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Music Environments

The focus is on smalll communities that make music--related to people, place and occupations. This  could be in institutional, educational, home, community, and even virtual workplaces. Many factors, such as the setting, technologies, socio-political conditions, values, attitudes, and cultural heritage impact on music-making.

These are all aspects of the music environment that can enhance performance, or hinder. The aim is to understand more about how this process occurs, to allow best functioning. Generally community members, and culture bearers guide this process, but they may not be aware of the influence on the environment or the impact on the environment.

In 2014, Sandra Kirkwood described methods of environmental analysis to identify sites of cultural significance for children's musical development.  This concept was applied to three case-study examples.

The chosen sites reveal diverse aspects of people's participation in music-making. The music-making occurs through inter-relationships between people and places.  The social and physical environment can support or become a barrier to children's musical development.

There are many more sites of cultural significance for musicking, and these can be explored through the Persion-Environment-Occupation model. The P-E-O model has application to music-making as occupational performance.

Read more 
Kirkwood, Sandra and Adrian Miller (2014) The impact of new technologies on the musical learning of Indigenous Australian children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(1), pp. 94-101.

Historically, musicians and composers have listened to sounds in many different environments to inspire musical compositions, or even imagined what extraterrestrial places sound like. I found this interesting - to listen to Earth sounds from space recorded by NASA (You Tube). People are just starting to incorporate these soundscapes into musical compositions. There is potential for further aerospace sonic exploration as a source of inspiration for musical works.
Music Health Australia was established in 2008. Now it is time to record our memories and review what we have learned along the way. It has been a journey with communities...as this early presentation demonstrates from the 2009 Arts Health Conference in Newcastle, New South Wales.
Journey With Communities: Exploring Music Stories "Journey with Communities: Exploring Music Stories of our Neighbourhood"
People have shared their music stories.
View more Music Health Australia
Slideshare presentations online.
Music occupations are closely related to environmental, social, spiritual and political contexts and the places in which people gather. We can seek to understand, shape and design environments which support our music roles.

This webpage traverses a journey about designing environmental contexts that enhance equitable participation in musicking. The discussions range from the design of environmental soundscapes, to considering principles of equity and diversity in Music Without Borders approaches.

The parameters of environmentally-based approaches are unified by the thread of designing contexts for musicking that support and enhance music performance and open greater possibilities for participation across organisational borders. Community-based Music Outreach is discussed in relation to building capacity of communities to manage social and cultural change in a particular place.

The determinants of successful musicking are variable -- but the art and science of occupational performance lies in how we curate or create our own sound worlds. 


A new exploratory project has commenced as outreach from the Purga Music Museum in Ipswich, Queensland - see Music Outreach webpage for updates.

The idea that museums need to be more responsive to their communities has been raised from various angles including regulation of corporate social responsibility (Janes & Conatus, 2005), and the upheaval in the politics of knowledge which has resulted in greater stakeholder participation through online technology (Knell, 2007). Many people are more able to access information, express their opinions, and organise community-cultural activities online. If we accept the view that, “Culture involves the myriad ways in which people relate to their world” (Sutter & Worts, 2005, p. 130-131), then there seems to be increasing modalities through which people may spontaneously engage with their local, regional, national and even international current affairs. Educational programs facilitate people’s acquisition of technology and build their capacity to use technology to their own ends. At the community level, there has been a growth in organisations that participate in ‘culture’ and Glenn Sutter and Douglas Worts have suggested that museums could be “active facilitators of social change at the local and regional level,” and argue that, “society needs therapy.” The concept of museums taking an active role in mediating social action was raised as early as 1996, in UNESCO’s Our Creative Diversity: Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development:

Museums need to broaden their roles. Particularly in cities, they need to represent the knowledge, experiences and practice of all those who contribute to the human dimension of the city, to promote the involvement of the entire community in policy and operations, recognizing that their working assets are not just their collections but the total patrimony, whether tangible or intangible of the territory concerned. Few are equipped to deal with the socio-political aspects of culture and development. To do so would require involving disciplines of the human sciences as well as building a new institutional base. The Music Museum has seen the introduction of Music Health professionals conducting centre-based and community outreach programs...an example of working across borders...

Excerpt from:
Kirkwood, Sandra (2011). Doing, being and becoming more active through playing part in community-based museum scenarios. Retrieved 15 September, Music Health Australia: Ipswich (


Janes, Robert, and Gerald Conatus, eds. 2005. Looking reality in the eye: Museums and social responsibility. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press.

