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The formulation of possible selves through music and singing April 21, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Sarah Powell

There is a range of research now surrounding the connections between music and the brain and the effect of music on learning. For example, in Australia the work of Anita Collins focuses on what happens in the brain when a person plays a musical instrument. From the UK Sounds of Intent is a project that investigated musical development in children with learning difficulties and subsequently produced resources to support educators.

The work of Kate Stevens, Peter Keller and Barbara Tillman from UWS, and Gary McPherson from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, demonstrates the significant research being undertaken in the area of music and neuroscience. In addition, the recent contribution to this blog from Associate Professor Sue Roffey highlights the reduced emphasis on creativity, critical thinking skills and well being in the new curriculum. Research demonstrates that music (and other arts) has a definite impact on the brain, on learning, on memory, on well being and in the case of my research, identity.

I came from a different perspective in my doctoral research. Rather than using numbers to justify the impact of music and singing, I asked individuals to share their personal stories and because of other research themes (masculinity, success) I focused on males who sang in choirs. So I set out with a different agenda to that of the neuroscience underpinning the research identified above and despite my different angle, it became abundantly clear that music and singing has a profound effect on the identity of an individual.

With this is mind I considered the role of identity from the perspective of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Possible selves are the formulations or descriptions of a future self or selves. They represent desired, expected, or feared future selves, and sometimes a combination of these. The theory argues that a person’s present or current self is not simply defined by their past, but by their perceptions of the future as well.

Possible selves have been described as what a person wants to become, what they expect to become, or what they want to avoid or fear becoming (Cross & Markus, 1994; Freer, 2009, 2010; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Sica, 2009). The past is remembered as positive or negative experiences and whilst these experiences shape the future they do not determine or restrict it. Whilst past experiences cannot be revisited in a physical sense, the associations that are retained as memories remain potent and regulate a person’s desire to pursue or avoid a perceived end point. Strahan and Wilson (2006) suggest that it is not simply the memory of an event or circumstance that has influence. Rather, it is “how the past was recalled” (p.4).

Amongst other things, participants in my research were asked about their past experience of music, particularly during their school years. All were currently involved in music in various capacities and planned to continue in this way or develop their involvement further, and they all described positive school experiences. They identified music and singing as a normal part of their life at home. They had parents and grandparents who enjoyed singing, playing musical instruments or listening to music.

Participants reported enjoying classroom music at school and having numerous opportunities to be in the band or the choir, and many received instrumental tuition at school. Interestingly many participants attributed their present path to their past and their subsequent aspirations for the future. The sense of music and singing being part of the individual was strong:

Singing is quite an intimate thing. You’re revealing a lot about who you are in a sense (Secondary School Choir, Year 12 student).

This attitude was coupled with a very strong enjoyment of singing, communicated by all participants in some way:

I love singing, it’s my favourite thing to do, anywhere any time (Junior School Choir, Year 5 student).

Without question, the ability to produce some beautiful sounds in performance is rewarding, emotionally satisfying (Community Choir, male aged 50+).

The research demonstrated that the identity of these participants was built on family background and traditions, grounding them in something bigger than themselves but still intimately connected. It contributed to self-confidence and healthy self-perception in the here-and-now and it provided an outlet for personal expression and spirituality. It provided purpose and direction for the future, offering choices and opportunities for career and pleasure. It also gave them meaningful spaces to work collaboratively and creatively and to develop deep friendships.

Not only is neuroscience proving that music impacts the brain and learning in positive ways, but people are revealing that music and singing is an integral part of how they define themselves. It has significant ramifications for the formation of identity as well as personal well being and must be part of a child’s education. I will conclude by mentioning the work of Sir Richard Gill who continues to advocate the necessity of providing quality music education to every child, arguing that the impact of arts education is broader than simply teaching music:

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition (Richard Gill’s Blog, 2011).

References:

Cross, S. E. & Markus, H. R. (1994). Self-schemas, possible selves, and competent performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 423-438. DOI: 10.1037/0022-0663.86.3.423

Freer, P. K. (2009). ‘I’ll sing with my buddies’ – Fostering the possible selves of male choral singers. International Journal of Music Education, 27(4), 341-355. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409345918

Freer, P. K. (2010). Two decades of research on possible selves and the ‘missing males’ problem in choral music. International Journal of Music Education, 28(1), 17-30. DOI: 10.1177/0255761409351341

Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.41.9.954

Sica, L. S. (2009). Adolescents in different contexts: The exploration of identity through possible selves. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(3), 221-252.

Strahan, E. J. & Wilson, E. (2006). Temporal comparisons, identity, and motivation: The relation between past, present, and possible future selves. In C. Dunkel & J. Kerpelman, Possible selves: Theory, research and application (pp.1-15). New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

 

Sarah Powell is Education Content Manager at Musica Viva Australia. She is also a sessional academic in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, and a UWS doctoral candidate whose thesis is currently under examination.

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