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Issue 01.08

Don Bergland
  Studio Process as Constructive Research
Ben Bolden
  Suds and Stan: Musically Enhanced Research
Michael Emme
  Impressions of Gi


Don Bergland
Art Education:

Ben Bolden
Music Education:

Michael Emme
Art Education:

Steven Capaldo
Music Education:

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ISSUE 01.08 - Journal of Creative Arts in Education

Suds and Stan: musically enhanced research - Dr. Benjamin Bolden (University of Victoria)

Explore the Sonic Experience below. The full text of Dr. Bolden's article follows the audio presentation.

Suds and Stan Preamble

'It is important for us to point out that neither language nor numbers have a monopoly on the means through which humans represent what they have come to know… research need not be limited to written reports. Experience in the world is, after all, construed from "multimedia" events and is not limited to what we read' (Barone and Eisner, 1997).

With this sonic experience, I introduce a new research methodology which I hope will be of use and of interest to educational researchers and consumers of educational research. I call it: Musically Enhanced Research.

The interview I have musically analyzed and represented here describes two very different approaches to music teaching. I think most music educators use aspects of both approaches, and struggle, on an ongoing basis, (I know I do myself) to find a comfortable balance between the two.



Use Controls to start, pause, and stop the audio selection.

Suds and Stan:  musically enhanced research

Benjamin Bolden

It is important for us to point out that neither language nor numbers have a monopoly on the means through which humans represent what they have come to know… research need not be limited to written reports. Experience in the world is, after all, construed from “multimedia” events and is not limited to what we read  (Barone and Eisner, 1997, p. 90).

Voices from the academy are calling out for innovative approaches to narrative research.  For too long arts-based research has relied on literary forms of description and representation; an approach once innovative has become mundane. This paper introduces and describes a new form of arts-based research, inspired by the recognition of the multitudinous ways humans represent what they know. Film and video documentaries are pervasive in our society, and widely valued as an accessible means of sharing knowledge and insight. Radio documentaries are common also, and similarly effective as a means of communication. My background in music composition has inspired me to explore the representation of narrative research in a form closely related to the radio documentary concept. I call it: Musically Enhanced Research.

In 1999, Toronto composer Adam Goddard won the Prix Italia for Radio Documentary. His ‘music documentary,’ The Change in Farming, used as source material interviews Goddard conducted with his grandfather, a retired Ontario farmer. Henry Haws, over ninety years old, had a rich repertoire of stories to share and considerable yarn-spinning technique. Goddard took the tales and wove them together with original electronic and acoustic music into a brilliantly illustrated narrative tapestry. Goddard set his grandfather’s words within repetitive rhythmic structures, capitalizing on the old-timer’s musical speaking voice to suggest the pitch and rhythm of complementary motifs. The music, thus inspired by tonal inflections and natural rhythmic cadences of the story-telling voice, seemed to evolve organically from the spoken words. Through this music Goddard was able to introduce his own voice, commenting on and audio-illustrating his gradnfather’s anecdotes. The original 15-minute work was expanded for CBC-Radio’s ‘Ideas,’ which broadcast More About Henry in 2001.
When I first heard this radio broadcast, I was captivated. I wrote to CBC and requested the cassette recording, and listened to it many times. The work resonated within me—I found the combination of story telling and the music that grew directly from the narration extremely engaging. I loved the concept of Adam Goddard reverently using his own composer’s voice to build a pedestal for the valued chronicles his grandfather had shared. Although I have worked as a composer for some years, I have very little experience composing electro-acoustic music. When I began studying at the University of Toronto, I seized the opportunity to enroll in a computer music course. At the other end of the music building, while exploring narrative research methodology as part of my studies in music education, I was encouraged to interview a former teacher. I learned much from my discussion with Ted Duff, and enjoyed writing a portrait of a fascinating teacher. The recording of the interview itself was engaging to listen to, and it was a small leap to combine these two aspects of my current learning (educational research and computer composition) to produce an Adam Goddard-like ‘musically illustrated interview’.

I chose a brief 45-second segment of the interview that I found particularly resonant. As

a music teacher, I believe I am not alone in perpetually struggling to negotiate the dichotomy of ‘cool’ versus ‘traditional’ music. Which should I promote? With which style do I feel more comfortable?  Which do the students value?  Which style does the school community respect?  The duality does not only exist in the music room, but in all teaching contexts:  What sort of relationship should I foster with my students—friendly or reserved? How should I dress?  Should we study Shakespeare or Kerouac?  Ted Duff’s brief anecdote brilliantly captures the contrasting styles of two of his music teacher colleagues: Suds (visiting from the school across town) and Stan, teaching just down the hall.

