It is an opportunity for change, for changed relation, identity, and future practice. It is a way of adding to, and potentially altering, the environment in ways that may further sustain resonant relations. And the craft of music therapy includes facilitating those kinds of moments.

Music therapists have long-explored the importance of momentary respite. Their explorations have included the occasionally electrifying, split-second moments of collective effervescence in which two or more people seem to ‘meet’ in musical time and space (Pavlicevic 2010). There are also moments in which a person, or group, may experience recognition, validation and joy through the medium of music—and songwriting can be a tremendous resource for advancing this type of project (Rolvsjord 2005; Lewis 2017; Aasgaard 2004). There are moments of epiphany, profound pleasure and appreciation of beauty (Ansdell 2014). There are moments in which hope can be supported and enhanced (DeNora 2021). And there are moments that, through mutual, creative crafting, and often with terrific uncertainty, can be stretched, one into the next, such that, for all practical purposes, well- being is established (MacDonald and Wilson 2020). These moments can be catalytic and enlivening, even in the face of grave injury and imminent demise (Schmid 2017). Such moments can be multiplied, facilitated, and developed into pathways away from disease and disability toward—in the broadest sense of the term—recovery (Stige et al. 2010; Ansdell and DeNora 2016). As Trygve Aasgaard once put it, in relation to his study of the joy that children in a cancer ward took from song creation, ‘[h]ow long does a pleasurable moment last?’ Taking a leaf – or perhaps a rhizome – from Ruud’s book, we think this is a question to be explored empirically as moments not only last but have lasting effects.


Aasgaard, T. (2002). Song Creations by Children with Cancer: Process and Meaning. AIChE Journal

Aasgaard, T. 2004. ‘‘A Pied Piper among White Coats and Infusion Pumps: Community Music Therapy in a Paediatric Hospital Setting.’’ Pp. 147–67 in Community Music Therapy, edited by M. Pavlicevic, G. Ansdell, and E. Ruud. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 

Ansdell, G. 2014. How Music Helps in Music Therapy and Everyday Life. London: Routledge. 

Ansdell, G., and T. DeNora. 2016. Musical Pathways in Recovery: Community Music Therapy and Mental Wellbeing. London: Routledge. 

DeNora, T. 2021. Hope: The dream we carry. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Elliot T. S. 2001 [1941]. Four Quartets. London: Faber.

Lewis, G. 2017. ‘‘‘Let Your Secrets Sing Out’: An Auto-Ethnographic Analysis on How Music Can Afford Recovery from Child Abuse.’’ Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy 17(2). ces/article/view/2346. 

MacDonald, R. A. R., and G. Wilson. 2020. The Art of Becoming: How Group Improvisation Works. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Pavlicevic, M. 2010. ‘‘Reflection: Let the Music Work: Optimal Moments of Collabora- tive Musicing.’’ Pp. 99–114 in Where Music Helps: Community Music Therapy in Action and Reflection, by B. Stige, G. Ansdell, C. Elefant, and M. Pavlicevic. Farnham, UK: Ashgate. 

Rolvsjord, R. 2005. ‘‘Collaborations on Song- writing with Clients with Mental Health Prob- lems.’’ Pp. 97–115 in Songwriting: Methods, Techniques and Clinical Applications for Music Therapy Clinicians, Educators and Students, edited by F. Baker and T. Wigram. London: Jessica Kingsley. 

Rosa, H. 2019. Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World. Medford, MA: Polity Press. 

Ruud, E. 2020. Toward A Sociology of Music Therapy: Muskcking as a Cultural Immunogen(Barcelona Publishers).

Schmid, W. 2017. ‘‘Being Together: Explor- ing the Modulation of Affect in Improvisation- al Music Therapy with a Man in a Persistent Vegetative State — a Qualitative Single Case Study.’’ Health Psychology Report 2(5):186–92. 

Stige, B., G. Ansdell, C. Elefant, and M. Pavlicevic. 2010. Where Music Helps: Community Music Therapy in Action and Reflection. Farnham, UK: Ashgate. 

On Arranging Cherries

– or the art of exemplification

I asked for ten cherries.

We talked in the previous post about ‘cherry-picking’ – the negative term directed at researchers who are accused of selecting only the data that fits their pre-existing theory. The implication is that their nice, shiny cherries are idealised and partial data, and that a ‘complete picture’ of a phenomenon needs analytic and statistical methods that ‘process’ the ‘full data’. But what often comes out of this is an ‘average cherry’ or even cherry pulp. The unique qualities and context of the thing being researched disappear, and the ‘processed data’ becomes lifeless. Both quantitative and qualitative research often end up with colourless and tasteless data fruit, and the sense subsequently made from them becomes what Goethe called ‘grey theory’. 

But there’s another way of thinking about the research process, especially for subjects where the unique and varying qualities of the particular things you’re studying are important. Here the purposive use of the best examples – exemplification – is a way to keep theory ‘green’ and useful. We suggest how strategic and imaginative ‘arranging of cherries’ can be an important and valid stage and process in qualitative and ethnographic research. 


To make the photo for this post Gary went to his local fruit-shop and asked a surprised server for ten cherries (he got 11!). Because he’d asked for only 10 she kindly starting looking for the best ones. Gary said ‘just give me any ten please!’. She looked even more puzzled, but put these carefully into a brown paper bag. If Gary had said “10 of your best cherries please” how would she have selected these? Probably according to the ‘best looking’ as in the shop it wasn’t so easy to select the ‘best tasting’ or ‘best smelling’. The point here is that our selection is always based on certain situational criteria, and in relation to what we are selecting for…

As with ‘picking cherries’, ‘arranging cherries’ is another research metaphor. Forms of data that result from complex qualitative/ethnographic projects first need arranging as part of the ongoing analytic process. This is exactly what we’re doing at the moment with the Care for Music project. The data is mostly safely gathered in, but there’s now an embarrassment of riches, and the prospect of ‘data death’ – being submerged under the sheer weight of what’s there. A way to deal with this is the strategic arrangement of data. But importantly, this is not done in terms of fixed and pre-determined criteria, but in relation to how the collected data itself suggests its arrangement. What is the data beginning to show you of its pattern and significance? We find the answer to this question through making what Wittgenstein called a ‘perspicuous representation’ – that is, the laying out, arranging and synoptic viewing of data such that larger patterns and meanings begin to emerge. 

One interesting thing that our data is showing us is how the elderly residents and staff of the care home participate in music through both conventional and unusual modes of active performance: singing, but also conducting, tapping, nodding, dancing with zimmer frames, and more. But within these categories each example is unique to that person, their style, and that particular social situation. So initially it’s the relationship between the category and the varying individual examples that is analytically interesting. As a preparatory stage of theory-building we are compiling detailed ‘analytic albums’ of each of the performance modes: an album of conductors, singers etc – using Powerpoint files to gather together audio-visual and verbal data. In our data-set we have strong examples of 27 conductors, 20 dancers and 40 singers. This process shows up the diversity-in-unity of the phenomenon, and helps us think about our broader research question: How are people caring for music, and what are the consequences of this for caring in general?

This arranging process uncovers good examples that can be further worked with: analysed in micro- or even ‘nano’-detail; or tracked longitudinally – comparing and contrasting similar examples across the full data set. Take the cherry picture above as illustrative of this arranging logic: at a first glance we might see 10 identical cherries. But as these are arranged on a piece of white paper to photograph we might see subtle variations between them, and even how the cherries suggest a sequence in which to place them experimentally in order to directly see the pattern of similarity/variation, and what this might mean for understanding either the phenomenon of ‘cherryness’; or the development over time of the cherry in any parameter we might be interested in – colour, form, taste etc. We might then (imaginatively) work on the active process of this developing pattern – something which can’t usually be perceived purely empirically, but can be sometimes seen by the ‘rational imagination’ when we give the phenomenon this kind of comparative and sequential analytic attention. 

What we’re doing is to let good examples find us – which is the opposite of cherry-picking. It’s rather a process of allowing the exemplary cherry to show itself in terms of itself when we’ve got enough richness of data to make this process possible, and we’ve given enough attention to the multiplicity-within-unity of the phenomenon through this kind of scientific/artistic process of data arrangement and attention. This is the method of exemplification – where particular instances lead our thinking by standing forth as the most complete manifestation of a phenomenon. Example is method rather than illustration. 


There is of course a heritage to this logic and practical approach, but one that’s not very common in research culture these days. Wittgenstein was famous for having two philosophies, the first actively abandoned for the second. An important factor that characterises the difference between the two is his use of examples. The very few examples in the first philosophy are generic and artificial (“this chair is brown”). The particulars don’t matter as they are only designed to illustrate a pre-formed abstract statement. Whereas, as Beth Savickey (2011) puts it, “the later writings could be described (with little exag­geration) as nothing but examples”. In this later work, thousands of detailed and imaginative examples function as ‘thinking-tools’, leading not following thought. 

Wittgenstein partly developed this method from his reading of Goethe’s scientific writings on method. Again, this approach has been largely eclipsed by standard scientific perspectives, though the Anthroposophical science movement has both preserved and developed it (Bortoft 2012; Seamon & Zajonc 1998). Goethe studied plants, animals, the weather, minerals in a way that we of would now call phenomenological, ecological, and comparative. He painstakingly observed phenomena in their natural habitats, observed their development over time, and collected and arranged exemplars which then led his systematic thinking through cycles of observation, imagination, and intuition – towards an ‘archetypal’ insight into a phenomenon.  

Music therapists Nordoff and Robbins were deeply influenced in their practical and research work by this Goethean paradigm through its development by the Anthroposophists. They let their practical music therapy work yield exemplars that they could think with in order to explore what music therapy could be, and to transmit this understanding to others. The famous case example of ‘Edward’ in Creative Music Therapy (1977) is an exemplary case in this way – showing how crying can be heard musically, and then worked with in a music therapy context. Exploring this example (amongst many others) led Nordoff and Robbins to develop their early work and theory. 


This leads us to our final point: that exemplification in research is part of case study method. Of an ideal example we often say ‘this is a good case of…’, recognising how it is both singular, unique and how it belongs to a family of similar and different cases. ‘Case logic’ could be said to be the basic intention of much ethnographic work – or as Howard Becker puts it ‘reasoning from cases’:

 When I investigate a case, I look for elements that seem to resemble each other in many ways and then look for how they differ, using the differences to uncover new variables and dimensions of explanation. [… I’m] always looking for new elements to add to the explanatory scheme and finding them in the careful inspection of the details of specific cases, reasoning from the details of a case to a more general idea. [2014, p.186/4]

Ultimately it could be said that, like all researchers, what we are ultimately doing is not picking, selecting, or arranging, but creating cherries. That is, we are making data through successive processes: ‘capturing’, gathering, selecting, analysing, and finally theory-building. As ever, it is the underlying rigorous reflexivity of the overall process which makes this ‘rationally imaginative’ work open to scrutiny and further thinking. 

