Brass bands, cave men and community wellness: Using evolutionary biology as a framework for understanding the motivation of community music groups
School of Music, University of Canterbury
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Education/Centre for Transformational Games
This article reports on a study into the mental wellness of members of a community brass band engaged in intense musical preparation for a national competition. It was born out of my observation of the palpable increase in social cohesion, mutual support and sense of purpose over the duration of the pre-contest rehearsal period. While the literature has long advocated the value of music making for promoting mental wellness, finding appropriate scientific frameworks for investigating wellness have been problematic. This study utilised the field of evolutionary biology, specifically the intangible wellness needs of homo sapiens, as its conceptual framework (Boyden, 2004). Participants reported high activation of evolutionary wellness indicators, grouped largely around 1) personal needs associated with active involvement, success at achieving short term goals, personal involvement, challenge and self-fulfilment, 2) communal needs associated with convivial, co-operative environments, the fulfilment of collective goals and camaraderie, and 3) more specific task related needs, relating to active engagement and a pleasing environment. While the study employed a relatively small sample, the heterogeneity of the sample, along with a high degree of uniformity of results suggest that community music-making, particularly involving short-term achievement goals, may have an important part to play in promoting wellness, and that evolutionary biology may provide a suitable scientific framework for further investigation.