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Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy, Volume 1&2

br2006_067br2006_067bAbrams, B. (Ed.)(2004). Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy, Volume 1. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Meadows, A. (Ed.)(2005). Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy, Volume 2. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

With its new monograph series, Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy (QIMT), Barcelona Publishers has provided readers with a valuable and continuing resource for music therapists, music therapy students, and qualitative researchers in other fields. 2004 saw the publication of the first volume, and 2005 that of Volume 2. Kenneth Bruscia, the owner of Barcelona Publishers, initiated this series, and its first two volumes suggest good things to come.

The submission guidelines for QIMT are summed up in a sentence, which reads “only unpublished research studies on music therapy that are in the qualitative paradigm will be considered for publication.” True to form, Ken Bruscia provides definitions of each salient word or phrase in this sentence. The editors have ensured that the studies meet these guidelines: none of the writings have been published before, all are systematic and monitored for integrity, all address music therapy topics, and all are qualitative, though from a variety of methodologies. The result is a refreshing, engaging, and thought-provoking set of readings.

Volume 1 includes an introduction by guest editor Brian Abrams, which helpfully contextualizes the monograph. The series is designed to provide a publication venue for qualitative research, due to the historical intolerance of scientific (i.e., quantitative) journals toward qualitative research. Abrams does not spend time defending or justifying qualitative research. Rather, he provides a brief overview of the studies presented in Volume 1 and concisely places them in their historical and methodological contexts. The volumes in the QIMT series (so far) contain works by more than one author; in this way it differs from other monographs in music therapy (cf., The Nordoff-Robbins music therapy monograph series).

All four studies included in Volume 1 utilize phenomenology in some form, revealing the versatility of this methodology. The topics range from the experience of listening to music while upset (Racette), the experience of being effective as a music therapist (Comeau), to therapists’ experience of spiritual moments in music therapy (Marom). The largest study in Volume 1, a recent dissertation, focuses on meaning in improvisational music therapy with adolescent clients (Gardstrom). This study also incorporates hermeneutics in its methodology. Gardstrom’s focus on clients’, rather than therapists’ experiences, combined with the more complex methodology, provides an interesting shift of perspectives, and also signals to the novice reader something of the complex landscape of qualitative research.

Volume 2 is headed by another guest editor, Anthony Meadows. His introduction addresses the challenge of communicating nonverbal experiences, using the metaphor of translation. This metaphor resonated with my experiences as a speaker of several languages and occasional translator, as well as a qualitative researcher, specifically that it is often very difficult to translate ideas from one language or mode of experience into another. Fortunately, little was lost in the “translation” of the studies in Volume 2.

The studies in Volume 2 employ a somewhat broader selection of methodologies. The first study (Bruscia et al.) introduces a new qualitative methodology, collaborative heuristic analysis. In the study, the researchers essentially use each other as research tools in all possible roles in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM). Another study (Abbott) explores positive and negative client experiences in BMGIM. The final study in Volume 2 (Brescia) explores intuition as experienced and used by music therapists. Both of these studies are phenomenological in nature, with some epistemological differences. Abbott operates from the position of transcendental realism, while Brescia describes her work more generally, as a form of naturalistic inquiry.

In both volumes of QIMT, the researchers have included very thorough discussions of the implications of their studies. This is particularly important for studies of this size and nature, given the amount and types of data that qualitative studies can produce. This is evidence of quality work both on the part of the researchers and the editorial board.

The QIMT series has several features which make it a valuable addition to the published research in music therapy. First, qualitative research is not set up in competition or even in comparison to quantitative research. This is reflected in the makeup of the editorial board, an international group of respected qualitative researchers. Second, each study includes a detailed explanation of its methods, which is appropriate in qualitative inquiry. This allows the richness and variety of qualitative methods to emerge naturally, in the context of each individual study. Third, the writing is very clear and engaging, allowing the reader to perceive something of the personality of the researchers; however, the writing is not dominated by their personalities. The editors and researchers have clearly paid attention to organization, making the studies relatively easy to read, even for undergraduate students in music therapy (some quantitative researchers could learn from this). Finally, the series provides a publication venue for larger research studies, those which might not fit into the boundaries that most research journals place on their publications.

Several questions came up for me when reading QIMT. Perhaps the biggest question was one that many positivistic researchers might have: “so what?” This is a question that Ken Bruscia continually posed when I was completing my dissertation under his advisement. It is an especially important question in qualitative research. Behind it is the expectation that the researcher present results (and other materials) in such a way that the reader can make sense of it-essentially, to be empathic with the reader. Each study in these first two volumes answers this question in its own way, and the reader is never wondering how the results of a given study might apply to one’s own work as a music therapist. One criticism might be that the studies focus too much on the experiences of music therapists, rather than the experience of clients or other more client-related phenomena. Only one study, in Volume 1, was client-centered (Gardstrom). Perhaps future volumes will include more such studies.

QIMT will not be published on a regular basis. Instead, it will appear when adequate studies have been collected to fill a volume. While Volumes 1 & 2 appeared on an annual basis, we cannot assume this will continue. However, given the quality so far, I certainly hope to see new volumes on a semi-regular basis, and encourage qualitative researchers in music therapy to send in their submissions. Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy promises to be a valuable resource to the field.

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