Cherries are good to think with!


Becker, Howard (2014). What about Mozart? What about Murder? Reasoning from Cases. University of Chicago Press. 

Bortoft, Henri (2012). Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe & European Thought. Edinburgh: Floris Books. 

Nordoff, Paul and Clive Robbins (1971/2004). Therapy in Music for Handicapped Children. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Savickey, Beth (2011). Wittgenstein’s Use of Examples, In: Oskari Kuusela and Marie McGinn (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein. Oxford University Press. 

Seamon, David & Arthur Zajonc (1998). Goethe’s Way of Science. NY: State University of New York.

On picking cherries

thinking about ‘difficulties’ in qualitative analysis…

The month of July. In the UK, the cherries are ripening. The neighbour’s tree is wrapped in netting to protect it from the birds.

The ‘difficulty’ is that birds like their cherries less ripe …

The expression ‘cherry picking’ is often used as a term of derision in science and social science. It refers to how researchers may, often unconsciously, showcase evidence confirming their hunches, values or biases: 

“It is not good enough to skim a transcript or set of field notes and to have a broad sense of ‘what it’s all about’, cherry-picking bits of data for quotation. Thin descriptions and unconvincing analyses derive from cursory reading and inadequate acquaintance with the data” (Hammersley and Atkinson 2019: 172).  

As a methodological counter to picking only the sweetest, plumpest, shiniest fruit, we deliberately try to look for ‘difficult’ fruit. That means looking for the data that might not necessarily show music therapy at its shiniest, or sweetest. 

Wild cherries

To that end, this week, we searched through Gary’s practitioner log for words such as ‘difficult’, ‘trouble’ and ‘problem’. For each word, we abstracted all the relevant passages. If we consider the word, ‘difficult’ (difficult, difficulty, difficulties) we found it yielded (at least) nine varieties (to pursue the metaphor) of ‘fruit’. These were:

 (1) Gary’s difficulties (e.g., times when he had trouble getting the group going, or when a musical choice or strategy fell flat)

(2) Residents difficulties (e.g., speech and movement, memory that impeded musical participation)

(3) Musical-technical difficulties (e.g., things in the music that residents or others found difficult and which excluded participation because they were too hard to follow, or to sing along to, or to play)

(4) Emotional difficulties (e.g., problems experienced by carers due to emotional work, grief, emotionally laden situations or atmospheres that made it difficult to be drawn into music)

(5) social difficulties (e.g., collective lack of energy, lack of collective coordination, group apathy, lethargy), 

(6) spatial/material difficulties (e.g., features of the spatial or material set up [arrangements of chairs for example] which impeded visual coordination or mutual awareness)

(7) disruptive behaviours (individuals shouting, walking in and out, gesturing, throwing objects that interrupted the flow)

(8) care procedures that disrupt the flow (e.g, needing to move someone quickly)

(9) musical reinforcement of negative behaviour or situation (e.g., someone engaging in distressed vocalisation where music encourages the pattern to continue or where music reinforces a negative mood)

There are, in other words, many qualities of ‘fruit’. If we want to achieve a balanced, nuanced, realistic portrait of music in scenes of care, we probably need to try to ‘pick’ them all. But we also need to query the very processes of picking and classifying – how we come to recognise, identify, analyse, and interpret what counts as a ‘good’ one, or a sweet, unripe, or sorrowful form of fruit. 


Hammersley, M. and P. Atkinson. 2019. Ethnography: Principles and Practice (fourth edition). London: Routledge.

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.


Hope: the dream we carry (Palgrave Macmillan 2021)

The subtitle of Tia’s new book is ‘the dream we carry’ This is a quote (in translation) from Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge. It describes ‘the dream we carry/ that something wonderful will happen…’

To speak of hope as a dream and as carrying a dream it by no means to contrast dreams with what is real. To the contrary, Hope suggests that dreaming is a form of activism in the world. Carrying a dream, projecting a vision into the world, involves work. It takes planning vigilance, endurance, reconnaissance, pacing. Most of us, individually and collectively, engage in the activity of hoping . We hold on, prepare, and look around for resources and allies to support us in our quest.

That quest may be mundane. It may be extreme. Hope may arise anywhere – as we have seen in our work in hospices and care homes. There is never a fully ‘hopeless’ situation, though there may be varying degrees of realism associated with particular hopes.

So hope can be understood as an orientation to the world that keeps us ready to act when circumstances allow and in ways that seek to carry our dreams. In staying ‘prepared’, we also stay focused, and in staying focused, we can also stay well, that is, live meaningfully. This is one reason why a dream is different from a fantasy, and why hope is different from blind optimism.

“As we make hope, individually, collectively, in and through the many ways we play creatively with time, we produce a warp for future realities. Hope is never passive: it is a technique of world-making – we project our hopes into the world and in ways that alter those worlds and the ways they are perceived. This imaginative activity involves showcasing to ourselves and others thoughts and images of ‘the future’ and images of ‘the past’ (including of course ourselves within these). It involves sidelining other thoughts and images that might lead us to despair. To hope is to be creative and, even when conducted in isolation, hope is social in origins, in orientation and in its potential consequences, rearranging horizons of experience and expectation. Hope foregrounds and backgrounds features of our lives. It knits the now to the then and the later and does so according to the patterns we improvise and negotiate with others, and imagined others, in the world. It embellishes stories of what will or can happen. And this activity not only makes it easier to endure the now; it is also generative of what we can do from within, and about, the now as it becomes the then. In this sense, hope is the ultimate dream we carry – when we hope we are imbued with purpose and meaning, and we are connected to a vision of the world. And as such, we are emboldened and empowered to carry very many more particular dreams together and individually – in all the senses of carrying we have considered – thereby making what is dreamed of as the future present.”

