Education grad’s research explores storytelling through soundscapes

Anneke McCabe (PhD ’23) has always yearned to tell stories through music.

The musician, songwriter and music teacher graduated from Brock’s Joint PhD in Educational Studies program on Friday, Oct. 13 during the University’s 114th Convocation.

The first Brock PhD student to have completed doctoral work in music education, McCabe drew on her experiences to craft an innovative research approach using an arts-based lens.

She engaged with narrative inquiry by exploring the life stories of three other musicians who are elementary music teachers, with herself as co-participant, reflecting on how being a musician shapes their perspectives as teachers.

Participants reflected on their past career, social and relationship experiences that have affected their life and creative practice as well as how physical place has impacted their musical storytelling.

“What is unique about this research is that the participants are musicians themselves as well as being elementary music teachers,” she said. “It really honours the experiences of their lives and their role as teachers.”

From these interviews, McCabe developed a conceptual framework original to her research that allowed the participants to create and record a musical narrative, or soundscape, that expressed the musician-music teacher narrative.

“It was an incredibly rich way for musician-music teachers to tell their stories,” she said. “I loved the elements of fun, openness and vulnerability — the creative process brings that out in people.”

As an expression of researcher reflexivity, McCabe engaged with her own songwriting during the five years of working on her PhD and recently released a five-song album to accompany her thesis. The songs share the musical narrative of her PhD experience.

Shelley Griffin, Professor in Music Education and McCabe’s PhD supervisor, said that McCabe’s dedication to music-making as a music educator was a characteristic that set her apart from others.

“Anneke’s multimodal thesis exemplifies her highly creative abilities to blend teaching, research and musicianship in deep and thoughtful ways that have a new-found impact on the discourse of music teaching and learning,” Griffin said.

McCabe recently took on the role of Vice Principal at a school in Fergus, Ont., in addition to teaching music in Grades 4 to 8. She is also a sessional instructor in music education for teacher candidates in Brock’s Teacher Education programs.

“When I go teach music, I’m tapping into my whole life story, not just who I am as a teacher; this provides a unique perspective in the elementary music classroom,” said McCabe.

As an arts-based researcher, McCabe said there is great value in connecting through the art form.

“Listening to a song, your experience is different. It brings up memories and feelings activated by the music, allowing you to connect in a different way,” she said.

McCabe hopes that system leaders at school boards will use her research to communicate the importance of professional learning, highlighting the way creativity and songwriting can greatly benefit students.

McCabe’s album, Evoking A Soundscape by Anneke Britt, can be found on all streaming services, including YouTube, Spotify and iTunes.

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