“Medicine for the soul” – Older men’s identity performance and affect attunement through music listening — Katarina Lindblad & Ulrik Volgsten

Πρώτη Ματιά – Article (published on 10 January 2022)

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The wellbeing of older men is an understudied, yet urgent research topic. After retirement, men may lose their social networks and professional identity, which can lead to loneliness, depression, and a heightened risk for suicide. These problems are worsened by a reluctance amongst many men to seek help. Existing social support systems are oftentimes not customised to older men’s needs and interests. Previous studies suggest that music can play a significant role for the social and emotional wellbeing of older men. Therefore, a music listening group was set up to explore how music listening can serve as a wellbeing resource for older men. Eight men 64-86 years old met to listen to and discuss music of their own choice, with a trained music therapist (first author) as the group leader. Focusing on the participants’ identity performances, a deductive thematic analysis was conducted, guided by Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective of frontstage-backstage, Stern’s theories on vitality affect, and masculinity theory. The participants performed their identities mainly in line with traditional masculinities in their verbal frontstage performances, revealing ambivalent masculine identities, while using music to connect to, experience and express other, more “sentient” backstage identities which surpass traditional norms. The music chosen was characterised by the participants’ curiosity and openness to learning about new music. The results have implications for music therapy in highlighting the wellbeing needs of older men and music’s many aesthetic and wellbeing potentials for this hitherto understudied group.


older men, music listening, loneliness, wellbeing, masculinities, performed identities


Katarina Lindblad is a music therapist MA and a certified GIM therapist (Bonny Method), with a PhD in musicology. In addition to her private music therapy practice, Katarina regularly lectures at conferences and educates caregiving staff about music in dementia care, and on older men’s mental health from a masculinity perspective. [katarina@musikterapicentrum.se]

Ulrik Volgsten is professor of musicology at Örebro University, Sweden. His research is concerned with musical communication in different media. In addition to the conceptual history of Western music – composer, work, listener – an important focus of research has been on the role of resonance and affect attunement for the musical experience. [ulrik.volgsten@oru.se]