1 This article was downloaded by: [Gunter Kreutz] On: 27 June 2012, At: 12:48 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: Registered office: Mortimer House, Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: A shade of grey: negative associations with amateur choral singing Gunter Kreutz a & Peter Brünger b a Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany b Department of Music and Music Education, Catholic University Eichstätt, Eichstätt, Germany Version of record first published: 27 Jun 2012 To cite this article: Gunter Kreutz & Peter Brünger (2012): A shade of grey: negative associations with amateur choral singing, Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice, DOI: / To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
2 Arts & Health 2012, ifirst article, 1 9 A shade of grey: negative associations with amateur choral singing Gunter Kreutz a * and Peter Brünger b a Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany; b Department of Music and Music Education, Catholic University Eichstätt, Eichstätt, Germany Background: Amateur choral singing has been associated with a range of beneficial influences on perceived mental and physical well-being and health. However, it is unclear to what extent negative experiences exist that may be related to singing in choral societies. Aims: The main focus of this study was to explore negative experiences of longstanding members of choral societies. In particular, themes of such experiences were to be identified as well as their prevalence. Methods: Written responses to open-ended questions (n ¼ 753) from a large-scale survey (N ¼ 3145) on negative experiences in association with choral singing were submitted to content analysis to identify themes and issues. Two independent jurors then assessed a random selection of a 100 responses to assess the prevalence of themes. Results: Conductor (prevalence: 50%), fellow choristers (prevalence: 38.1%), and performance aspects (prevalence: 13.6%) were identified as main themes of negative experiences in both content and simple kappa analyses. Conclusions: These results suggest that social problems as well as conflicting aesthetic goals dominate negative associations with amateur choral singing. Keywords: content analysis; choral singing; community arts; negative experiences Background In recent years, interest in the psychological well-being and health effects of singing in amateur choirs has led to a growing number of studies using quasi-experimental (e.g. Beck, Cesario, Yousefi & Enamoto, 2000) as well as survey approaches (Clift, Hancox, et al., 2010). Indeed, positive effects of choral singing on well-being seem to outweigh the risks that might be associated with this activity. Therefore, singing appears particularly amenable to marginalized groups of individuals (Bailey & Davidson, 2002) as well as elderly, potentially socially isolated people (Bamford & Clift, 2006). The advantageous effects of group singing extend also to healthy amateur choristers across their lifespans. A systematic literature review of non-clinical contexts was done on 35 studies from 1970 to Clift, Hancox, Staricoff and Whitmore (2008; see also Clift, Nicols, Raisbeck, Whitmore & Morrison, 2010) identified 19 different themes of positive effects, which were associated with choral singing. These themes were derived from studies on perceived mental and physical benefits (Clift & Hancox, 2001, 2010), behavioural studies (Cohen, Perlstein, Chapline, Kelly & Firth, 2006; 2007) and further quasi-experimental work including biomarkers (e.g. Grape, Sandgren, Hansson, Ericson & Theorell, 2003; Kreutz, Bongard, Rohrmann, Grebe & Hodapp, 2004) and psychometric inventories (Unwin, Kenny & Davis, 2002). One important implication from this work is that, not only are *Corresponding author. ISSN print/issn online q 2012 Taylor & Francis
3 2 G. Kreutz and P. Brünger there therapeutic benefits, but also preventive and longer-term advantages of singing in non-clinical contexts. To what extent do the negative experiences associated with amateur choral singing compromise the beneficial effects? It is not clear whether and how singing in groups can evoke physical and mental problems that are potentially detrimental to individual well-being and health. It may be argued, however, that choral societies must pursue two potentially conflicting goals: (a) there is a need to achieve the highest possible musical and aesthetic level of performance on the one hand; and (b) there is a need to integrate individuals with varying musical and personal backgrounds and proficiencies into a single choir. To achieve social and musical coherence is a matter of continued effort, especially since many individuals participate in choral singing throughout adolescence and adulthood (Kreutz & Brünger, 2012). Conflict and stress have not been addressed directly in previous work. However, there is anecdotal evidence as well as some theoretic considerations that render negative experiences of choral singing not unrealistic. For example, psychoacoustic measurements show that there is greater sound pressure level variation when individual singers in a chorus are compared to each other than would be expected from considering a chorus as a whole (Ternström, 1994). Such individual differences are rather difficult to explain at any specific level of social or musical behaviours. They might indicate, however, that there is great variation of individual motivation and engagement in singing by choir members. It is not surprising that from the