The more I immersed myself in creating the musical illustration of this narrative, the more I felt connections with the training I was acquiring in my educational research classes. I was learning to recognize and pull themes from narrative research, with the intent of rendering the themes explicit in reflective prose. Back in the electro-acoustic studio, narrative themes surfaced from my interview with Ted Duff, and became more apparent with each repeated listening. I realized these themes could be translated into musical motifs. Instead of discussing the themes in prose, I could place them within a musical context, juxtaposing them with other themes/motifs, suggesting connections, and weaving my musical motifs in and out of the participant’s recorded words. I began to see strong potential for work of this nature within the field of educational research, an idea which became much stronger when my growing understanding of educational research lead me to articles by Piirto, Barone & Eisner, and Tierney.

Arts-based research, still a young field, encourages methods inspired by artistic ways and means of understanding, exploring, and describing phenomena. Jane Piirto (2002) wrote: “The qualitative researcher may use poetry to depict the data imagistically, metaphorically, [and] symbolically” (p. 435).  Rather than using poetry to depict the data, might the qualitative researcher use a musically enhanced recording of a participant’s story?  Piirto describes inquiries involving a reader’s theatre piece, a play, and an etude for flute (p. 444). She writes of the value the arts have in informing and communicating understandings, and supports the notion of artist/teachers using their particular skills and viewpoints to explore and express perceptions of educational issues:  “To learn the essence of [an artistic] domain’s educational implications at the feet of artist/teachers who are seeking to synthesize the expression of their work in both domains—the domain of the art and the domain of education—is an exciting possibility” (p. 444). This is exactly what I attempt to do with Suds and Stan—I seek to synthesize the expression of my musical understanding with my educational understanding.

Barone and Eisner (1997) echo the call for greater diversity in educational research methods and representation: “. . . educational research ought to exploit the capacities of mind to process information in a variety of ways. A parochial conception of the vehicles with which we think are legitimate for doing and reporting educational research will certainly limit the varieties of understanding and the forms of meaning that we are able to secure (p. 91).

I believe my compositional work surrounding the recording of the interview entailed a very thorough and particular analysis of that data; I noticed things and reached understandings I would not have found otherwise. I believe my representation will likewise suggest particular connections and ways of perceiving the data, which will lead listeners to unique understandings.

While supporting the idea of new forms of


representation (“The implications of exploring andexploiting new forms of representation for the conduct and display of educational research are profound” (p. 92)), Barone and Eisner also offer a caution:

Those using artistically treated forms to conduct research ought to have a firm foundation in the relevant philosophical literature so that the process of doing that work becomes more than a technical achievement. In the broadest of terms we are talking about an understanding of alternative epistemologies (p. 92).

Herein lies one of the dangers of this form of representation. In creating such a work as Suds and Stan, I need to know not only what it means to me, but how others will decipher its meaning. How will such symbolic forms operate as a means of advancing human understanding? There is also the suggestion here that the piece might be more of a ‘technical achievement’ than a means to communicate understanding. I would also put forward the suggestion that the author/composer might, in pursuing artistic goals, ignore and/or obscure important aspects of the research. However, both these concerns might be applied just as readily to literary forms of educational research, or indeed to any form of research.
William Tierney (2002) also urges the creation of innovative narrative strategies in qualitative research. He describes representation through plays, poems, prose, and poetry, yet still claims, “we need greater narrative diversity” (p. 391). For Tierney, what is important is “a narrative nature that captures the unique voices and lives of individuals in ways that normal social science texts cannot and that draws connections between the author’s voice and those of whom he or she writes” (p. 396). In my representation Duff’s unique voice is captured, literally, and I believe I am able to illustrate with music what he describes much more accurately than normal social science texts could. The connections between my own author’s voice and Duff’s are apparent in my simultaneous musical commentary. With the musical choices I make to illustrate my participant’s narrative and comment on it, I demonstrate my understanding of his words. This new genre seems tailor-made to fit Tierney’s criteria for effective representation of research. Given the dynamic nature of Suds and Stan, I also believe it would satisfy his insistence that “our work should inform and engage readers [or, in this case, listeners]” (p. 397). 

In the process of creating my musically illustrated anecdote, Suds and Stan, I had cause to repeatedly hear and reflect on the words and meaning Ted Duff shared. My understanding of his words is communicated in my musical treatment of the source material he provided. The infinitely powerful vehicle of music (think Hollywood films) is at my disposal to direct emotions, suggest connections, and invoke my personal commentary.

The voices of my research participant and myself are presented together. The listener has the opportunity to share in both our understandings of the anecdote and the experiences described. Better yet, musically enhanced research results in a form of representation that will, with any luck, not only communicate understanding, but also amuse, entertain, and, most importantly, engage.


Barone, T & Eisner, E. (1997). Arts-Based
  Educational Research. In R. M. Jaegar (ed.), Complementary methods for research in education (pp 73-116). Washington, DC: American Education Research Association.
Piirto, Jane. (2002). The question of quality and
  qualifications: writing inferior poems as qualitative research. Qualitative studies in education. 15(4), 431-445.
Tierney, William G. (2002). Get real: representing
  reality. Qualitative studies in education. 15(4), 385-398.


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