Various studies have been undertaken in industrialized countries over the years to find out how music may be used in industry either to increase productivity or to reduce errors and also avoid accidents. Management commissioned some of such studies and findings have influenced subsequent strategies. Unfortunately no such studies have ever been carried out in Ghana. But paradoxically, music is performed at some workplaces in Ghana through the initiative of some individuals. It is for the purpose of finding out more about this development that this writer has conducted a study into the nature and purpose of workplace choral groups. The findings of this study may well be an invitation for the use of music therapy in industry in Ghana as a way of managing stress rather than anything else.
If there is a present-day aspect of acculturation which is very alien to many Africans and for that matter Ghanaians, it is the Western concert hall concept of music making/enjoyment which draws a distinct line between performers and audiences (passive listeners). This is because, and needless to say, in the African traditional setting, music is predominantly an accompaniment to some social event. There are certainly African musical types which are listened to passively, similar to the said Western concept but much of traditional African music is inseparable from the social functions which it accompanies. Music therefore accompanies ceremonies, funerals, worship and features at work—and everybody is permitted to play, dance or sing along wherever possible.
In line with this African concept of music-making, industrialization and/or modernization with its stress-prone tendencies has prompted a few informed industries to (re)introduce the balmy or soothing effect of music at workplaces not through passive loudspeakers piping music as in factories in the West, but through active choral groups at workplaces.
There are no less than twenty-five (25) registered workplace choral groups in Accra and Tema, which are two highly industrialized cities in Ghana. The workplace choral groups include choirs from a chocolate factory, a food processing factory, an aluminium smelting factory, a psychiatric hospital, and a harbor choir. The list is a long one and seems endless as the trend is spreading. The latest addition is a university choir made up of students, academic and non-academic staff all involved in choral music performances as extra-curricular activities.
Rehearsal times are during lunchtime or at the close of work before workers leave for their various homes. Rehearsals are usually very short but in preparation for special forthcoming occasions, Management allows rehearsals during working hours. Such occasions may be weddings, bereavement or send-off for retiring workers. There are also occasional festivals and/or competitions which get the support of Management as this gives publicity to the establishment. One such opportunity is offered by the pre-Independence Day activities which involve workplace choral groups.
Some of the workplace choral groups have been around for quite some time, while the most recent additions are just five years old. Members of the groups are from all sections of their respective establishments ranging from tradesmen to accounts clerks and supervisors. The ages range from 20 to 50 and in the case of a university choir the ages are between 18 and 60. It should be noted that a university choir is not identical with the many religious denominational choirs on campus. Gender is on the whole well balanced although in some few cases the females slightly outnumber the males.
Answers to questionnaires distributed to workplace choral groups show that all the participants love the "we-feeling" and the stress-managing (reducing) effect that singing together even for very short moments has on them. This should be understood against the background of the isolating conditions of some workplaces, when some workers are given roles which confine them to machines and mechanical noises for hours during which period they are "dehumanized". The worst victims of this practice are miners in the many gold mines in Ghana. Miners part company with their colleagues when each one is left at a specific level underground with a drilling machine as the only companion, and may only see his fellow human beings (colleagues) at the close of work when elevators bring everybody back to the surface. This explains why the "we-feeling" in choral groups is re-assuring. Additionally, the human voices in choral performances are relaxing and soothing to workers after being subjected to mechanical noises for the greater part of the working day.
One other attraction to the choral groups is the opportunity it offers staff to interact. Subordinate (junior) staff find it rewarding to rob shoulders with their bosses during choral events when they sing together, and interestingly, senior staff in managerial or supervisory positions find their interactions with junior staff during choral performances very healthy and a means of breaking the routine hierarchical set-up in the establishment. This leads to commitment on the part of all staff, senior and junior alike, to the aspirations of the establishment. Music thus serves as a unifying factor in workplace choral groups.
The conductors or choirmasters of workplace choirs are mainly amateur musicians who take on this all-important role in their establishments. Management in some establishments who know the value and effect of music-making on their workers hire part-time conductors to handle their choirs, if there are no amateur musically-inclined staff on their payroll. In a few cases, although Management supports choirs, it is because of the publicity that the choir gives the establishment rather than the therapeutic effects of music making which influences Management's support.
Very few workers who participate in workplace choral groups are members of other choral groups outside their workplaces. On the other hand, there are some workers in establishments who belong to choral groups outside their workplaces and are not members of the workplace choir mainly because the rehearsal times do not suit their personal schedules. In both cases, however, such workers see singing as a way of managing stress.
One noteworthy observation is that none of the choristers has any stress related ailments requiring medical intervention, although for now, one cannot attribute this observation to any empirical evidence in favour of music-making.
The repertoire of workplace choral groups is made up of patriotic (national) art songs by Ghanaian composers, some arrangements of what is called "gospel" music and some foreign tunes. On the whole, the patriotic songs top the chart with choral works by Amu, Nketia, Kpakpoe Thompson, among others, featuring regularly. The choirs also sing songs in various Ghanaian languages to further highlight the nation-wide (patriotic) range of their repertoire. Songs which have solo portions featuring exceptionally groomed voices seem to be most appreciated by both choir and audience. Some of the soloists describe compositions and opportunities which feature their unique voices as a major factor for their participation in the workplace choral groups.
One workplace choral group, which needs special mention because of its therapeutic contribution is the Psychiatric Hospital choir, specifically because it involves patients in its music making. The patients sing along with staff of the hospital and without doubt this contributes in no small way towards the recovery of the patients.
This write-up certainly raises lots of questions, but one question that Ghanaian readers may wish to address is whether or not in addition to music making at workplaces, workers may not be occasionally referred to music therapy units if such units exist. Better still, are these workplace choral groups not an indication that something similar to Tomatis Centres may have to be established in industrial(ized) cities with high incidents of stress related ailments? Many of the big industries have their own (private) hospitals and clinics that handle accident cases and minor injuries at workplaces. But given the lack of awareness and therefore absence of music therapy in the health delivery system in Ghana, the workplace choral group seems to be taking on a role which may eventually go beyond singing together in order to address individual health needs of some workers. Non-Ghanaian readers are also invited to offer suggestions. That is why the heading of this paper has a question mark.
Kofie, Nicholas N. (2006). Singing Away Stress at Ghanaian Workplaces: A Case for Music Therapy in Industry?. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colkofie080506