Grieg Research School in Interdisciplinary Music Studies


Stuart Wood

Beyond Messiaen’s Birds: Exploring the Musicality of Everyday Dementia Care Communication

This paper investigates the use of verbatim musical transcription as a research method in dementia care. It reports on an arts-based ethnographic study (Aeriel) in which verbatim transcription was applied to everyday interactions in dementia care, making use of musical (instead of verbal) notation. Starting from the notion that medical and health care settings can be sites of ‘found performance’, the paper reviews literature relating to artistic methodologies within medical humanities, music, ethnography and dementia care. From this review it proposes a research design and method of verbatim musical transcription as a potential avenue of investigating communication between carer and cared for in dementia care. The paper offers an illustrative example from Aeriel and draws conclusions from the synthesis of verbal and musical data analysis. Findings indicate an important advance in studies of dementia care communication towards a concept of the ‘post-verbal’ enabled by a musical research method.

Key Questions

  1. How might we approach sites of care as examples of 'found performance'?
  2. What does verbatim musical transcription add to ethnographic research?

Recommended Reading

  • Crawley, A. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press 2017.

  • Rice, T. Hearing the hospital: sound, listening, knowledge and experience. Canon Pyon: Sean Kingston Press 2013


I am a music therapist and researcher. I lecture frequently in national and international contexts, on music therapy and aspects of medical humanities. My research interests focus on aesthetics of care, using innovative methods from musicology and drama to explore everyday life situations. I recently completed a Wellcome Trust post-doctoral project in medical humanities, called Aeriel, which has informed a practice-based training programme for carers. In 2017 I was awarded an MBE for my services to music therapy and care.