Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Cohen, Mary L

First Committee Member

Whitmore, Kathryn F

Second Committee Member

Trachsel, Mary

Third Committee Member

Zebrowski, Patricia

Fourth Committee Member

Swanson, Stephen


Throughout human history, music has served as a coping mechanism when people have endured extreme hardships in life. Music and songs in prisons have been written and sung to express the pain of the incarceration. Research has suggested that songwriting is a powerful educational and therapeutic catalyst, and that songwriting may facilitate the processing of difficult emotions.

The purpose of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the emotions expressed in the songs of incarcerated men, and how songwriting as an outlet for emotional expression influenced the writers. Data collected for this study included 47 songs written by 17 incarcerated men, written observations and reflections by participants and three facilitators, transcriptions of four workshop sessions, and sound recordings/transcriptions of 16 spoken introductions and 13 songwriter-performed pieces. An additional 32 songs were collected from a case-study participant for examination. All data were collected using ethnographic methods. Modified grounded theory techniques, including initial coding, focused coding, and memo writing were used to analyze the data.

Findings revealed that although the lyric themes categorized expressed more happy than sad emotions, the most frequently expressed emotion was desperation, and desperation was usually expressed in songs with a context of incarceration. In addition, songs that expressed humor were often a way to cope with incarceration, and songwriting was also a way express the pain of addiction. Examining the songs of the case-study participant revealed that his writing changed over time. His most frequently expressed emotion in 2008 was fear, and song concepts usually involved sinister, otherworldly figures. In 2011, his most frequently expressed emotion was closeness, and song concepts focused on determination to build a better life.

Throughout the workshop sessions, the men experienced feelings of psychological comfort in routines established over time. Data analyses indicated that group interactions and opportunities to perform were primary motivators in participants' decisions to participate in the Songwriters' Workshop. For most men, group response processes generated new ideas for songs, and greater song quality. Some of the men further stated that participating in the Songwriters' Workshop helped them to foster better relationships, and re-envision their futures. Difficulties that occasionally arose were both pedagogical and social in nature.

Based upon these findings, I suggest that aspects of Cohen's Theory of Interactional Choral Singing Pedagogy pertains to songwriting contexts. I propose a theory of the expressive community, in which the community influences individuals, and individuals influence the community. I further suggest collective-actualization, in which individuals in a group realize their collective potentials, capabilities, and talents, and seek the achievement of these potentialities.


collective-actualization, expressive community, Music education, psychology, sociology, Songwriting


x, 264 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 251-264).


Copyright 2013 Catherine Marie Wilson

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