Community organisations can learn a lot about how to create enticing and engaging participation opportunities for older people by considering their motivations for getting involved. Here, Dr Amanda Krause takes a look at why people take up singing.

With research showing that music is beneficial to our wellbeing, we were interested in finding out why people participate in musical activities. If we can understand people’s motivations, we can better facilitate their engagement in music and potentially get more people involved.

Our research involved interviews with 64 people from three community groups in Western Australia to find out what motivated them to attend a community singing group. They were aged between 32 and 95, although the majority were over 65. We identified a number of important themes.

A source of pleasure

Firstly, the participants said they enjoyed singing and believed that singing was an important activity in their life.  Some individuals said while they might not be able to learn an instrument they could still sing, and sing with joy. Many commented that they left each rehearsal feeling uplifted and these feelings kept them coming back for more.

A relaxed atmosphere

Other reasons for attending the groups included feeling the pleasure of singing without pressure and feeling both challenged and a sense of achievement. While these two reasons might seem to contradict each other on the surface, in reality they work together.

As we might expect, participants experienced pleasure from singing in the groups, but this enjoyment was intertwined with the activity being ‘pressure-free’.  In contrast to what some people had experienced in school or in professional ensembles, experiencing positive emotions with others appeared to be more important than achieving professional singing standards in what might be a more restrictive, stressful environment.

At the same time, however, the participants still valued the challenge of singing and the sense of accomplishment that that provided.

Group bonds

Socialising with the other members was also a key motivator for participating in the singing groups.  Despite the groups’ focus on the music, the participants spoke of each other as ‘kin’ and as being part of ‘a big family’. This fellowship with each other was extremely important in providing social support to one another. By participating in the singing, people could bond with each other and alleviate feelings of loneliness. Indeed, a related motivation for attending was the singing groups helped the participants forget about the perceived limitations of age, disease, and hardship. This motivation speaks volumes about participatory activities for older individuals. Beyond simply bringing people together, the participants could relate to one another.

A beautiful quote from one of the participants sums it up best: “When you walk in here, we’re all in our 70s, but nobody talks about sadness or sickness.  We’re too busy having a good time singing and interacting with everybody and it’s the highlight of my day and my week.”

These motivations help us understand why individuals participate in activities and we can use this knowledge when thinking about how to structure participation opportunities. The focus here is on music, but these motivations translate to any other topic of interest. The important thing is to create an enjoyable atmosphere that allows participants to be challenged without pressure and also allows for socialisation and group bonding.  And don’t forget a great facilitator – a good leader is also important to those involved.

Dr Amanda Krause is a research associate in the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University. For more information on the Musical Investment project website.

This article appears in the current edition of Community Care Review magazine.

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