At St Mary’s College we asked the participants (all members of the primary school choir) what they’d like to write a song about. I wrote all their suggestions on the board and put it to a vote. During the voting process we realised that themes like “Broome’s multicultural mob”, “Broome culture”, “the Common Gate” [a part of Broome’s history from the time when the Aboriginal people were restricted from entering the town centre], and “Pearling industry” could all be incorporated into a song about community and history. We organised the different broad ideas into verses, chorus, and bridge, and assigned smaller groups the task of writing lyrics for one of these.
The choir divided into four lyric-writing groups – 2 groups for verses, one for the chorus, and one for the bridge. Tony and I moved from group to group, asking questions and helping them develop sentences. I asked them to start with sentences first (rather than trying to fashion their ideas into full-realised verses, and risk getting blocked or stuck too early on),and then we sculpted the sentences into verses, adding words or removing them to make each phrase scan and fit with the melodies that were evolving as we went.
Here’s what they wrote:
The Europeans came to Australia and messed with the Aboriginal law
They started big wars, families were divided
It was a very bad and awful time…
We go to the beach to see the prints
Of the dinosaurs from long ago
The landscape that it used to be is now Chinatown – busy and free!
Brand new faces from different places – My home, Broome
Brand new faces from different places – My home, Broome
Japanese worked their breath away
Lifting pearl shells everyday
People came from all over the world
And now we’re stronger in every way
Broome’s become a place for people to stay.
We celebrate, we live the life
We stand as one, side by side
We look at the ocean, we see the light
We gaze at the sun with everyone.
Brand new faces from different places – My home, Broome
Brand new faces from different places – My home, Broome
I’m Aboriginal – Spanish, Greek
I’m Aboriginal – German, Italian
I’m Aboriginal – Malaysian, Chinese,
(Repeat chorus and fade out)
The theme of Broome’s multicultural community arose because of the many different cultures represented in the choir population. There were several that didn’t get included in the song – Filipino, Indian, Maori, Japanese.
An interesting discussion emerged when the different lyric-writing groups came together to share what they’d written and set it to music. One or two people raised concerns about the accuracy of what had been written in the first verse, with regard to the idea of “laws”.
“You see, when the Europeans came to Australia, the Aboriginal people were just living in the bush,” explained one girl. “They didn’t have any laws.”
“Oh, they did have laws,” responded Tony. “It was a different system of laws, but they definitely had laws.”
“Laws don’t have to be rule-books,” I added. “Laws are really just about how a society organises itself so that it can live in harmony and everyone knows what’s expected of them. The Aboriginal people lived here in harmony for thousands and thousands of years. They must have had laws!”
At this point one of Aboriginal students in the group took up the argument, and spoke very emphatically. Firstly she stated, “It doesn’t matter if things are written down or not. They are still laws. You can just tell people the laws. They are still laws.” She went on to talk about the ways that the Aboriginal population suffered under the European systems and beliefs. “They judged everyone on the colours, the colours of the skin. And people whose skin was lighter were taken away. They were stolen, and they didn’t know their families or country after this.”
After this there was no more discussion about the first verse of the song. Later, the teachers expressed their interest in the conversation, and in the lyrics that were written. They said wryly that there would certainly be people in the Broome community who would take issue with the line, “it was a very bad and awful time”. Here in Australia, that is what is often called a “black arm band version of history” (ie. a version that focuses on negatives, rather than seeing the colonial era as a time of prosperity and important growth) – particularly by the previous Liberal-National Coalition government. I don’t hold with this view at all – colonial eras may have been prosperous times for some, but for the colonised, they were times of frequent brutality, force, coercion and extreme differences in power, when traditional ways of life were destroyed or hugely compromised and traditional knowledge and skills were undermined.
By the end of the day our song was ready to be recorded. In the recording we made on the portable Zoom H4n, you can hear the school bell ringing in the second-last chorus – we took it right up to the wire on this project!
Thursday morning we did another media call, then checked out of the hotel and hit the supermarket, stocking up on supplies that we wouldn’t be able to buy in the remote community shops. Then we hit the road.
To get to the Dampier Peninsula drive to the outskirts of Broome, then turn left on Cape Leveque Road. This road is unsealed for most of the way, and was closed all of last week due to heavy rains (unseasonal rains – this is supposed to be the Dry Season). The road runs long and straight for kilometres at a time. Low scrub covers either side of the road.
We passed a few vehicles – this is not as remote as many other communities, and the road is quite well-trafficked. Still, I wouldn’t want to drive it every day. Thick soft red sand is the surface in some parts, and there were some sudden pot-hole surprises where the road surface had washed away. It’s not an easy drive and you can imagine it wouldn’t take much to roll your car if you weren’t familiar with the conditions, or taking things carefully.
