Queen's University

New Queen's research into music may help Canada's military

 
2012-12-17

Music shaped her life; music changed her life. Now, Queen’s University professor Kip Pegley (School of Music) is hoping to help others through her current research. She is interviewing active and retired military men and women to understand how music impacts their lives and can bring healing after they have been deployed in combat and return home with emotional wounds.

“I want them to think about how music really affects them,” says Dr. Pegley. “People use music for a variety of reasons and I’m learning so many things from them I didn’t expect. My research is showing me how music can be used more effectively in all facets of military life.”

Over the past few years, musicologists have uncovered the extent to which some of these facets have been tainted: the U.S. Army, for instance, recently has been exposed for using music as a form of “no-touch” torture in Iraq, using music from the Barney television show and the Meow Mix television commercial as part of an arsenal of “acoustic weapons” that, at extreme volumes and over extended periods of time, physically and psychically disable their detainees. Once Dr. Pegley learned of these techniques, she was motivated to help end this abusive practice.

Raised in a military family herself, Dr. Pegley turned to music at age eight when she found playing the trumpet a powerful mode of expression. In 1993, she was buying tickets to a Broadway show at the base of the World Trade Centre when a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower. After escaping with her life, Dr. Pegley suffered post-traumatic stress and again turned to music to bring her solace.

After the events of 9/11 brought back tragic memories of the 1993 bombing, Dr. Pegley started researching links between music and violence. She was interested first in exploring how music is used to shape society after trauma, including when it is censored from the airwaves or concert stages. After 9/11, for instance, many songs--including “It’s Raining Men” and “Disco Inferno”--were “unofficially” dropped from many North American radio playlists because of the way the images related to the terrorist attacks.

Her research led her to co-edit a book entitled Music, Politics and Violence, in which the authors explore, over the past century and across cultures, how music and violence have been closely--and often uncomfortably--entwined.

Her curiosity led her to her current research on the military. After interviewing retired and active veterans over the next year, Dr. Pegley plans to have recommendations for the Canadian military on how to use music in affirming ways to help rehabilitate Canadian veterans.

“I’ve seen so many broken soldiers,” she says. “I just want to help them.”

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