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Observations placeholder

Music therapy – And the Homeless choir



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

From What can the Social Psychology of Music offer Community Music therapy? – Jane Davidson

Betty Bailey is a psychologist with a strong amateur interest in choral singing and was keen to investigate why and how people engaged in choral singing.

The choristers she selected came from The Homeless Choir in Montreal Canada. At the time of interview, the choir comprised 20 homeless Francophone Canadian men. Of the whole ensemble, Betty was able to undertake in-depth interviews with the one-third who were absolutely bilingual, so she could speak with them in English. From the interviews she was able to establish several key common circumstances between the interviewees.

All had suffered: abusive parents, poverty, failed relationships, several losses of employment. In one case, the man had lost his child in a tragic accident in his home swimming pool. All had suffered from bouts of mental illness with associated self-abuse with drugs and alcohol. Reasons for joining the choir were (in accordance with their own conscious reflections) pragmatic such as: 'to get in off the street'; or accidental 'I was playing chess and someone asked me, so I just went along. '

Well, it may seem as if these men would constitute a potential music therapy cohort in terms of being hospitalised and offered therapy. However these men had never been offered any therapeutic interventions. Rather, a young French priest based in Montreal simply offered to run a choir. The men sang familiar songs and as the choir developed, they began composing simple ones themselves. Many of these pieces were autobiographical in nature.

A brief analysis of the interviews revealed the following effects of the singing on these individuals:

Emotional and personal release

C3: Singing is magic, I mean you can't touch it, you can't feel it with your hands, but it's somewhere around you...

C5: When I sing, I am happy...contented with myself, I'm happy with what I did….. when I learned that song, I needed three days, I was crying

Music for personal control

C2: I feel so good you know, it refreshes you... We need that, otherwise we'd go nuts.

Socialising influences

C7: There are several in the choir...who have succeeded now in this life because of the choir. They have found companionship, a woman...This choir is giving the people hope and happiness.

Betty argued that this 'hope and happiness' was connected very strongly with the fact that the choir permitted the men to have controlled social interactions which involved emotional closeness and proximity to others, whilst also enabling them to vent their anger and frustration.

Self-esteem and communication

Another key point was that the public nature of the performance provided some very significant personal opportunities:

C6: I was a homeless person, alone... Then, I could be a group, a force to entertain others. People like us have difficulty socialising amongst themselves outside the choir. When you're with a homeless person communication is seldom good.

So, the musical interactions seem to have short-circuited this difficulty.

Provide mental stimulation

C5: I am learning a lot of things. I feel that you create something. We create some harmonies. I develop a good ear. It is a really good thing...I couldn't do that digging a hole somewhere, now could I?

Provide opportunities for free play

C4: Sometimes we can be very deep, and uh, sometimes we can, we can make people laugh...

C1: I am a clown sometimes...we joke, make movements and dance sometimes.

Fun seemed to be a key element too.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy