Study of Chinese family musical involvement (FMI) and musical identities
Individuals’ musical identities are closely related to and manifested in their musical behaviours. How people conceive of their music and themselves, and how they make use of music can reflect their own distinctive values, attitudes and views of the world, which is an important process in their identity construction. Previous studies have highlighted the significance of family factors (such as parental musical behaviour and preferences) in one’s construction of musical identities, and suggest that family musical activities are positively correlated with family cohesion and emotional well-being. Despite the significance of both family and music in individuals’ lives, few studies have focused on the function of music within the family unit, and even fewer consider families in the very different context of Chinese society. This study aims to address the gap in the literature relating to Chinese family musical involvement (FMI) and musical identities. The research questions investigated in this study are: 1) What is FMI and how can it be assessed? 2) What is the relationship between FMI and musical identities? 3) What is the relationship between FMI and interpersonal interactions and family communication? Participants were recruited from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Six Chinese families with 16 people in total participated in the investigation, and each individual family member was interviewed separately. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. The analysis of the participants’ narratives identified three overarching themes, namely: ‘Describing FMI’, ‘Developing identities in FMI’, and ‘Outcomes of FMI’. ‘Describing FMI’ presents information about participating families’ musical activities, musical resources, their attitudes towards music, and their motivation for FMI. In general, FMI in the participating Chinese families was highly child-centred, as parents placed great importance on their children’s musical development, regardless of their own level of interest in musical activities. Mothers and children had stronger musical identities than fathers. The extracurricular music class was considered to be an important resource for organising family musical activities. ‘Developing identities in FMI’ shows that the participants’ roles and identities are dynamic in their interaction with FMI. The roles of family members are interchangeable in many situations depending on parental and child ages. Engaging in music with family members could bring about transformations in individuals’ musical identities. Most participants experienced a positive change in their musical identities when engaging in FMI. However, unpleasant musical experiences, such as listening to dispreferred music in the interaction of FMI could harm the development of musical identities and even family relationships if unresolved. ‘Outcomes of FMI’ examines participants’ experiences of FMI, and the influence of FMI on family communication and relationships. FMI can have both positive and negative influence on couple relationships and parent-child relationships. FMI can play a significant role in the development of close family bonds. However when family members’ preferences are not facilitated and balanced, FMI might also be less interesting and enjoyable for the family members involved, and hence an unpleasant musical experience might damage musical identities and adversely affect family relationships. From a positive perspective, negative experiences in FMI proved short-term such that family members often self-adjust their own negative feelings; for example, they might maximise the positive aspect of their experiences or put negative experiences aside. The findings of the study suggest that simply pulling family members together might not achieve the goal of ‘families that play together, stay together’; instead, it can adversely affect individuals’ interests and motivation in FMI, as well as their communication and relationships with family members. Perhaps music educators, music therapists, and community workers could devise strategies to help families see any problems as something other families come across, and how they can overcome these or get more positive time from their musical interaction. The study also highlights gender bias in FMI and music culture in Chinese context. The absence of fathers in both FMI and family affairs should garner more attention from all segments of society. Family activity organisers could inform parents of both maternal and paternal involvement in family/musical activities.