Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Personal Meaning of Music Making to Maltese Band Musicians

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Personal Meaning of Music Making to Maltese Band Musicians

Article excerpt


The central tenet of occupational science is that humans are occupational beings and that being engaged in occupations enhances wellbeing (Wilcock 1998a). Since the beginning of time, humans have engaged in the occupations of making music and listening to music. There is fairly extensive evidence that listening to music benefits people in a variety of ways. For example, studies show that listening to music enhances emotional and cognitive functioning in stroke patients (Sarkamo et al 2008), reduces anxiety and pain in cancer patients (Bradt et al 2011) and reduces agitation in people with Alzheimer's disease (Cox et al 2011). Furthermore, the participation of older people with dementia in music-related occupations (listening, playing, dancing and singing) has enriched their lives, enhanced their sense of wellbeing and encouraged social interaction (Sixsmith and Gibson 2007). Studies of music-making activities in university students (Kokotsaki and Hallam 2007, 2011) and choral singing in community choirs (Bailey and Davidson 2003, Tonneijck et al 2008, Jacob et al 2009) indicate the powerful social, emotional and psychological impact of making music. As occupational therapists, the meaning of this occupation is of great interest and this study was prompted by a desire to understand the rich meanings of playing in a band from an occupational science perspective. Thus it set out to explore an occupation embedded in the culture of the Maltese population, that is, music making by band musicians or, as they are known locally, bandisti.

Occupations are defined as 'groups of activities and tasks of everyday life, named, organised and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture' (Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists 1997, p34). Personal meaning is the process of making sense out of what we do in our everyday life and has both a shared and a personal dimension (Hasselkus 2011). Personal meaning is socially constructed, influenced by 'social conventions, beliefs and attitudes' (Hasselkus 2011, p3). Reed et al (2010) emphasised that meaning is linked to identity in that what we do is part of who we are. We both express ourselves through occupation and understand more about ourselves through being engaged in occupation (Hasselkus 2011). Meaning is both personal and shared and is complex in relation to occupation. Therefore, this study begins with a broad definition of personal meaning in that it has 'contextual, temporal, psychological, social, symbolic, cultural, ethnic and spiritual dimensions' (Hinojosa and Kramer 1997, cited in Kramer et al 2003, p4). Thus meaningful occupations are those that we choose to do that reflect these personal and shared dimensions.

Individuals' social environment and culture shape their chosen occupations and occupations, in turn, represent the culture. Successful occupational therapy interventions are those that support occupations that have personal meaning for the individual and contribute to that person's life satisfaction (Bonder 2001). Such intervention can only occur if the cultural nature of human existence is acknowledged (Bonder 2001). Careful description of the meaning of occupations from a personal and cultural perspective is essential for occupational therapists striving to understand the power and relevance of occupations in their therapy.

Malta and its band clubs--the research context

Maltese band clubs and their musicians play an important role in Maltese society and culture, as well as making a crucial contribution to the Maltese musical scene. Band marches are a major aspect of Maltese village feasts, and form part of the local culture (Vella 2004). Band clubs in Malta offer meeting places for recreation, learning music, concerts and discussions. However, they remain best known for the musical entertainment offered, mainly during the many village feasts held in the summer in honour of different saints. There are around 4,000 instrumentalists who engage in these musical activities (Malta National Statistics Office 2010). …

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