Research and Publications
In 2016 I completed a Masters of Environmental Studies in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University. My thesis research focused on music as a tool for environmental education and advocacy. It was based on interviews with a pool of notable Canadian songwriters. I published two academic papers from this thesis project, described below. Its public dissemination history is here.
Second scholarly publication:
Engaging with Environmental Issues as a Musician:
Career Perspectives from the Musicians of the Playlist for the Planet
Jennifer L. Publicover, Tarah S. Wright, Steven Baur & Peter N. Duinker
Popular Music and Society
Pages 1-21| Accepted Jan. 9, 2018, Published online Feb. 2, 2018
Education plays an essential role in tackling humanity’s many environmental problems. Musicians, like other artists, may sometimes address environmental themes in their work. Whether or not they view themselves as such, they may at times act as environmental educators, communicators, and advocates through their art and other activities. We interviewed a cohort of musicians who engaged with environmental issues, both onstage and offstage, to uncover the parameters and impacts of this engagement on their lives in the music industry. Authenticity emerged as a prominent theme, as well as many perceived challenges, risks, mitigation strategies, and rewards associated with this work.
First scholarly publication:
Music as a Tool for Environmental Education and Advocacy:
Artistic Perspectives from Musicians of the Playlist for the Planet
Jennifer L. Publicover, Tarah S. Wright, Steven Baur & Peter N. Duinker
Environmental Education Research
Pages 1-12 | Received 30 Sep 2016, Accepted 31 Jul 2017, Published online: 11 Aug 2017
Environmental education is a key tool in humanity’s efforts to address environmental issues. The arts can help provide some of the affective components of environmental education – emotions, values, and motivations driving pro-environmental behaviour. As one of the arts, music can captivate, entertain, and create a sense of community. Using non-probabilistic purposive sampling, we interviewed a cohort of environmentally aware musicians with the goal of understanding their mental constructions around the role of music in environmental education and advocacy. A constant comparative coding method was used to code the interviews. The analysis revealed four artistic and five quality dimensions that the participants considered when sharing their pro-environmental values through their music. The four artistic dimensions emerged as continua representing ranges of choice regarding how a musician might create and deliver an environment-related song. The five quality dimensions emerged as recommendations for effectiveness of messaging through art that is perceived as authentic.
Master of Environmental Studies
Thesis published July 21, 2016:
Perspectives on Music, the Environment, and Sustainability Education from
Recording Artists Featured on the David Suzuki Foundation Playlist for the Planet
Dr. Tarah Wright, Supervisor; Dr. Peter Duinker and Dr. Steven Baur, Committee
Link to thesis: http://hdl.handle.net/10222/71966
ResearchGate DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.10891.49446
Summary for broadcast use:
When thinking about environmental education or sustainability education, a person might imagine a teacher leading students on a nature walk to talk about an ecosystem, or picture a leaflet from a municipality providing instructions on how to recycle, or think of other situations in which concrete and sometimes practical information is passed on. What we may not immediately think of is the role that the arts play in encouraging pro-environmental behaviour – and yet, in our culture we frequently use the arts to explore our emotions and build our values on a whole range of life issues, including environmental ones. One of those arts is music.
This study explores the use of music as a tool for environmental education and advocacy, and what sorts of implications there are both for professional musicians who advocate on behalf of the environment and for environmental educators who wish to use music as one of their teaching tools. It is based on in-depth interviews with musicians who contributed songs to a 30-track compilation album released in 2011 by the David Suzuki Foundation called the “Playlist for the Planet”. Eleven of the contributors were the provincial and territorial winners of a Canada-wide contest set up by the Suzuki Foundation in a quest for environmental anthems, a contest which attracted over 600 applicants and made use of online voting through CBC Radio 3. The rest of the contributors were prominent Canadian musicians specifically invited by the Foundation. Nearly half of the album’s contributors have graciously donated their time and insights to this academic study, including Bruce Cockburn, David Myles, Danny Michel, Tanya Tagaq, Remy Rodden, and many others, representing a wide range of musical styles, types of engagement with environmental issues, performing contexts, and fan bases.
The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for common themes. Examples of themes that frequently appear include authenticity, artistic expression and creative techniques, the balance between entertaining audiences and advocacy, various types of audience engagement, various off-stage pro-environmental business and lifestyle choices made by these musicians, challenges and risks associated with environmental engagement as musicians, perceived positive/rewarding aspects of engagement, and a whole host of environmental and societal issues that have motivated them artistically and personally. These themes are discussed in two streams. The first stream is an examination of the music itself, with its artistic and educational parameters; the second is a more sociological look at the lives and careers of these musicians who have engaged professionally and personally with environmental issues.
The arts have the power to evoke emotion experientially, spark dialogue, encourage innovative thinking, present diverse perspectives, cope with ambiguity and non-linearity, and significantly influence the development of cultural norms. Increasingly used as tools in social change agendas, the arts have been promoted as a critical component for achieving a sustainable future. Through a cultural and social geography lens, this study explores how music, as one of the arts, can be used to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. Using a non-probabilistic, purposive sampling technique, we asked musicians who contributed songs to the David Suzuki Foundation Playlist for the Planet (2011) to contemplate their environment-related music, in their particular performing contexts, in the light of musical ecocriticism and/or environmental education. The results show multivalent themes emerging around maintaining musical authenticity in both artistic output and off-stage pro-environmental behaviour, balancing environmental messaging with other components in the entertainment context, and the roles of time, place, and audiences. Music fans can be turned off by messaging that seems contrived, preachy, or overwhelming. The efficacy of a pro-environmental message can be profoundly influenced by perceptions of its sincerity, relevance, and artistic quality.