- 5 to 12 years of age
- 13 to 18 years of age
- Community associations
- Social services
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Physical disabilities (e.g. Cerebral Palsy, Rett
Ajay Heble: What is Music and Health?
My name is Ajay Heble. I’m the director of The International Institute for Critical Studies and Improvisation, and I was the founding artistic director of the Guelph Jazz Festival (where) I served in that role from 1994 to 2016. I’m also professor of English at the University of Guelph.
It’s a big question, music and health. My sense is that music and health is a topic that hasn’t really attracted the kind of attention that it should attract, partly because I think music inhabits the social and cultural landscape in ways that remain largely uninvented. Despite this, I’ve long believed that improvisational musical practices in particular, can contribute to the development and well-being of healthy communities and in fact, that’s one of the core hypotheses that we try to test through the work we’re doing at The International Institute for Critical Studies and Improvisation.
Ajay Hable: Music and Health through the program KidsAbility
I think the example that comes to mind is the work we’ve been doing for probably about 15 years
with “KidsAbility,” which is a social service organization that runs programs for kids that have physical and developmental disabilities. And for years we’ve been bringing improvising artists into the community to work with youth from KidsAbility and those improvising artists will run series of improvising workshops that will often culminate in large scale public performances at the Guelph Jazz Festival.
So for example, we’ll shut down one of the main streets in Guelph at one of the festival’s biggest public events, that’s where these kids get to play on that stage. So it’s really quite remarkable.
And the research component is that we have our research team members, for example our graduate students, doing interviews with the kids, with the parents, with the staff, with the artist facilitators as well, and trying to track the impact that these programs are having.
The stories and anecdotes we hear are really quite remarkable about the impact. The kinds of things that people tell us. That the kids are showing self-esteem, that they’re listening in ways they didn’t listen before, they’re taking on leadership roles in front of a large audience. The kids are willing to get up in front of an audience of thousands of people and take on a leadership role by conducting the whole band for example. Often we hear from the parents that this isn’t something that they see their kids doing very often.
So I think we’re really interested in this idea that improvisation can actually be a means of empowering and animating special needs youth. And again, the research team that I’ve worked with have documented and analyzed the complex relationships between improvisational practices and their effects on, for example, socialization, wellness, self-esteem, physical coordination, and mental acuity. That’s a project that’s been running for 15 years and the impacts on the kids, as I said, are really quite … we hear amazing stories.
Ajay Heble: On how KidsAbility came to be
How it started. We received a large scale SSHRC Grant, this was in 2007. It was a SSHRC “Major Collaborative Research Initiatives” grant for a project called “Improvisation Community and Social Practice,” and the bulk of the work was community-engaged partnered research focusing on the social implications of improvised musical and creative practices.
So we already had, in this case, a group of partners that had signed on to the grant, but in the case of KidsAbility,they came on after the fact. We were just looking for a local organization that might be interested in some of the things we were able to offer in terms of working with improvising artists. And so, we had a meeting with the staff at KidsAbility and they were so enthusiastic.
I still remember that initial meeting. There were a few of us, Ellen Waterman and I, and one of our staff members Jee Burrows at the time. We met with staff at KidsAbility and they were so incredibly enthusiastic to partner with us, and they saw it as very much in keeping with their needs, and it complemented some of the kinds of programs they were offering because I gather that music wasn’t really something that they were doing at the time.
So this was something they were really thrilled to do with us, and furthermore what was really interesting as I think back on that, we wanted we had this idea of staging a public concert at the end of the workshops that the kids would do with the workshop facilitators.
So there were going to be a series of workshops that we wanted to culminate in this public performance, but we were worried. We thought “Oh, maybe the kids don’t want to do it or won’t want to do it,” and the staff said “No, no, they’re going to want to do it.” In fact, they (the kids) voted and they were totally on board. The kids wanted to go on stage. They thrived in that element. So that’s where it began, with the initial SSHRC MCIR grant.
Ajay Heble: On what his path was to work in community health and wellness and music
I think it was an indirect path that had to do with the work I was doing with the Guelph Jazz Festival. For years during the JazzFest I would bring together artists from different places, different communities, and have them improvise, and it became clear to me that there was something really special going on in that moment — where artists come together to improvise. Something that had a lot to tell us about how we negotiate difference in the community, how we communicate with one another, how we think about issues of trust and social belonging. I think this whole issue of community health and wellness, was something that became more and more evident to me as I was running the festival.
I understood fairly early on, that the work I was doing at the Jazz Festival wasn’t just about the music or the programming. It was about something much more than that. I’ve said this before it was about reinvigorating public life with the spirit of dialogue in community. I think that’s very clearly something that has an impact on issues of wellness and quality of life.
I think that was probably the path that led me to the work that I’m describing here.Read More +