Exploring the lived piano-playing experiences of older adults
This study was inspired by my personal experiences as a piano teacher giving lessons to an older adult with frontal lobe brain damage. Her brain damage was the result of the surgical removal of a brain tumour. She took up piano lessons in an attempt to rehabilitate brain function and memory and to rebuild her life. This alerted me to the powerful and therapeutic potential of piano playing for older adults with a diversity of neurological conditions, and more specifically stimulated my interest in the meaning that older adults ascribe to their musical experiences. Although we do know that music activities in general contribute to the subjective wellbeing of older adults, the lived piano-playing experiences of older adults has not yet been specifically explored in a focused way. Through my own teaching experiences I came to realise - and the scholarly literature confirms this - that piano playing is an important expression and reflection of a person’s true feelings in dealing with the real-life situation of age-related physical, cognitive, social and emotional concerns. The topic of this study is an exploration of the lived piano-playing experiences of five older adults who have been playing the piano since childhood. Therefore, the purpose of this interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) is to understand how five older adults make sense of their lived piano-playing experiences. This study is limited to older adults who are 60 years and older, and still live with a considerable degree of independence in the community. Piano-playing experiences include piano lessons, accompanying others, or playing piano in different contexts. The main question guiding this study is: How do five older adults make sense of their piano-playing experiences? The first sub-question, which will provide a textural description of the problem, is: What do five older adults experience when playing piano? The second sub-question, which aims to provide a structural description, is: How do five older adults experience playing the piano in terms of condition, situation and context? The third theory-driven sub-question is: To what extent can the piano-playing experiences of five older adults be explained by relevant theories of wellbeing? This qualitative study sought to gain insight into the essence of the musical life world of five purposefully selected participants through in-depth, semi-structured interviews. The strength of IPA lies in its idiographic commitment to each individual case, and therefore each individual case-study is presented as a separate article in my thesis. The transcriptions of the interviews were analysed separately using filters in the ATLAS.ti 7 computer software. Following the six-step IPA iterative and inductive data-analysis process, each participant’s emergent themes were discussed in five articles. Each participant’s experiences were also discussed in the context of relevant theories. The analysis of the shared experiences led to the development of superordinate themes that applied to each of the five participants in the cross-case analysis. The findings of my study revealed six superordinate themes regarding the lived piano-playing experiences of the five older adults: memories, coping with suffering, determination, interaction, wellbeing and purpose. The new knowledge that has emerged from the research is a phenomenological IPA and literature-based PERMAC1 wellbeing theory for older adults who play the piano. The cross-case analysis showed that coping with suffering becomes vitally important for older adults to flourish, in addition to positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. The PERMAC theory of wellbeing for older adults is an extension of Seligman’s PERMA2 in positive psychology. A heightened awareness of the value and meaning of piano-playing experiences for older adults should be the focus and priority of society and music educators. This study revealed that piano playing contributes to mental, physical, spiritual and personal wellbeing for older adults. Piano playing becomes a vital part of everyday living and induces a sense of purpose. Living purposefully through piano playing affords personal flourishing into old age.
- Humanities