Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Melodic-Poetic Representation: Research Sings/La Représentation Mélodico-Poétique : Quand la Recherche Chante

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Melodic-Poetic Representation: Research Sings/La Représentation Mélodico-Poétique : Quand la Recherche Chante

Article excerpt


I thank ten cancer patient-survivors without whom this writing would not be possible. This research was supported by an operating grant from the Sociobehavioural Cancer Research Network with funds from the Canadian Cancer Society. I was supported for this research through a PhD Studentship at the University of Toronto, supported by the Canadian Cancer Society. I am supported for this writing by a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Cancer Institute of Canada with funds donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. This writing is extracted from my arts-informed doctoral dissertation. I acknowledge Ardra Cole, Margaret Fitch, Denise Grocke, Sandra Trehub, Dave Hunt and Arthur Frank for their careful examination of this work.


In addition to text, I represent arts-informed research about the meaning of a music therapy support group for adult cancer patients with images (Rykov, 2008 in press), poetry (Rykov, 2007 in press) and music (Rykov, 2006b).1 In this writing I discuss the song that emerged from the research, that represents the research and the contributing influences that shaped it. I first oudine the role of song and singing in music therapy, including the research participants' attitudes to singing. I introduce Corrine Glesne's (1997) concept of poetic transcription in terms of arts-informed research (Cole & Knowles, forthcoming). I extend Glesne's poetic transcription to song and call it melodicpoetic transcription. I discuss the song this research sings. I conclude that song is a form of representation of music therapy research.


Song is the most fundamental, immediate and embodied music. It engages us physically, neurologically, emotionally and spiritually (Sullivan, 2003). Songs in music therapy are used to facilitate self-reflection, life review and selfexpression:

Songs are ways that human beings explore emotions. They express who we are and how we feel, they bring us closer to others; they keep us company when we are alone. They articulate our beliefs and values.... They allow us to relive the past, to examine the present, and to voice our dreams for the future. Songs weave tales of our joys and sorrows; they reveal our innermost secrets, and they express our hopes and disappointments, our fear and triumphs.... They are the sounds of our personal development. (Bruscia, 1998, p. 9)

Singing wells up from deep within and brings joy. Singing necessitates deeper and more regular breathing than speech. When more oxygen is inspired due to increased vital capacity, the blood becomes more fully oxygenated. The oxygenated blood circulates to every cell throughout the body and promotes a relaxation response (Bouhuys, Proctor, & Mead, 1966). Also, song lyrics are a means of self-expression. One research participant said:

There's something really nice about singing the song words that have such deep meaning when you're talking about the cancer experience. (Rykov, 2006a, p. 61)

Joy or comfort experienced by singing is not, however, a universal experience. As another research participant said: "Oh shit, singing" (Rykov, 2006a, p. 61). For some, using the voice can be uncovering, over-stimulating and frightening (Sullivan, 2003). Singing, for others, elicits unpleasant memories associated with performance, expectations or judgments.

Songs in the music therapy support group were used for their potential to provide support or evoke issues relevant to the cancer experience and as a means of facilitating interpersonal connection, not as a diversional or recreational sing-along activity. A small collection of song lyrics was provided in binders. These were added to during the course of the group, and given to participants to take with them when the group was over.


Songwriting is a common technique in music therapy practice (Baker & Wigram, 2005). It can be created from improvisation for a variety of therapeutic intentions (for example, Austin, 1998; Austin, 2001; Turry, 2005). …

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