‘In other words, hold my hand’ – intimacy in and with music

“When people get older, they don’t experience physical contact the way they used to when they were young. When I sing, I can literally feel the caress of the breath of the others close to me; I can feel us all breathing together, being close and intimate in the harmonies” (Davidson and Maddern 2012: n.p.)

We love this passage from Jane Davidson and Philippa Madderns’s study of ‘the power of singing’. It reminds us that intimacy is a life-long need. It also underlines how intimacy can take a variety of forms – filial, platonic, erotic, familial. Intimacy, as the various therapeutic and self-help literatures tell us, may involve sexual activity, but it may also not. it can be experiential, emotional, intellectual, non-sexual-physical (feeling the ‘caress of the breath of others’), creative, spiritual – and much more in between. And intimacy is manifested in relation to many different media – verbal, physical, visual, material, and, as we describe here, musical.

In Care for Music we’ve seen different forms of intimacy spring up in (seemingly) unlikely places and between what we might have thought of as unlikely partners. We think that, like water, intimacy adjusts its shape and size to fit the spaces where it flows, or can flow. And we’ve seen how music sculpts those spaces. We’ve been observing how, within our fieldwork settings, intimacy flows, takes shape, and is tapped by different people in different ways. We think there might be quite a lot to learn about how, even in extremis, there is care for intimacy – fostered through care for music.

We’re increasingly intrigued by how music kindles intimacy and how intimacy can be musically expressed, and here we follow other music therapists who’ve charted this terrain (Procter 2013). Our work in Hill House suggests that music seems to work by offering cues or aesthetic ‘nudges’ toward certain kinds of conduct, gesture, role and action style. Music seems to work here more or less as it does in other scenes of everyday life where music frames and lends a sense of occasion to spaces or activities (think of background music in restaurants or shops, think of ‘setting a scene’ with music at home). The difference, of course, is that here, when Gary’s offering a musical session, he’s closely attentive to the unfolding scene, and he takes often highly deliberate measures to nurture aspects of that scene. This is not to say music ‘makes’ people act in certain ways (or that Gary can or would ‘manipulate’ music for this purpose). It is to say that we respond, often in patterned ways, to music in a manner that is grounded in ‘deep’ forms of embodied learning, laid down after years of exposure to, and social engagement with, music.


In previous projects and published work, Tia has considered music in retail outlets, sports classes, pubs and restaurants. She even shadowed volunteer shoppers who, despite knowing in full the purpose of the exercise, found themselves drawn in to musically-mediated modes of feeling/acting despite themselves. Tia has also written about music as sonic resource for sexual intimacy (DeNora 1997; 2000), a theme since taken forward by others as (in these playlist times) empirical studies of ‘music for good sex’ (van Bohemen, den Hertog and van Zoonen 2018).

Tia’s essay was recently re-issued in the current edition of Transpositions, along with a reflection on the piece 24 years since it appeared. in the conclusion to the reflective piece she says:

“To me, at the time, the really interesting question was one that examined the culture/nature and culture/action relationships in real – and often micro – time and real situations and scenes. It was a question oriented to how fragments of culture, molecules of meaning or semiotic particles, often reworked or misheard/misunderstood (creatively appropriated, in other words), can propel our actions, and our embodied processes. Music seemed like a good thing to think with for this project because of the ways it can actually be seen to linger, or hang around in, bodies – and in ways that show up as embodied processes of movement, comportment and stylistic orientation, and because of course, though the ways it models, or makes, time (Ansdell 2014). These days, in our Care for Music project, the team is looking at this question in relation to community music therapy and in scenes of late life, and from the perspective of embodied cognitive processes. These processes can, even in situations where profound dementia plays a part, be relied upon to quicken actors and actions and in ways that forge connection and bonding, and generate pleasure, meaning, and joy – and reorganise embodiment, sometimes within a second. Not always, of course, but in all cases the question remains: how does culture get in to actin and facilitate social situations, encounters – and embodiment(s)?”

Most of us, albeit for different reasons and in different places and life stages, have, at one time or another, turned to music for support in carrying out what we need, or want, to do (think of music for running up a hill [DeNora 2000]). While we might exact conscious deliberation when we turn to music (‘what music would be best for getting me up the hill?’), by the time we’ve put on our running shoes and actually started to run we’re in what we might call ‘action-mode’. By that time, our responses to our music will involve and depend upon pre-conscious, non-verbal capacities, ones that allow us effectively to ‘become’ the music (we ‘become’ the music’s perceived/felt speed or power as we run and the temporal parameters of our running becomes – musicalised). That kind of ‘becoming’ arises, in other words, from a felt sense of resonance or fit between music’s properties, its prior connotations or memories, and action/feeling in the here and now.


We have seen how music in Hill House seems to offer affordances for intimacy. By this we mean we see how different actors, care staff, family members, residents gather music into their actions, and gather their actions into music. They are tapping opportunities, licence, pretexts, signals, permission, musically offered, for what we might think of as ‘touching’ moments of closeness, and in ways that sometimes but not always involve physical touch – hand holding, hugging, the stroking of an arm, a gentle pat, or even virtual gestures o such things, a smile, close eye contact.

Sometimes these small physical acts are explicitly musicalized, as when hands are held and can be observed to move in time to the music’s pulse, or as when, right on cue to the lyrics of Fly Me To The Moon (Let me see what life is like/On Jupiter and Mars/In other words, hold my hand….), one resident reaches over and holds the hand of another. 

In some cases, it is only when ‘inside’ music that such intimacies are possible. For example, here are two passages from Gary’s practitioner log. Both of them describe interactions between long-married couples (Couples a, b and c) where, in each case it is the husband who is ‘living with dementia’:

You are My Sunshine… There’s a line in this song – You’ll never know dear, how much I love you – which today I catch several different couples around the room making nonverbal use of, to communicate an intimate message to their partner in a very touching way. With [Couple a] there’s such a look of love at one point, and I’m fairly sure it correlated with this line. With [Couple b] I see eye contact, hands clasped and just a feeling of enacting this line’s sentiment. And then with [Couple c] just the same. This important phenomenon is one of specifically placed words and sentiments within songs allowing the nonverbal timing and placing of enhanced intimacy in this context.”

“A touching sequence in the song Falling in love with you, which caught the mood of today. It involved [Couple b]. He was especially awake and smiley today, affectionate toward her, holding her hand, often in musically motivated ways that created micro moments when he’d look towards her lovingly. This happened poignantly within the song, and I could see what enormous pleasure and relief this gave her.”  


In the introduction to her book, The Psychology of Intimacy, Karen Prager offers an example of two solitary hikers both pausing at a viewpoint to admire the majesty of the mountains. Their eyes meet, there is a flash of intimacy, a mutual recontiion of a shared love of the mountain and the vista. Everyday conceptions of intimacy, Praeger argues, are often defined too simply as mutual verbal disclosure within an ongoing relationship (1995:12), a definition resonant of the self-actualisation associated with Giddens’ (1993) ‘pure relationship’. But as Prager points out, in this example, no words areexchanged; these people’s paths – quite literally – never cross again. Their moment of intimacy is fleeting – but it is real – and it has been fostered through a shared care for, in this case, the mountains.  

As with mountains, so with music. Music is, in other words, is a place and a modality within which ‘closeness’ between people (who have never met before, who might not remember they have met before) can be achieved and without need for verbal communication. But perhaps unlike a shared love for mountain hiking, love and care for music can be pursued – as our colleagues working in our hospice sites find time and time again – right up until the very end of life, and certainly long after cognitive memory ebbs. So, intimacy, taking the shape of closeness and warmth and connection between people, is always possible – and music can be a conduit for that flow.


Ansdell, G. 2014. How music helps: in music therapy and everyday life. London: Routledge.

Davidson, J and P. Maddern. 2012.  The Power of Singing. Pp in J. Davidson and R. Prince (Eds), Singing Emotions:Voice from History. Crawley WA : ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of WesternAustralia.

DeNora T. 1997 Music and Erotic Agency: Sonic Resources and Socio-sexual action (Body & Society (republished inTranspositions

DeNora, T. 2021. Reflections on Music and Erotic Agency. Transpositions

DeNora, T. 2000. Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Giddens, An. 1993. The Transformation of Intimacy. Cambridge: Polity.

Praeger, K. The Psychology of Intimacy. 1995. London: The Guildford Press.

Procter, S. 2013. Music therapy : what is it for whom? An ethnography of music therapy in a community mental healthresource centre. Phd Thesis, University of Exeter. 

Van Bohemen, S, L. den Hertog and L. van Zoonen. 2018. Music as a resource for the sexual self: An exploration of how young people in the Netherlands use music for good sex. Poetics 66, pp. 19-29.

It don’t mean a thing

If it ain’t got that swing….

Sideways, across the beats and bar lines….

We’ve talked in this blog about coping with, and even creatively using, sound latency within online music. But Gary found himself actively creating further discrepancies of musical timing during online music therapy sessions at Hill House recently. That is, he found himself ‘swinging’ some of the songs. Why? What’s the use of swing? Does it mean a thing? 


It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing! Duke Ellington’s famous phrase is a statement. But earlier in the verse of the song there are some interesting questions:

What good is melody?
What good is music?
If it ain’t possessing something sweet.
Now it ain’t the melody
And it ain’t the music
There’s something else that makes this tune complete…

The chorus then gives us the answer – it’s ‘swing’ that completes the musical experience, gives it meaning. Ellington attributed the phrase “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” to trumpeter Bubber Miley. The librettist Irving Mills said he invented the phrase when explaining to Ellington why customers weren’t dancing. (Keep that thought in mind, we’ll return to it shortly).

But what is ‘swing’? This is where it gets tricky. Swing, or groove (a more general category), is seen as a precious quality in some musical performance styles, but difficult to define. Partly this is a professional mystery thing – in the famous words of Fats Waller “If you gotta ask, you ain’t got it!”. Despite this put-down, there’s been a lot of useful discussion about how to talk about the aspect of performing music that’s characterised by words such as swing, groove, or simply ‘feel’.

And it’s not just jazz and popular music that has groove and swing. An interesting BBC Radio 3 programme called ‘Swing, Rubato, and Bounce” in the Listening Service series showed that any musical idiom can be said to have this performative quality – it’s just that we’re just not used to talking about it. “What happens” the programme asks, “when musical rhythm is loosened by swing?”. We hear it often in jazz and world music. We hear it in Rachmaninov who played with rubato (literally the ‘robbing’ of time). We hear it when the Vienna Philharmonic plays a Strauss waltz with that odd but effectively uneven one-TWO-three that swings it sideways. Any music can be played straight (and, well, dull) or it can be – in a variety of ways and degrees – swung. It can groove and come alive. 

