Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Unlocking the Groove: Our Journey to Uncovering the Transformative Power of Music
for Older Adults

Lisa J. Lehmberg, C. Victor Fung

We are excited to present our groundbreaking research on the quality of life of older
adult clients of U.S. senior centers through the lens of music participation. Our new
book, Music, Senior Centers, and Quality of Life (2023), provides a unique perspective
on the state of musical activities in senior centers before and during the pandemic,
based on our research conducted in senior centers across six states. We feature stories
from older adults themselves and insights from senior center activity leaders,
management, and staff. Also documented is the adjustment process that senior centers
underwent during the pandemic. We conclude by emphasizing the critical role that
music plays in senior centers and offering recommendations for policy makers, school
and community music educators, music activity leaders, older adults, caregivers, and
service providers to enhance the quality of life of older adults. We are thrilled to share
our findings and hope that our research will provide a deeper understanding of the
impact of music on the lives of older adults and inspire further exploration.
In this blog, we share our personal journeys leading up through this book. It’s not
always easy to find information about the paths that authors take; we hope that by
sharing our experiences, we can provide a more personal and relatable perspective on
our work. We also hope to inspire others to explore their own interests and passions.
We are incredibly grateful to our readers who have asked us questions over time, and
accordingly, we have gathered some of the most common questions and provided our
responses below. We hope you enjoy reading about our individual stories.

Question: What was your educational and/or professional path to becoming a

Lisa: My path to becoming a researcher began later in life, after earning bachelor’s and
master’s degrees in piano performance and teaching in U.S. public schools for 18+
years. Seeking a refreshed, broader, and deeper perspective on my work, I entered the
music education Ph.D. program at the University of South Florida, where I taught four
courses and had the good fortune to study with Dr. Victor Fung. My teaching and
learning experiences at USF served as a catalyst to explore a new role of researcher
and higher education faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
(UMass), where I happily remain today.

Victor: Research has always been an interest of mine since my student days. Even after
becoming a faculty member, I keep learning how to do it better to this day. I
understand and enjoy the fact that research is an endless endeavor. To me, the pursuit
of knowledge through research is everlasting, not only through a lifetime, but also
through generations. Coupling research with my background and interest in music
makes the journey so much more enjoyable and meaningful.

Question: In particular, what piqued your interest in older adult music participation and
quality of life?

Lisa: To supplement our income while I was studying for my Ph.D., my husband
accepted a position as music director at a large church in a nearby senior living
community. On weekends I accompanied him there and volunteered my time to sing in
the choir and play flute in the praise band. I really enjoyed connecting with the older
adult music participants there and my interest grew in helping to further all older
adults’ enjoyment of, and involvement in, music.

Victor: First, I always respect older people as they have accumulated a lot of life
experiences and wisdoms. Second, I feel that older people deserve more in our
society, including a better quality of life, because they have contributed so much of
their lives in many ways, directly and indirectly. Third, after I moved to Florida in 2004, I
noticed that there are more older adults in the community than prior places I have
lived. So, I would like to utilize my research skills in music education to help understand
their music participation and quality of life. One way I view this line of research is to
consider older adults as an overlooked and under-studied “minority culture” in society.
Their culture is definitely different from that of the younger generations.

Question: What led you to collaborate on research on this topic?

Lisa: Shortly after joining the UMass music education faculty, I noticed that the NAMM
Foundation was launching a new “Sounds of Living” grant initiative to examine the role
of active participation in music for children, youth, and adults of all ages. I recalled that
Victor had mentioned his interest in someday conducting research on older adult music
participation and quality of life. Remembering how much I enjoyed my prior
experiences in the senior living community church, I contacted Victor to see if he might
be interested in collaborating on such a study. We applied for the NAMM grant, were
selected for funding, and our research on this topic was off to a great start, which led
to our first book in 2016!

Victor: I am so glad that my collaborator on this line of research, Dr. Lisa Lehmberg,
shares a similar research interest with me. Our combined perspectives have helped the
research to be better designed and reach deeper insights, which perpetuate more
studies. I eagerly anticipate our continuing and forthcoming projects.

Question: What is the most exciting/interesting/rewarding thing to come out of your
research on this topic?

Lisa: The most exciting thing is co-authoring and publishing two books with Victor
Fung! Perhaps the single most interesting thing, which occurred during data collection
for our new book, was visiting with, and hearing about the musical history of, a
centenarian senior center client who still participated actively in the center’s choir.
There was much to learn about life from that kind and caring gentleman. Overall, the
most rewarding thing has to be the intrepid older adults with whom I’ve connected and
spent time. It warms my heart to learn about the role of music in their lives.

Victor: As in most research projects, finding out the unknown is one of the most
exciting moments. Without the data and the analyses, we could only guess. With the
evidence we collected, we can speak with a lot more confidence about the
phenomenon in question. Throughout this book project, I learned so much about older
adults’ lives in a realistic sense, in this case in the setting of senior centers. Although
they tend to be described under one label of “older adults”; in fact, they are extremely
diverse among themselves. It is rewarding to enrich my own knowledge and
understanding. Furthermore, I look forward to the potential contribution of this work to
fields beyond my own, such as aging studies, public health, social work, and other
social and scientific areas.

Question: How does your research on this topic affect your own quality of life?

Lisa: It gives me hope regarding growing older and maintaining a good quality of life.
It renews and feeds my deep belief that music is for everyone, and the older adults’
stories fulfill me and renew my spirit. Our research also provides evidence to support
the ongoing societal effort against ageism.

Victor: The research has helped me to build a sense of fulfillment and selfimprovement,
because of my increased understanding in music and older adults’ lives.
I feel that I have deeper insights into my own quality of life as I age.

Question: Where do you think/hope your research will take you next?

Lisa: I’d like to explore older adult music participation on an international level. I’m
really interested in examining similarities and differences across countries and possibly
collaborating with researchers from different parts of the world.

Victor: It would be interesting to take a global view in identifying universal truths about
older adults’ musical engagement. This way, we can draw implications for music
activities for all generations from a broad humanistic standpoint regardless of locale.
There could be potential to transform the way we think about music and music
education in everyone’s life, not necessarily limited to designated time and space but
integral to aspects of life across the entire community.

Question: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

Lisa: We were inspired by the resilience and adaptability of senior centers, especially
during the pandemic, and we wanted to document the impact that music had on the
lives of older adults before and during this difficult time. Through our research, we
hope to continue to shed light on the importance of music in promoting the quality of
life of older adults, and to inspire others to further investigate this important topic.

Victor: It may be time to break boundaries between older adults and non-older adults
in terms of music participation, teaching, and learning. This includes seeing life stages
as a continuum and interconnected and integral phases, rather than distinctive stages
in musical experiences, participation, and learning. Music is an essential component in
a balanced life with sustained meanings throughout the entire lifespan.

Music, Senior Centers, and Quality of Life by Lisa J. Lehmberg and C. Victor Fung

Title: Music, Senior Centers, and Quality of Life

ISBN: 9781009164368

About The Authors

Lisa J. Lehmberg

Lisa J. Lehmberg is Professor of Music Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA. She holds a PhD degree in music education and has extensive experience as a school...

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C. Victor Fung

C. Victor Fung is Professor of Music Education at the University of South Florida, USA. He authored Music for Life: Music Participation and Quality of Life of Senior Citizens (with...

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