Knell, Simon, Suzanne MacLeod, and Sheila Watson. 2007. Museum revolutions: How museums change and are changed. New York: Routledge.

Sutter, Glenn, and Douglas Worts. 2005. Negotiating a sustainable path: Museums and societal therapy. In Looking reality in the eye: Museums and social responsibility, edited by R. Janes and G. Conatus. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

UNESCO. 1996. Our creative diversity: Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. Geneva: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0010/001055/105586e.pdf (accessed 16 Jan, 2011).

Music Without Borders: Bridges with Communities
Music without Borders: Bridges with Communities presentation by Sandra Kirkwood at the Musicological Society of Australia Conference, held at Newcastle Conservatorium, 26-28 Sept, 2009.

The concept of Music without Borders grew out of the Doctors without Borders project that was established by a group of young French doctors in 1971. Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres, was originally a response to the growing refugee crises in formerly colonial Third World areas. The success of the program was evident when Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Over the last 20-30 years, other groups have taken on the 'without borders' name and approach to community service. Since the concept of borderwork is still developing, I will try to highlight and explain some of the underlying theory and practice frameworks that apply to Music without Borders programs of Music Health Australia.

Socio-ecological approaches to health and well-being generally extend beyond the borders of disciplines and differences between people. Peoples' needs sometimes fall outside the usual borders of services delivered by government and institutions, so Music without Borders means to devise solutions that are tailor-made for individuals, communities and places. Attempts to generate situation-specific projects may well take music and health service providers outside of their normal daily work in health centres and clinics, and into the 'real world' - even outside their normal hours of work and regular responsibilities of employment. Borderless approaches imply that communities are active in helping themselves and music health, education, or cultural workers may be attracted to this kind of service that involves helping people and communities with unmet needs.

Contributions to Music without Borders may come from fields such as Indigenous knowledge perspectives, ecology, sociology, health approaches to ethnomusicology such as medical ethnomusicology, bio-musicology, applied ethnomusicology, community music, community development, music therapy, music education, ethnology, health promotion, music performance, science and music, performance health, and cultural heritage management - just to name a few. The focus is especially on first-hand personal experience and music performance in daily life, that can be used in case-based reasoning and reflective practice.

There are websites devoted to borderwork, such as Conductors without Borders, Doctors without Borders, and Sports without Borders. Nick Kronenberg and Pollard have edited a book called Occupational Therapy without Borders (2005). The concept of Musicians without Borders is still under development and interested people are invited to contribute ideas as to what this approach to community-based service delivery means in relation to their own life and practice in Australia.


The term 'Borderwork' has been used to describe a wide range of social health and political advocacy approaches. Most of the principles seem to be related to social movements that advocate for the needs of people from disadvantaged or marginalised minority groups. For example, certain values have been applied in relation to people with a disability, such as 'normalisation,' the 'developmental approach,' 'social role valorisation,' and the 'least restrictive alternative' principles. Each of these terms relating to social rather than bio-medical models of disability will be defined and suggestions given as to how they can be applied to music programs.

The Developmental Model promotes the idea that people are able to improve their functional ability regardless of their age or ability level (Fine, 1985). This means that people may learn music at any time in their life span, regardless of whether they meet a certain level of musical, academic or other competence. Mentors may assist people who do not have access to music tuition, as is the case for the
Conductors without Borders program that is described on Wikipedia. This program engages conductors who want to assist with the training of choral conductors and the improvement of choral singing in developing countries and regions.

Social Role Valorization (SRV) is part of the overall philosophy of normalization, which accords people who are disadvantaged or marginalised the same respect and dignity that is given to other people (Flynn & Lemay, 1999). SRV means that people have opportunities to participate in activities that are age-appropriate and valued by the community. It means portraying a positive image to the public and allows people to develop desirable social roles, rather than being restricted to undesirable or menial tasks.

The Least Restrictive Alternative (LRA) principle is part of the philosophy of normalisation, in that it promotes working with people in the most appropriate location in which they can directly use the skills that they are learning. As few restrictions as possible are applied so there is an emphasis on people being able to organise and alter their own environment to make it more suitable for their needs and interests. LRA can be applied to supporting people to choose and design their own musical or sonic environment.

These principles have application to local music environments in that people can have opportunities to control, direct, and participate in music activities of their choice. Music participation opportunities are available to all, and regardless of ability. Assistance is provided to design, construct/adapt equipment and modify environments so they support musical performance and personal preferences. People may choose to collaborate with others and participate, or they may choose to come along to music events and watch/listen to what happens. The role of audience members is important to performance. Alternatively, people may decide to remain at home, or listen to their choice of recorded music.

This personalised approach of allowing people to do what they want to do and supporting individual decision making is termed client-centered practice; this fosters consultation and shared leadership rather than direct control by experts (Holburn & Vietze, 2002). Allowing people to have share their experiences and tell their own stories provides opportunities for personal expression and also agency at various levels of society.

Another example of borderwork comes from Peterson's (2005, p. 7) description of Indigenous Life Projects "which refers to the desires of those Indigenous people who seek autonomy in deciding the meaning of their life independently of projects promoted by the state and market, and to people developing their own situation-based knowledge and practices in the contemporary world...these can involve partnerships and co-existences, where such are not denied by the encompassing society, and involve continuously emergent forms and resilience on the part of Indigenous people."

Community-based rehabilitation programs can also be closely related to borderwork through assisting communities to become involved and to address their own needs in regards to disability and equitable distribution of resources. This implies democratic principles of consultation, consideration of people's values and aspirations, and working toward mutually agreed goals. In this way, service providers may be engaged to work with communities on their on terms using methods that facilitate social responsibility of corporate, community and government sectors.

Fine, A. (1985). Developmental model for the integration of leisure programming in the education of individuals with mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 23 (6), 289-296.

Flynn, R. & Lemay, R. (1999). A quarter century of normalization and social role valorization: evolution and impact. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

Hodge, B., & O'Carroll, J. (2006). Borderwork in multicultural Australia. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Holburn, S., & Vietze, P. (2002). Person-centered planning: Research, practice and future directions. Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

Kronenberg, F., Pollard N., Sakellariou, D. Eds. (2011). Occupational Therapies without Borders (Vol. 2): Towards an Ecology of Occupation-based Practices. London: Elsevier Health Services, Churchill-Livingstone.

Peterson, N. (2005). What can pre-colonial, frontier economies tell us about engagement with the real economy? Indigenous life projects and the conditions for development, in D. Austin-Broos & G. MacDonald (eds), Culture, economy and governance in Aboriginal Australia, Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Shelemay, K. (1996). Crossing boundaries in music and musical scolarship: A perspective from ethnomusicology. The Musical Quarterly, 80 (1), pp. 13-30.

Walker, D., & Nocon, H. (2007). Boundary-crossing competence: Theoretical considerations and educational design. Mind, Culture and Activity, 14 (3), 178-195.

Choosing or designing suitable environments for music may have an impact on people's health. There are many factors that may influence music performance and health. For example, various attempts have been made to synthesize special environments for people with a disability, such as Lilli Nielsen's Active Learning approach for students with vision impairment. Snoezelen is an example of a multi-sensory environment that has been used in special education, therapy and aged care centres to encourage people to actively explore and use all the senses.

'Snoezelen' is a combination of two Dutch words that literally means "to sniff and doze." This is an unusual way of describing a sense of relaxation in a pleasant environment. People commonly call Snoezelen rooms "multi-sensory" environments because they usually have a variety of technological devices, such as lamps that project revolving images from oil slides, CDs of relaxing or stimulating music, colourful florescent toys that glow under the UV lights, great variety of tactile surfaces, large bubble lamps, fragrant oil burners, gym mats and sometimes balance equipment that rocks people back and forth. The approach may have some distant connection with technology used in discos in the 70s.

There are many U-Tube videos that show Snoezelen rooms in action. This video explains the rationale for the use of particular pieces of equipment.
An alternate approach providing multi-sensory stimulation would be to increase access to natural environments outside of special schools and aged care centres so that students and residents can interact with people of various age groups. Institutional living can result in segregation of generations and this may limit the sharing of cultural ideas and opportunities for creative expression. It is important to critically reflect on the physical and social environments in which music programs are offered, and to consider other alternatives. It may be possible to improve access to cultural societies and community groups so they can better support people with a disability and accept people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This diversity can enrich community life.

Padilla, R. (2011). Effectiveness of environment-based interventions for people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(5), 514-522.

Articles written by Sandra Kirkwood on November 12, 2008; last updated 1 November, 2016.
© Sandra Kirkwood, 2008


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