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Music and mental health - a ‘doing subject’

Lived experience of mental illness and recovery is now valued highly in new models of care. Experience of community engagement may be one of the next great opportunities for trained musicians seeking to offer a relevant and valued service. So in this forum Helena and I were looking for a special piece of ground. A place where people who’s stories are interrupted and who’s voices may be silenced by trauma and mental health disorders are able to come together in the highly sociable behaviour of making music.

Our panel included: Dave, a musician who is also a social worker; Naomi, Senior Lecturer in health who is also a musician; Robert, an arts leader who became a songwriter during a time of recovery; Vicky, a Lecturer in mental health who believes in the power of creativity; Cath, a choir leader full of the good health news of group singing; and Karyn, the CEO of a large support organisation who puts the healing power of music high on a list of her priorities for funding. (See full list of participants below.) These practitioners from across the music and health disciplines are embedded in community and, on the whole, work from expertise gained in the field. If you came to our forum for exciting new science (that current explosion of various–ologies) you may have been disappointed, because ultimately the vision of music and mental health we offered in this event, was as a ‘doing subject’.

The biggest thrill for me was the mix of people in the audience – with health and music professionals, community arts leaders and a really substantial assembly of community members and mental health ‘consumers’. Bringing such diverse groups together at the Conservatorium is the first fruit of my new collaboration with Helena and reflects the relationships that she has developed over her years of practice in mental health. Helena was the mistress of ceremonies and moderator, both roles she performed with warmth and style. Talking-wise, the panel shared their viewpoints and we found time for a couple of questions. I did what I love to do, sing my songs, but musically, my pride and joy was having Robert present his song, ‘The Weight of Love’, overlapping with Dave who looped some delicate lacy lines on his guitar, blending into Steve, my brilliant accompanist, bringing it home gently on piano. Altogether they presented ten minutes of something very beautiful that existed uniquely in that moment. My Doctoral supervisor Professor Bartleet (Brydie) gave a most graceful introduction and the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre shouted us all to a noisy and happy afternoon tea.

Helena and I have been talking about communication, creativity, music and singing for a year. She is ‘Mrs Process’ and I’m ‘Mrs Outcome’. Helena seeks to help others to find their voice. I want the audience hear the story as clearly as they can. Helena brought together the process for our forum and I made sure it flowed, that it sounded beautiful and was richly lit. We’re a strong team. We get to keep both wonderful memories and great documentation: Mark was taking stills, Kevin for Griffith University filmed the event to create teaching material for the Masters of Mental Health, surveys were returned and people expressed interest in our focus group follow up later in the year.

Talking makes the singing stronger. Music sets a frame around the talk. I’ve got heaps to think about now.


The panel (alphabetically listed)

  • Dave McGuire - Musician and Facilitator of Hope Street Music Group

  • Cath Mundy - Community Choir Director, Freedom Train, Mixed Beans, With One Voice Brisbane

  • Robert Perrier - Theatre Practitioner and Songwriter

  • Victoria Stewart - Course Convenor of ‘Consumer, Carer, and Community Engagement in Mental Health’

  • Naomi Sunderland - Senior Lecturer, School of Human Services and Social Work

  • Karyn Walsh - CEO Micah Projects


  • Helena Roennfeldt – Mental health lived experience academic

  • Leah Cotterell – Queensland Conservatorium Doctoral Candidate

Leah accompanied by Steve Russell

Thanks to

  • Rebekah Roennfeldt – AV operation

  • Mark Crocker – Photography

  • The Serotonin Choir – Foyer entertainment

  • Kevin Judge - videography


The Music Mental Health and Community Forum is supported by:

  • Griffith University’s School of Human Services and Social Work

  • Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

  • Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre

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