Exploring the spiritual in music

Interdisciplinary dialogues in music, wellbeing and education

​​9-10 December 2017​

The 4th annual Nordoff Robbins Plus Conference



Dr Sara MacKian, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, The Open University, UK


‘The constant hum of the engine…’:  encouraging extraordinary interdisciplinary dialogues in spirituality and wellbeing

Spirituality is growing in popularity across the social sciences, popular culture, and it seems, music therapy. Indeed, throughout health and social care services, practitioners are now being encouraged to pay more attention to the diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices which patients and service users may have. However, in a recent survey on spirituality and music therapy, Tsiris (2016) found that spirituality is something which enjoys an ambivalent relationship with music therapy. Whilst many therapists acknowledged their own spirituality can play an important role in what they do, and recognised spirituality is something which has relevance to all aspects of human life; at the same time, there was widespread reluctance to admit the spiritual fully into the therapeutic relationship, for fear of it resulting in all sorts of opportunities for misunderstanding and conflict, possibly even undermining professional credibility. If spirituality is to serve as a useful construct, then, the challenge for us all is to become a little more comfortable with some of its more uncomfortable dimensions; to develop an openness to pushing its boundaries and exploring its potential. By sharing some of my own research experiences and challenges, I hope to encourage critical but creative engagement with a varied spiritual dialogue which puts the spirit right back at its heart.

Sara MacKian is Senior Lecturer in Health and Wellbeing, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, at The Open University. Sara’s teaching interests cover health, wellbeing, resilience and leadership, and her research is focused on how worlds of experience change as a result of lifecourse challenges. With a curiosity for how people interact around issues of health, wellbeing and the otherworldly Sara is inspired by the idea that the world is more mysterious and enchanted than we habitually think. Using social science and art combined, she likes to explore the relationship between the real and the imaginary, the body and the spirit, this world and the otherworldly.


Spirituality is a shared area of interest for diverse fields that explore and promote music in human life. These fields include a wide range of disciplines including music therapy, music education, ethnomusicology, music philosophy and theology. The unique sets of theoretical perspectives, practices and methodological approaches embedded within each of these fields bring different contributions to our understanding of the spiritual in music.

In an attempt to cultivate interdisciplinary dialogue, and with an explicit focus on spirituality in music, wellbeing and education, we will welcome practitioners, researchers, scholars as well as students to conduct oral presentations, posters, roundtables and workshops.

Presentations will share practices, question assumptions, explore theories or share research methods and findings regarding spirituality and its place in contemporary music practices. Presentations from different cultural and disciplinary spaces are welcome.

This joint conference is a collaboration between Nordoff Robbins and Spirituality and Music Education (SAME).

The Nordoff Robbins Plus research conference series aims to provide forums for multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional thinking. It brings together leading researchers and practitioners in conversations that question assumptions, and explore theories and approaches in and around music therapy.

As an international network of music practitioners, researchers and scholars, SAME has been set up
in response to the growing interest in the area of spirituality in music education and related music practices. It seeks to establish a forum within which the interrelationships of music and spirituality can be explored and developed on a practical, theoretical and research level.

View conference leaflet



Giorgos Tsiris, Nordoff Robbins Scotland & Queen Margaret University, UK

Prof Gary Ansdell, Nordoff Robbins, UK

Chair of Nordoff Robbins Plus Conference Series

Dr Neta Spiro, Nordoff Robbins UK

The deadline for proposals has now closed. If you submitted a proposal, you should have received a confirmation email, and you will be contacted once the conference committee has completed the review process.



  • Prof Lars Ole Bonde, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University, Denmark
  • Rev. Prof June Boyce-Tillman, Faculty of Arts, University of Winchester, UK
  • Dr Owen Coggins, Nordoff Robbins, UK
  • Dr John Habron, Royal Northern College of Music, UK
  • Prof Frank Heuser, Department of Music, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA
  • Dr Koji Matsunobu, Department of Cultural and Creative Arts, The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Prof Mercedes Pavlicevic, Nordoff Robbins, UK
  • Dr Simon Procter, Nordoff Robbins, UK
  • Dr Susan Quindag, School of Fine Arts and Communication, Bob Jones University, USA
  • Prof Liesl van der Merwe, Faculty of Arts, School of Music & Conservatory, North-West University, South Africa



Get in touch with the Research team for more information.