Music, Health and Wellbeing: Exploring Music for Health Equity and Social Justice.

Music, Health and Wellbeing: Exploring Music for Health Equity and Social Justice.

Published 17th January 2019

Allen, C

This book explores whether music can contribute to health equity and social justice, by enhancing positive social determinants of health (SDOH), and alleviating negatives ones. Twenty‐six authors consider this question from a range of angles, including micro‐level (small group) interventions, meso‐level (community) initiatives and macro‐level (societal) approaches. Readers are invited to review the evidence, re‐imagine a more equal way of seeing and being, and temper idealism with critical reflexivity; acknowledging that music can help to improve humanity, or negate it.

“Music, Health and Wellbeing” brings a refreshing new perspective for health promotion practitioners, researchers and teachers seeking to improve well‐being through creative partnerships with communities and music professionals. The tone of each chapter is very different, including formal reviews of theory and research, personal and professional reflections, cautionary tales and efforts to conceptualise the parameters of this community of practice. Each chapter has something unique and important to offer, highlighting the intersection between health promotion, music and social justice.

This book argues that music can influence health directly (as an SDOH in itself), and indirectly through other SDOHs. The authors describe several physical, psychological, social and spiritual benefits of music (eg, relaxation, rejuvenation, mood regulation and social connection). These effects are reported across many different ages, incomes, cultures, ability levels and backgrounds, including people with autism, depression and dementia, and those who have experienced trauma. Richard Wilkinson begins by noting that music could be “an antidote to anomie and apathy.”1 Clive Parkinson revisits this idea in “Weapons of Mass Happiness”, prompting readers to “question the status quo” and “disturb the peace” to “proactively disrupt … injustices and inequalities.”2 This book reminds us to think, collaborate, act and create, in line with our social justice values.

I first experienced this content while completing my high‐level wellness PhD.3, 4 This book review gave me a chance to revisit each chapter through the lens of my current role, considering how I can use music to support well‐being and equity. In the last few months, I have seen a community galvanising itself around a Margaret Wheatley poem,5 and an impromptu sing‐along that uplifted many, but unsettled others. These examples seem to reflect the essence of the authors’ claims. Music has a great deal of potential, but “homogenising assumptions about what makes people well and happy” are unlikely to help.6 If we agree that we are here to help people increase control over the range of factors that influence their health and well‐being,7 then we must ensure that our practice supports autonomy and self‐determination, in line with people's strengths, values and preferences. We “should neither be satisfied nor complacent, nor lose sight of the need to shock, hold to account, challenge stereotype and rock the boat.”8 “Music and the arts may not be a panacea for the ills of the world, but … the world can be a more socially just and equitable place through such engagement.”


Publication Type

Journal Article