As to how – to echo yet another song – it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Not just the notes you sing or play, but the way that you inflect them. Play only the notes, as the saying goes, and you’ll miss the music. This is mostly to do with rhythm, but it also involves aspects of touch, texture, tone of voice, energy, feel (all aspects of musical analysis that have been side-lined in traditional musical analysis models which concentrate on fixed texts rather than active, improvisational performances). 

This ‘how?’ dimension of swing/groove remains elusive. There’s a ‘feel’ aspect to it, and there’s a technical aspect also – at least to a certain extent. The ‘feel’ aspect is a loosening, a lightening of the beat, a relaxing of the strict metricality of the music. But there can also be an accompany relaxation of the texture of the sound, which leads to a sense of the music lifting and bouncing rather than drooping and hardening. Interesting metaphors, but what, technically speaking, is actually happening? 

On the platform of a secure underlying beat, swing involves musicians playing around with the beat – either through formal syncopation (temporarily displacing the beat) or through more subtle variation techniques. When we swing, not everyone’s sounds land heavily together – and the melody and direction of the music can play sideways across the beat. Micro-variations of tempo (‘robbing’ time – rubato) help loosen and stretch the timing of a phrase such as when a jazz singer delays the arrival of one phrase, then anticipates the next in relation to the pianist’s chords. They are playing with musical time and space, making them elastic and alive – allowing the performance to breathe, to relax, to become a living and unpredictable thing. And this is the key – swing and groove are about animating this musical moment, being responsive to this musical event. 

The ethnomusicologist Charles Keil (1987, 1994) has made a useful study of groove in popular and world music. He suggests that, “[m]usic to be personally involving and socially valuable, must be ‘out of time’ and ‘out of tune’” (1987: 275). Though a good sentence, and one we’ve quoted before on these blog pages (see Latency: what’s the problem?) maybe it’s phrased too negatively. Maybe what Keil means is that music in performance is often not perfectly in time or in tune in a mechanical, inflexible way. By contrast, when we creatively exploit the negotiation of individual differences of timing and tuning we invite participation in musicking:

 It is the little discrepancies between hands and feet within a drummer’s beat, between bass and drums, between rhythm section and soloist that creates the groove and invites us to participate. (1987: 277)

Keil calls these inflections of timing/tuning ‘participatory discrepancies’. One of Keil’s examples is of a traditional American-Polish dance band where not only the rhythmic discrepancies but also the textural discrepancies between the traditional two trumpets playing the melody in unison “guarantee textural participatory discrepancy and a bright, happy sound that invites people to get up and dance” (1987: 278). Another example is an analysis of the famous ‘Bo Diddley’s beat’ which had an elusive rhythmic signature to it, which Keil suggests was in the service of “getting the band into the groove and the dancers moving happily” (1987:281). But none of this is mechanical – there’s no precise formula for getting in the groove, or swinging – it’s always a subtle negotiation of timing and texturing between everyone involved in a musical scene, as well in response to the atmosphere, acoustic, and so on. But: whatever physical or cultural space we find them within, participatory discrepancies have the same aim and effect: 

Participatory discrepancies have everything to do with pleasure in the public domain: the presence of a shared tradition and an ever deepening sense of the subtle ways in which wrights and rites, skills and events, craft and culture, are connected in public space and time. (Keil and Feld 1994: 107)

If there’s a ‘swing test’ the key questions are: Does it reach you? Does it move you? Does it touch you? Does it touch you literally– do your fingers, toes, or head move to the music? Does is touch your spirit? As a personal exercise it’s worth considering when we or others find that music leaves us still  – we sometimes also say ‘It left me cold’. Conversely when music ‘warm us up’ – it’s when we can’t seem to help but move to it. Although some of this will be circumstantial, and our responses to music – even the ‘same’ recorded music – will vary from occasion to occasion, there are clearly shared patterns to our embodied responses to musical energy, direction, ‘feel’ and touch. And it’s this that matters – often greatly – when we’re making music in challenging situations such as an online music therapy session in a care home. 


Back now to the online music therapy session at Hill House when Gary heard himself swinging a song. It happened to be (appropriately) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, which may partly explain it.

Gary Ansdell, Swing Low (with some sound effects due to online work)

This Spiritual has swing potentially built-in – to an extent. But then Gary looked through all the index notes of previous sessions for any other times where he’d noticed and marked playing a song with swing. He then looked in detail at the first video excerpt and compared it to other examples …

  • The songs weren’t always jazz songs – one was a Christmas carol! 
  • Gary tended to ‘swing it’ when attention and energy was lagging in a session
  • Swinging it happened most when a carer came into the scene dancing, and then danced with residents whilst Gary musically supported this.

It seems that swinging was, not surprisingly, linked to energy and movement, and with ‘turning up’ the invitation of the music to participate. Remember the comment from the Duke’s librettist – that the line if it ain’t got that swing–  which came to him when telling the Duke why the audience wasn’t dancing to certain tunes. So, while Gary was supporting the carer’s dancing by swinging more, the carer was simultaneously stirring the musical energy in the room to get more participation from the residents. Swing was working amongst-and-between everyone then. 

