III Case Studies of Two Contrasting Musical Groups

The Graceful Singers A Traditional Church Choir



By the time we finished analyzing the survey and the focus group interview data, we were confident that there was a relationship between senior citizens’ music participation and perceived quality of life. The focus group interviews had illuminated some of the factors (musical and nonmusical) that contributed to participants’ quality of life; however, we felt that there was still more to be learned about the musical aspects that appeared to be the most relevant to the quality of life of participants. These aspects included their musical histories and learning processes, as well as the overall “vibe” or ambience of two specific types of groups that had emerged as prominent in the community. We wished to gain more insight into how these aspects were relevant.

We learned that musical group participation in Evergreen Town was not uncommon among residents and that there was a wide range of formality in musical activities. We noticed that participants referred to two types of prominent musical groups with special interest. One type was the large choral ensemble, based on the formal Western European art musical tradition. There were a number of large choral ensembles in Evergreen Town— both religious and secular—with the majority being church choirs. This was not surprising due to the predominance of the Christian faith in this community. All utilized a Western- based rehearsal format, learning new pieces via printed music with standard Western musical notation. The other type of prominent musical group was exemplified in a single musical ensemble: a well-known and well-liked bluegrass group that stood out as unique because it represented a popular and relatively less structured genre. Members of this group learned music by rote, without the use of musical notation. This group attracted a large amount of media attention in the community because of its popularity, informality, and openness, and was considered to be one of a kind. We were curious about the nature of musical group participation and its relationship to quality of life as exemplified in these two types of groups. A related set of questions arose, leading to the two contrasting case studies presented in this chapter and the next. In these studies, we further investigated music participants’ musical histories, learning processes, and beliefs about the respective group, and the contributions of all of these to quality of life.

We decided to conduct our case studies independently from each other. One rationale for this was that conclusions arising independently from two case studies are more powerful than conclusions arising from a single study. In addition, when contrasting case studies are conducted, it strengthens the theoretical replication and external validity of the studies (Yin, 2012). We attached our individual names to each of these two chapters, not only because each of us was the primary contributor for that chapter, but also, more important, because we each were intimately tied to our case in specific ways. Prior to my case study, I was a member of the large church choir examined in this chapter. During his case study, Victor became a member of the bluegrass group portrayed in chapter 7. We reunite as researchers and coauthors in chapter 8 to present an overarching comparison and synthesis (Yin, 2014) of the two case studies, including a discussion of the broad themes (meta-themes) that emerged across the two cases.

To make our findings and the resulting cross-case comparison more plausible, we purposefully designed the two case studies to include the following shared qualities:

  • • Both case studies were conducted in the same retirement community (Evergreen Town).
  • • Data were collected over the same general period of time, in 2011 and 2012.
  • • Participants were independent, nonhomebound community residents aged 55 and above.
  • • Both studies investigated musical group participants’ histories and learning processes, and the contributions of these to quality of life.

Again, for the purpose of increasing the validity of the synthesis, it was important that the two case studies share the same set of research questions, which were as follows:

  • 1. What is the personal musical history of participants with references to activities in and out of school?
  • 2. At what stages of their lives did participants develop musical skills?
  • 3. What are the processes participants use in learning music, past and present?
  • 4. Why do participants remain in the group?
  • 5. In what other activities are participants involved?
  • 6. In what other activities would participants like to be involved?
  • 7. What does the group mean to participants in relationship to quality of life?
  • 8. Besides music participation, what contributes to participants’ quality of life?

Having provided an introduction to the case studies as a foundation, I now eagerly turn to the study that is the focus of this chapter.

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