point of view of a choir master, great musical and social skills are required to achieve a coherent body of sound within and between the different parts of a chorus. To prepare for concerts, for example, numerous rehearsal sessions are often needed. However, rehearsals are likely to induce less stress than concertizing in public. In fact, Beck et al. (2000) observed significant increases of salivary cortisol levels in choristers during a concert performance as compared to the same choristers performing during a rehearsal. Therefore, individual differences of choir members, variations in social and musical skills of choir masters, and finally contextual factors may give rise to negative experiences in association with choral singing. To date, it is unclear to what extent such negative experiences exist in amateur choral singing, and what their consequences are. One consequence could be that social coherence of amateur choruses may come at a cost of losing members (or choir masters) over time. There may also be a benefit from overcoming social and/or musical problems in a chorus by strengthening the ties between individual members. Perhaps both positive and negative experiences are needed to sustain a given chorus over more than the lifespan of an individual member; a characteristic of many choral societies which thrive for more than a hundred years. For various reasons, then, it is likely that conflicts may arise from social interactions as well as from pursuing goals that can be incompatible with respect to the aesthetic and social demands in choral societies. The purpose of the present study was to investigate negative associations with choral singing that might have arisen from these conflicts. To this end and to minimize response biases, written responses to open-ended questions from a previous survey (Kreutz & Brünger, 2012), which entailed both positive and negative items and questions on singing, are explored here. Specifically, we investigate to what extent negative experiences exist in amateur choral societies, and how they arise from social misbehaviour, conflicting aesthetic goals, and other areas of potential conflict. To address these questions, a mix of descriptive and qualitative as well as quantitative research strategies was applied. Our working hypothesis suggests that perceived negative associations of and experiences with choral singing are significantly attributed to a significant proportion to social and musical/aesthetic conflicts.
4 Arts & Health 3 Method Participants A total of 3656 individuals responded to this survey. All participants were native German speakers. They were either recruited via mailing lists from choral societies, or they were contacted in person during choral rehearsals. Participants responses were included in the subsequent analyses if they filled out the questionnaires at a minimum of 80% of questions and items. While all participants who had used the paper-and-pencil version (n ¼ 477) were included in the study, only 2668 out of 3179 participants who had filled out questionnaires using the identical online version survived the inclusion criterion. The remaining sample (N ¼ 3145) contained 993 (31.6%) males and 2150 (68.4%) females. The age range of the total sample was 8 84 years with a mean age of 43 years (the median age fell within 0.2 years of the mean age) with no significant differences between the sexes. Survey The questionnaire first presented an introductory text to inform participants about the purpose of the study. They were asked to provide demographic information, and information about their musical backgrounds. It was emphasized that the main interest of the survey was in their experiences as singers in choral societies. The questionnaire contained various response formats including tick boxes, rating scales, and open-ended questions. 1 They were also alerted to the fact that filling out the questionnaires would be considered as a provision of informed consent to the researchers, and that completing the questtionaire would take about minutes. The questions that are of primary interest for the present study were: Have you ever had bad experiences with singing in a choir? If yes, how did this negative experience come about? [Original: Haben Sie schon einmal schlechte Erfahrungen mit dem Singen im Chor gemacht? Falls ja, wie ist es zu der schlechten Erfahrung gekommen?] All materials were written and submitted in German. Procedure Questionnaires were constructed using Surveymonkeyw and delivered to participants through mailing lists of the German Choir Association (Deutscher Chorverband e.v.) and other mailing lists of choral societies, which were retrieved from internet searches. Participants who filled out paper-and-pencil versions of the identical survey were contacted personally and provided with response sheets by the second author. Informed consent was obtained from each participant who completed the survey. Content analyses Because negative experiences were expected to arise primarily from social interactions as well as musical/aesthetic conflicts, qualitative content analysis was based on both deductive as well as inductive elements (Mayring, 2000). As a first step, all statements containing verbal information about negative experiences with choral singing were read by the authors independently. Reading was repeated several times in order to identify emerging themes and categories (Becker & Lißmann, 1973) within each statement. In this process the two lists were revised and combined into a single list of categories.