Djarindjin-Lombadina is a very pretty community. Lots of green grass and graceful, majestic white gum trees. The roads throughout the community are unsealed, and curve their way around the different dwellings. This was an old church mission, and the local church is made of paper-bark – one of the last remaining examples of its kind. It celebrated its 100-year anniversary last year.
We led a workshop on Friday morning with the senior class in the community school – students from years 7-10. It was a small group on Friday, around 8 kids, and after doing some rhythmic warm-up tasks we moved quickly onto the instruments for a jam. I’d brought a set of alto chime bars with me, and two members of the group used these to create some melodic material that acted as an ‘anchor’ for the improvisation.
School on Friday ends with a whole-school assembly, so this was the perfect chance for Tony and I to be introduced to everyone in the school. We played a short improvised duet on the clarinet and saxophone, demonstrating our instruments and the sorts of sounds they can make, as well as the idea of improvisation and creating our own music (which is the primary intention of these residencies). Then I taught a song to everyone, a spiritual that I learned quite recently. It has three parts – we learned the melody today, but I have plans to get the whole school singing in three parts by the end of our residency.
In the evening, some of the teachers from the school invited us to join them at the beach to watch the sunset. It’s a drive there over the dunes (if you look up Darindjin-Lombadina on Google maps you will see a whole lot of white stuff – that’s all the sand dunes that you have to cross to get to the beach). Sunsets are legendary in this part of the world. Every night it is an extraordinary display of colours, offset by shimmering ocean, so we joined the teachers in what appears to be a regular ritual of Friday night fishing (none of us caught anything, but it was a great way to watch the sunset) and star-gazing.
I would be the first to say I have an enviable life in music. I work with new ideas in every workshop, alongside some fabulous musicians and inspiring first-timers, and spend lots of my days immersed in the buzz and intensity of creating new compositions. Occasionally I’m invited to lead this work in some pretty extraordinary parts of the world, a privilege I am always both thrilled and humbled to accept.
So please don’t hate me too much when I confess that I am writing this post to the hum of a ceiling fan, with an accompaniment of crickets, in a beautifully-appointed room in the Cable Beach Club Resort in Broome, in the far north-west of Australia. Earlier this evening I watched the sun set over beautiful Cable Beach, while a train of camels made its way up the road from the beach to wherever they bunk down for the night. Broome is almost the diagonal opposite point on the Australian continent from Melbourne, a world away in climate, environment, ambience and culture. I’m getting ready for workshops as part of Tura New Music’s 2013 Remote Residency project.
We kicked off today at St Mary’s College in Broome. I’m up here with Tony Hicks, versatile musician extraordinaire (Tony is regular collaborator – we’ve worked together on projects for the Australian Art Orchestra and also in Timor-Leste. He is my life partner so we tend to look out for opportunities to work together). I’ll write about this one-day workshop in more detail in my next post. We worked with the primary school choir, writing a song together. In the afternoon the year 10 rock band joined us and by the end of the day we’d created a new composition that the choir and band can perform together for Naidoc festivities in a few weeks time.
On Thursday (tomorrow) we head a bit further north and west to the Dampier Peninsula, where we will visit two remote communities and schools. The communities are a couple of hours away from Broome (and 30-60 minutes away from each other), along an unsealed road that was closed last week because of many days of unseasonal heavy rain. It’s been dry the last few days, and is expected to be fine for Thursday. We’ll spend a week in each community.
Yesterday was a day of media calls – I did a phone interview with a local commercial radio breakfast show, and then Tony and I did an interview and short live performance for local ABC radio (a clarinet and soprano saxophone improvisation). We emphasised the open-ended nature of these residencies. “It’s a collaboration”, I said in each interview. “We’re going to make the work together. Tony and I will guide it, and set a process in place that encourages forth the young people’s ideas and contributions, but we don’t know any more than that about what the final outcome will be, or sound like”.
I like the element of risk and possibility that is inherent in this way of working. In an authentic collaboration, it has to be this way, I think. How can you pre-determine things if you don’t even know the people you are going to be working with? How can you know it will be a good fit? I’ve never been to this part of the world before. I don’t want to make assumptions about people, I want us to meet and find our common ground, so that the music grows from that, without being contained or restricted by any pre-determined outcomes. I like to be taken by surprise.
In a lot of my workshops there is a point where the workshop participants share the music they have been creating in their break-out groups.We all sit and listen, and while I listen I take notes on what they’ve composed, and think intently about how I am going to draw all of these individual pieces together into the workshop ‘finale’.
Once, after one of these workshops, one of the other adult musicians approached me. “The kids were worried,” he said. “They think you looked really grumpy while you listened to our piece, and that you didn’t like it.”
This was when I learned that I suffer from Grumpy Thinking Face. Ever since then, when the time comes for me to do some focused listening in workshops, I warn the children to ignore any facial expressions I may display. “I have a Grumpy Thinking Face,” I explain, and they look a bit taken aback, but then smile and nod, and accept the situation without further question. My Grumpy Thinking Face does turn up in project photographs every now and then. Often, the photographers will delete the photos, but the image here is one I’ve been able to save. (This is only a very mild version of my Grumpy Thinking Face. I look more Alarmed than Grumpy here).
