Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    Music therapy performances with pre-adolescent children and families living in crisis: an interpretative phenomenological analysis
    Living in crisis due to homelessness and family violence is associated with feelings of fear, chaos and uncertainty, yet little is known about how music therapy may assist children and families at this immensely challenging time of their lives. The development of community music therapy as a theoretical framework has drawn attention to the potential value of including performance in community programs. However, the majority of research focusses on adult and adolescent populations, rather than children. Considering family members and supportive networks are likely to be audience members at children’s performances, the inclusion of performance in music therapy with children presents different challenges as well as opportunities. This qualitative project explored the experience and meaning of a music therapy performance for pre-adolescent children and their families living in crisis due to homelessness and family violence. Three children aged 11 and 12 participated in a 14-week music therapy group that culminated in the sharing of a musical performance with their families. After the performance, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the children who participated in the performance, as well as their parents. This project sought to understand the phenomenon of the performance itself, rather than the process leading up to it. The performance was a multifaceted experience for the children and their families. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009) uncovered some of the positive and negative aspects of the performance, and these were explored in detail at an individual and family level. A cross case analysis explored some of the similarities and differences in participants’ experiences and identified three recurrent themes: the children experienced intense, but mixed emotions; the performance connected the children to their family and peers; and the audience played an active role in the performance. Adopting flow as a theoretical lens provided a possible explanation for the children’s internal and external responses that contributed to their experience of the performance. At an internal level, the children described intense emotions that were similar to flow experiences. At an external level, the children’s parents and the entire audience played an integral role in supporting the children and provided some of the conditions for flow to occur. The findings from this project may help music therapists to understand the potential therapeutic outcomes for the inclusion of performance with children and families living in crisis. However, further research focussing on the ways that music therapists and families might support children’s complex needs throughout the performance experience is required.