5 4 G. Kreutz and P. Brünger Subsequently, in order to enhance the validity of the initially identified themes and categories, a random selection of 100 statements were extracted from the original data file and submitted to two independent jurors, who were doctorate students of the Music Education Department of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. The jurors (both female) were unaware of the purpose of the study, but they were told that the statements were derived from a large-scale survey on amateur choral singing. They were asked to use the list of themes constructed by the authors and indicate on a set of dummy variables whether a given statement fell into one or several categories of the list. If none of the categories applied, jurors were asked to tick the category other. Simple kappas were then calculated to assess the inter-rater agreement between the jurors for each category. Thus, quantitative measures of incidences as well as adequacy of categories could be used to tentatively generalize the qualitative observations. Results Negative experiences associated with choral singing were indicated by 778 individuals, which is 24.7% of the total sample. Mean ages of individuals without (M ¼ 43.5, SD ¼ 14.9 years) and with negative experiences (M ¼ 41.17; SD ¼ 13.9 years) were similar. No significant sex differences emerged. Twenty-five individuals (3.21%) who had responded with yes to having had negative experiences did not provide a verbal report of these. The remaining 753 of the participants (96.78%) provided reports, which varied considerably in content and length and were submitted to subsequent content analyses. Content analyses Two main themes emerged from independent reading of the responses to the open-ended questions as prominent within and across a large number of statements, namely (a) social relations and interactions and (b) musical and aesthetic issues. Themes and categories are summarized in Table 1. It should be noted that individual reports often suggested multiple categories and may cut across themes. Despite the brevity of many responses, which often do not comprise complete sentences but consist of short phrases and remarks, it was possible to infer at least one category in most cases. Although a more precise quantification of themes and categories will be left to the second part of the analysis below, it became readily and unambiguously evident during this phase of the content analysis that both social and musical conflicts dominated negative experiences. Table 1. Themes and Categories of Negative Experiences Associated With Choir Singing as Identified by Means of Content Analysis. Theme Social issues Musical/aesthetic issues Categories Conductor Fellow choristers Self General performance demands Literature Preference and liking Concerts Rehearsals
6 Arts & Health 5 Presented below are sample verbatim responses to highlight themes and categories. They should also provide insight into the complexity of interactions among and between these themes as well as the wide range of individual perspectives on issues related to singing in a chorus. This statement suggests that poor conducting, as perceived here, may arise not from a lack of musical skills on the part of the choir master, but rather from his poor ability to adapt his expectations to the inferior abilities of the choir: I experienced twice that choir masters saw themselves and wanted to be seen as super heroes. Music-making was a disguise for the choir master s self-adulation. This led to over-demand and poor sentiment in the choir. I myself acquired vocal fold problems. (Female, 42 years) The second-most prominent theme related to fellow singers. For example, the following protocol suggests that negative experiences arose from aesthetic judgments of fellow choristers singing: Quite burdening, when other choristers are singing extremely out of tune and extremely loud without accepting corrections. I find it particularly annoying, if those choristers feel that they can correct others. (Female, 27 years) Obviously, there are different kinds of involvement in negative experiences. One who perceives others as singing loudly out of tune may themselves cause negative experiences in fellow singers as shown below: A fellow singer (female) told me in an unfriendly way that I should rather sing softly when I sing out of tune. I did not notice that I sang out of tune, so I was quite annoyed. I wished that she had given me the same support, which other choristers gave me. They sang loudly in my direction when I sang out of tune. (Female, 46 years) Exclusion from a chorus is certainly a very striking negative experience, although it is rarely reported. The following statement suggests communication problems, whatever the issues were at stake: I was the only tenor at a church chorus in the city of Dresden who was not directly involved in the congregation and who also had poor score reading skills. The choir master sent me a postcard (he did not tell me directly) that I had better not show up again at rehearsal... I never went there again. (Male, 49 years) Leaving a chorus on one s own behalf in response to social problems between members of the chorus and the choir master was also mentioned: The choir master had his favourite group, which he called chamber choir. The others were told that they were equally important, but he marginalized them visually and musically. Due to his dishonesty and his private collaboration with a female singer, there were subgroups and tensions; openness was lost, which affected my singing and others I left the choir. (Female, 50 years) Many feel that too much is being demanded from them, whereas a few others feel they are more musically gifted than the others in their group. This varying expectation based on individual capacities lead to a lack of group cohesion: Differing engagement of individual members, which led to frustration on my side, because there was no musical advancement and the rehearsals were compromised by unnecessary discussions. (Female, 27 years) Vocal health problems were not prominent, but if they occur, as can be inferred from the following statement, are not perceived as merely physical problems:
7 6 G. Kreutz and P. Brünger Table 2. Prevalences and Kappa Statistics for Jurors A and B in Relation to Response Categories. Prevalence (%) Category Juror A Juror B Kappa statistic Strength of agreement Choir master * Almost perfect Choir member * Substantial Self ** Moderate Performance * Substantial Literature ** Substantial Aesthetics ** Substantial Rehearsal * Fair Concert ** Substantial * p,.05 (Chi 2 -test, one-sided). ** p,.001 (Chi 2 -test, one-sided). Note: Categories indicate negative experiences originating from the choir master, choir members, the participant himself or herself, in relation to performance demands, choice of literature, aesthetic goals, rehearsals and concerts; Strength of Agreement indicators according to Landis and Koch (1977). When I was 20, I had vocal problems, as well as difficulties dealing with these problems, because I was not used to that. Those who sing expose themselves and become vulnerable to offences: disrespect of my voice ¼ disrespect of me as a person. (Female, 42 years) Results from prevalence assessments of categories for the two jurors and the simple kappa analyses are summarized in Table 2. Out of 100 random samples selected for the judgment task, 5 statements were found irrelevant to the research question. Simple kappas were then correlated for inter-judgement agreement on categories over the remaining 95 statements. Simple kappa values indicate agreement between jurors according to Landis and Koch (1977), with lower values indicating poorer and higher values indicating higher agreement. Discussion Negative experiences associated with amateur choral singing were reported by roughly every fourth participant of the original sample with respect to open-ended verbal reports. There were no age or gender biases that affected the distribution of these instances. Social problems with respect to the choir master and fellow singers comprise one out of two prominent themes. The second theme is related to musical and aesthetic issues. We will address these themes in turn. Choir masters are often in the focus of critique in terms of a perceived musical incompetence. Because details of alleged incompetence are rarely explicated, it is not clear whether these perceptions relate to more technical or aesthetic issues, or both. Moreover, participants found choir masters behaviour socially unacceptable according to a number of statements. It seems not uncommon that, as a result, either individual choristers leave a chorus due to problems related to the choir master, or that the choir master eventually leaves a chorus due to severe communication problems. In a similar vein, fellow singers are often criticized in terms of their musical competence as well as their social behaviour. Origins of perceived misconduct very often are seen in misguided aesthetic demands, which put pressure on individuals as well as subgroups in the choir, or the choir as a whole. It should be noted that pressures and demands may arise from many sources including imbalances of musical competence among the members of a chorus as well as perceived dictatorship of choir masters, which may be perceived as imposing unrealistic demands on choruses as a whole.
8 Arts & Health 7 The self category of negative experience is interesting because in a few cases it entails reports on vocal health problems in response to singing. However, problems relating to mental and physical health in general, and vocal problems in particular, were rarely mentioned. These findings thus suggest that choral singing can be seen as a relatively safe activity for most individuals. Accuracy of singing and quality of vocal sounds are important from an aesthetic point of view for many choristers. Although it is difficult to draw lines between personal and musical problems, it is clear that both failure to achieve aesthetic goals and lack of harmonious social relationships are equally perceived as detrimental to the functioning of a choir. In fact, it seems plausible that negative experiences concerning musical and aesthetic issues are not entirely independent from personal issues. Nevertheless, some reports also make it clear that harmonious social relationships are necessary, but not sufficient to avoid negative experiences with singing. In sum, episodes of negative experiences are common among amateur choristers, even in light of a great number of positive implications of choral singing as identified in previous reports. There can be serious consequences of such negative experiences, such as social exclusion, mental and physical stress, as well as, in seemingly far less cases, vocal health problems. Therefore, in-depth investigations are needed to assess the risks of choral singing for individual mental and physical well-being and health relative to its benefits. Strengths and limitations Negative experiences associated with amateur choral singing are explored here using written responses to open-ended questions. To guide future research on these associations and their effects on individual well-being