More technically, a dancing body moves both up and down but also sideways, and what swing affords above all is ‘sideways music’… which then encourages versions of this ‘musical sideways’ energy from residents with movement restrictions, such as sideways-moving hands & heads. The result is enhanced participation just as Keil reported in the Polish dance (and also new and innovative dance moves by and for people who are not able to get out of their chairs and are sitting all in a row in front of the large TV screen). Gary further analysed the examples to detail the layers of rhythmic and textural discrepancy that were constructing the groove: between his own voice and piano; between his musical and visual signals online; between his musical actions and the carer’s and the residents’ musical actions. Together these produced a complexity that nevertheless seemed to enliven the musical scene. 


Music therapy scholar Ken Aigen (2002) has described exactly these effects in his pioneering and wonderful study of groove in relation to Keil’s theory of participatory discrepancies within an individual music therapy scenario – in the book Playin’ in the Band. This book and its accompanying DVD of 48 excerpts charting the 101 session process between therapists Alan Turry and Ken Aigen’s musical interactions with Lloyd, a young adult with learning disabilities, is a ‘must read’. These three men make a popular music combo of piano, drums and guitar and explore how popular music and the phenomenon of groove/swing and other modes helps Lloyd find a place in music, and develop as a musician and as a person. Ken’s analysis of this process in relation to Keil and Feld’s theories of musical participation illuminates the key issue of how ensemble musicking can be at the same time precise and imprecise; or, rather, how just the negotiation of different timings and tunings is often the way that we find a living, vital togetherness in music. 

Lloyd needed Alan and Ken to help him participate in the music he loved, and to mediate the experience for him. This therapeutic situation was a private one, but the principles apply as much to Gary as he negotiates the limitations and possibilities of the online sessions in the care home – both technical and social. In Playin’ in the Band, Aigen gives a clear conclusion that flows from these experiences that’s worth quoting here in full: 

But we all have perceptual, motoric, and cognitive skills and limitations that we live within and through which we relate. Our modes of interaction are determined by them and we create styles and modes of interaction bounded by them. That is all that Lloyd is doing. We are meeting within the style and aesthetic ground that the nature of his being allows. It is not a departure from an idealized style, but merely an alternative one in which the discrepant aspects of rhythmic groove is highlighted, but the mood, timbre, and energy – the overall aesthetic – expressed a fundamental sense of cohesion […] the separateness of the parts blends into the overall whole. [Aigen 2002, 61]


Gary found himself ‘swinging’ partly in the context of the difficulties of connecting and communicating musically in online sessions at Hill House; of wanting people to ‘catch’ the energy of the music, respond to it and participate within it. This exploration of swing and groove suggests that it’s important for a music therapist to be conscious not just of what they play, but also preciselyhow they play. This won’t, of course, only mean ‘swinging’ in the strict jazz sense. It might mean attending to the craft of how to give musical gestures certain forms of energy, shape, texture and other qualities animation, so that the people ‘the other side’ of the digital divide are invited into the music and can in turn ‘take and shape’ the music through their participation. And it highlights how embodied our musicking perhaps always is – it’s just that the online sessions have put a particular microscope on this aspect. The key questions are still (perhaps always have been?) simply: Does it move you? Does it touch you? This is surely how music ‘means a thing’. 


Aigen, Kenneth (2002).Playin’ in the Band: A Qualitative Study of Popular Music Styles as Clinical Improvisation [with access to DVD material]. Dallas TX: Barcelona Publishers. 

Keil, Charles (1987). Participatory Discrepancies and the Power of Music. Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 2, No. 3 pp. 275-283

Keil, Charles & Steven Feld (1994). Music Grooves. University of Chicago Press. 

Musical events – with GIO

Our Virtual Tribe: Sustaining and Enhancing Community in Online Music Improvisation….

A few of Tia’s very many ‘musical events’

Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra (GIO) is friendly and accepting. Tia noticed that immediately when she began to play along with them on zoom (she is relearning an instrument – the flute – after forty years of neglect). To celebrate she tried to draw a diagram of a few of the ways that what happened in, and around (before and after) GIO sessions has – quite literally – ‘changed her life’.

A few of those changes are depicted in the photo (above), which is pictured next to the book, Musical Pathways in Recovery: Community Music Therapy and Mental Wellbeing by Gary and Tia (Ansdell & DeNora 2016). The drawing is trying to highlight what it can mean to speak of, and in a documentary manner, how music instigates change.

That topic is also the one the GIO project has been exploring – how, during C-19, online music improvisation can sustain and support connection between people and thus, wellbeing, not so much ‘in spite’ of the ‘latency problem’ but ‘because of it’ ..

The first paper by the GIO team is just published in Frontiers in Psychology. It has prompted Tia to think about something she and Gary have been trying to do for a long time now namely, develop methods for tracing music as it ‘gets into’ action.

That is about how ‘events’ happen and how the interweaving between them lays down pathways for action, feeling, identity, social relation. That process is empirical and traceable. It is about practices that happen in space and time which we can think about as a three-part sequence of:

(a) ‘Before’: things happen and we gain, are attributed with, histories (and connections to things that have historically become associated with meanings, expectations, and patterned practices.

(b) ‘During’: We act. As we act we draw features from those histories into the (now) present (and in ways that reference them, make them evident, and so, for all practical purposes, make them ‘real’). Then

(c) ‘After’: we do something else and we may draw features of that earlier past-present into the present-now. The cycle continues, with different degrees of repetition and variation.

This ‘drawing in’ (of features of that past-present) is also the laying down of a ‘pathway’ in which actions are linked across time and space. It is a way of prolonging a previous moment.


