Those who sing together stay together: exploring lifelong musical engagement and its role in the health and wellbeing of couple relationships in retirement
Morgan, Jill Patricia
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Varied academic accounts exist of the psychological and physiological benefits experienced through engagement with music. MacDonald, Kreutz and Mitchell (2012) state that there is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that music has the ability to positively affect our feelings of health and wellbeing. Despite qualitative studies into the benefits of music on older people, in particular singing, (Hallam et al, 2013; Clift et al, 2008), there has been less focus on this retired generation. In a study by Pickles (2003) into music and the ‘third age’, a plea is made for a further understanding of the musical opportunities and needs for this age group. For the first time ever there are more than ten million people now aged over 65 within the UK (UK Parliament website, 2015) and their number exceeds those under 16 (McVeigh, 2009). Contemporary studies indicate a positive correlation between good health and wellbeing with productive pastimes (Stephens & Flick, 2010; Franklin & Tate, 2009), and further evidence shows a positive correlation between those who are married and lifespan longevity (Jaffe et al 2006). This supports the need to further research the function of music as a motivational activity and its position within couple relationships in the older generation. The aim of this investigation was to explore lifelong musical engagement and its role in the wellbeing of married couples in retirement. Five retired couples who were in good health and actively engaged in musical pursuits were interviewed individually utilising an idiographic methodology, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Seeking to offer new insights into the importance of music in this key area of health, identity and social relationships each participant offered meaningful perspectives on the phenomenon being investigated. Analysis of their narratives revealed three overarching themes: i) the centrality of music throughout the lifespan, ii) music as a therapeutic tool, and iii) music in the present and its role in future selves. Significant findings showed how the use of music within the dyadic relationship facilitates a joint identity through the lifespan which continues into old age, assists social reconstruction when agency is under threat, brings positivity and respect through matched musical preferences, enriches feelings of positivity for the future as musical engagement is still possible when mobility becomes an issue, enhances feelings of togetherness, and provides joy through the provision of a legacy to future generations. Recommendations are made for future research into expanding awareness of specific areas of musical engagement which enhance a sense of wellbeing in older age couples, and increasing knowledge of its role in other age group intimate partnerships.