and health, it seems important to first identify themes and categories of potential conflict. Open-ended questions to longstanding choral members may be a key strategy for this purpose. Nevertheless, issues arise with respect to the mixed-methods approach that was chosen in this study. First, the question posed to participants specifically asked to recall negative experiences. Therefore, the formulation itself could have introduced a response bias. Nevertheless, the context of the survey as well as its length may have influenced responses as the question occurred only at a later point in the inventory after more positive experiences with choral singing were assessed. Second, the descriptive analyses within this cohort do not allow for inferences as to whether any of the experiences in the context of singing might lead to measurable mental or physical problems. Although we must rely on the subjective accounts as honest descriptions of perceived problems, there were no comparisons made in this study with responses from other groups or cohorts that do not participate in choral singing. Thus, much the same concerns related to the assessment of perceived benefits (e.g. Clift & Hancox, 2001; Clift, Hancox, et al., 2010) also apply to negative experiences, if single cohorts are in the focus of investigation. Further research will be needed to determine the extent to which social and/or musical skills impact on well-being and health, as these factors do not seem to be addressed systematically in the current body of research. Third, the lack of a-priori specification of themes raises methodological issues. What appears advantageous when a new area of study is being explored may also be seen as problematic, because the observed prevalence could be influenced systematically by contextual and task factors. For example, participants of the study may have needed to be encouraged to reflect more on their own role in the context of negative experiences. It is certainly human to consider other individuals as more likely reasons for one s own
9 8 G. Kreutz and P. Brünger frustration than one s own thoughts and behaviours. By contrast, perceptions of aesthetic dislike, mental and physical over-demands, and feelings of discomfort in response to stressful rehearsal routines are less likely to be subject to systematic response biases. In other words, respondents can hardly be mistaken if they have the feeling of displeasure or pain, but they could be biased in what they perceive as causes of their feelings and observations. Finally, there is a striking absence of a large proportion of responses indicating mental or physical problems in response to singing per se. In other words, one s own vocal health is only rarely mentioned as a source of frustration. Although it may be argued that individuals with poor vocal health are unlikely to join a chorus, it can also be noted that longstanding regular choral singing seems not to impose great risks for vocal health. However, it is still an open question as to whether singing may have detrimental effects on vocal health in some individuals. In light of the above issues, the descriptive mixed-methods approach was extremely successful in suggesting strong and consistent resonances of negative feelings toward choral singing in longstanding choristers. The fact that individuals reporting these problems were still part of the same cohort lends itself as a reason to believe that, above all, choral singing is mentally and physically a very safe activity. First of all, physical or medical problems with the singing voice were rarely mentioned. For example, the loss of vocal capacity with age seems not to be a concern from the participants perspective. It would seem worthwhile, however, to consider this issue from choir masters perspectives. Second, a proportion of responses may reflect episodes of the past, which might have little or no impact on the given present situation of an individual. On the contrary, negative experiences could have sensitized individual choral singers to arising conflicts and thus are used as aids of prevention. Overcoming social and musical conflict is likely to be a key to long-term survival of choral societies. It is simply inconceivable that larger cohorts of individuals work together on a regular basis for decades without a need to resolve communicative and other issues from time to time. Studies of negative experiences with singing are important starting points to look at the ways conflicts are solved and to see how good practice becomes established. Note 1. The full questionnaire can be provided upon request by to either of the authors. References Bailey, B.A., & Davidson, J.W. (2002). Adaptive characteristics of group singing: Perceptions from members of a choir for homeless men. Musicae Scientiae, Bamford, A., & Clift, S. (2006). Southampton Silver Song Club: Reflections on music making with elderly people facilitated by student volunteers (Research Report). Canterbury: Canterbury Christ Church University. Beck, R.J., Cesario, T.C., Yousefi, A., & Enamoto, H. (2000). Choral singing, performance perception, and immune system changes in salivary immunoglobulin A and cortisol. Music Perception, 18(1), Becker, J., & Lißmann, H.-J. (1973). Inhaltsanalyse Kritik einer sozialwissenschaftlichen Methode. Arbeitspapiere zur politischen Soziologie 5. München: Olzog. Clift, S.M., & Hancox, G. (2001). The perceived benefits of singing: Findings from preliminary surveys of a university college choral society. Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 121(4),
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