Time A. Where you’ve been >

Time B. What you took from there to ‘here’, where you are >

Time C. where you go next and how you might make a connection there to what has happened ‘here’

When a thread can be seen to link, or draw in, something from the past into the present and then, later, from a present moment into the future, it can be called a ‘pathway’. And when that thread involves something musical it can be called a musical pathway.

Musical pathways are pathways to becoming – when they work well that becoming involves different forms of flourishing – for example, becoming more empowered, skilled, resilient, energetic, content, meaningfully occupied. Such pathways are the routes that action takes ‘into’ identities, states and relationships to others and the world, the routes into shared meaning and ‘community’.

So we can try to follow:

(a) our musical pasts, or rather, our past musicking (which includes musical memories, situations, associations, talk about music, liminal forms of music making such as music partially overheard, shared music making or music listening, musical objects and identities),

as that musicking is (b) drawn into a present moment and, later,

(c) gets linked to something else and somethings else that may not be explicitly musical but that ‘go with’ or ‘arose from’ music, that are ‘para-musical’.

To identify a musical ‘pathway’ is to identify an example of how music gets into – is a condition for – action. And that is to identify how, musical practice is socially-situated, collaborative world-making. Brynjulf Stige makes this point succinctly but comprehensively it in his article, The Practice Turn in Music Therapy Theory (2015):

“To think of practice as constitutive implies that our identities and subjectivities are not primordial but grow out of the situated activities that we take part in; people and their activities and places make each other up, so to speak. To consider practice relational involves recognizing collaboration as well as conduct; doing things involves relating to others in some way or another, in coordination and competition. To claim that practice is contextual involves seeing how it is contingent (on cultural conditions, for instance) as well as connected in time and space to other practices. To view practice as temporal implies that we pay attention to how it is process and improvisation. As process, practice evolves over time as a more or less systematic series of actions, in ways structured by tradition and purpose. Still, practice is also improvisational; there are always openings for unpredictable events and actions, due to human creativity in relation to predicaments and possibilities. Finally, to consider practice as corporeal involves taking into account how it is embodied and materially mediated” (Stige 2015:7)

So a focus on practice holds together the here and now of improvised action and the prior patterns, pre-existing materials, and relationships that offer conditions, resources and topics for action. And that, as Stige says, means we need to ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ when we examine improvised action, looking at action as the set of practices that draw threads together across and within actions scenes in ways that produce what happens, and what sense we may make of that, and how it provides potential conditions for action, ‘next time around’.

Gary and Tia have written about the methodology of the musical event and how ‘events’, repeated, varied, accumulated, produce ‘pathways’ (DeNora and Ansdell 2017). A detailed focus on such pathways can, they have suggested, show us in grounded, ecologically valid ways how practices of musicking draw together context, time, relations, meanings, people, possibilities for future action, and prior conditions of action – in ways that are real in their consequences.

So, describing a musical event involves following the connections that people (we) make between music and many other things. When there is a musical thread that connects past, present and future action, and particularly when that thread is thickens, or strengthened through repeated practice, it’s possible to document how networks – of people, skills, memories, objects, meanings, practices – change and expand in relation to – because of – musicking. Thinking about this issue is also thinking about where affect, identity and wellbeing come from. It highlights the process by which we come to feel connected to a meaningful world – a world that is produced in and through practice and in and through musical practice.

If to improvise musically is to be open to what sounds can, or might do, then to improvise collaboratively is to be open to other(s) and what they can do. And learning about what making improvised music can do for and in this process is about learning how to care for and with music and without unduly worrying about ‘getting it right’ (in tune, in sync), or rather, that aesthetic criteria are produced collectively and are multi-faceted.

Maybe this is why musical improvisation can be such an excellent resource for wellbeing and why in Gary’s, and Fraser’s, and Wolfgang’s music therapy practice they embrace improvisation. Maybe this is why music improvisation can be a great way of learning (or relearning and, responsibly, relating to the other [Stanseath 2017)). And maybe it is why, when we listen to and participate in the music made at Hill House, we, and others, find it interesting, rich and beautiful.

‘Getting it right’, musically speaking, involves a kind of willingness to experiment and to work with ‘different’ sounds, to explore sound possibilities and see where they might take things. It is about making space for different sounds and voices and practices, making sense of them. And that seems like a social, ethical matter. GIO project and the Care for Music project are of course very different but they seem to share the idea that perhaps beautiful music is music that resonates between us and makes us – a bit more – whole.


Ansdell, G and T. DeNora. 2016. Musical Pathways in Recovery: Community Music Therapy and Mental Wellbeing. London: Routledge.

DeNora T. (2013). “Time after time”: a Quali-T method for assessing music’s impact on well-being. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being8, 20611.

DeNora, T. (2013) Where is good music? (Chapter 7). Music Asylums: Music and Wellbeing in Everyday Life. London: Routledge.

DeNora, T and G Ansdell. 2017. Music in action: tinkering, tracing, and testing over time. Qualitative Research 17(2) 231–245

MacDonald, R, Burke, R, DeNora, T, Donohue, M. S. Burrell, R. 2021. Our Virtual Tribe: Sustaining and Enhancing Community in Online Music Improvisation. Frontiers in Psychology

Stenseath, K. 2017. Responsiveness in Music Therapy Improvisation: A Perspective Inspired by Mikhail Bakhtin. Dallas, TX: Barcelona Publishers.

Stige, B. 2015., The Practice Turn in Music Therapy Theory, Music Therapy Perspectives, Volume 33, Issue 1: 3–11,