The good news is that the affliction of unfortunate facial expressions is now more widely understood. Follow the link below to find out all about Bitchy Resting Face. Bitchy Resting Face sounds very similar to my Grumpy Thinking Face, and it is good to know that those of us thus afflicted are not alone.
This post is about labels in the world of music work, and about the importance of hanging out in projects. It is inspired by some ‘hang-out time’ I got to enjoy with a new colleague last Friday evening. We had one of those marvellously unrestrained, freewheeling, fast-talking conversations that two like minds meeting for the first time can have.
Lucy B is a music therapist, but more than that, she is a music worker. This was one of our topics of conversation – how the labels that get applied to different roles in a musical life that a leader or facilitator may play aren’t always the right fit. In Lucy’s musical world (and in her PhD research), her work fits into the Community Music Therapy category, but at the same time, she says, it’s not always a very useful term. She works with groups, building collaborations and getting music happening within groups and for individuals. It’s not necessarily therapy, even though there may be strong therapeutic outcomes. She likes the more encompassing term Music Worker (which I like because it fits with the name of my blog ), likening it to a case worker who might employ a wide range of approaches in their work with a client, with the needs of the client being the primary decider, rather than the therapeutic label that needs to be applied.
Labels can be frustrating to navigate, especially when your work sits on the boundaries between other more established disciplines. When I was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1990s, I asked one of my tutors in the Performance and Communication Skills course how he described his work to other people. I loved his answer, and I’ve used it for myself ever since. He said,
I just call myself a musician. You know, musicians do a lot of different things – some days they will be playing and performing. Some days they will be teaching, passing on specific musical and technical knowledge to other learners. Some days they will writing and composing new material, and recording it. They will be collaborating and interacting with other musicians during all of these tasks. And that’s what I do, and some of my interactions are with young people, in schools and communities. But we are collaborating… composing… performing… It is the same set of tasks, just differentiated by degree. Other interactions will be with my musical peers. Other times again, I may be positioned as the learner. That’s what we musicians do, that’s what being engaged in the art of music everyday involves.
Back to my conversation with Lucy B. We talked about her PhD research, which I was interested in because it is partly set in a developing country, so some of the questions she is asking about music projects in that context are similar to the questions I am asking about music initiatives in post-conflict countries. Lucy’s primary interest is in collaboration, and in developing a clearer epistemology of what collaboration entails in some of the complex environments in which she is working. One of the ideas that has crystallised for her is the importance of what she calls ‘hang-out time’. This is the time that you spend just hanging out with a group, getting to know them, observing how they interact and what they respond to with each other, what they might need from a new person, before you go in and get started with your workshop or therapy program.
The idea of building ‘hang-out time’ into a project appeals to me immensely. But I wondered aloud, who (as in, which organisations or host organisations) would be prepared to pay for this? I am used to my employers wanting all the time they pay me for to be workshop time. The more days a project runs for, the more expensive it is, so there is a general enthusiasm for getting workshops started on the first day of contact. Lucy suggested that the idea of something like ‘hang-out time’ first needs to get established and understood as valuable. Having a name for this stage in a collaboration, and being able to assert its importance in meeting the aims of the project, is the first step. She said, “It’s like planning time. It’s not that long ago that no-one ever wanted to pay for planning time. Ditto with travel time. But now those things are accepted and understood to be necessary and important parts of the work. So let’s create the language, and then the understanding and acceptance will follow.”
Lucy’s at the writing-up stage of her PhD, submitting very soon. Hopefully there’ll soon be many opportunities to read more of her ideas in other publications. And here’s to more hang-out time for all of us (in projects and in life).
A few weeks back I wrote a post on the power of music (read it here).
I confess, for a few days after writing that post, I felt kind of on-edge and grumpy. I’d written the post as one of my first efforts to unpack some of the ideas that were rolling around in my brain in response to my PhD reading, resisting being organised into orderly prose. I realised that I wasn’t quite clear on my own position on the perceived power of music. That position is still evolving and it intrigues me.
I know that music can change things. Just the other day I was feeling tired, a bit head-achey, and sick of sitting at the computer. I got up and went out to the living room, picked up the guitar and start to play. I can’t really play guitar, but sitting for 10 minutes with the instrument, strumming naively to myself and seeing what I can concoct, left me with a fresher, sweeter energy than I’d had at the computer. But is this change in energy just down to the music? It might also be the change of environment, the change in pace of thought, the leaving-go of one set of complex ideas and swapping them for something altogether less demanding. Maybe I was also entraining my heart rate or my breathing to the tempo of my guitar playing (which was very slow). Maybe I was sitting straighter, so my breathing became deeper. By changing rooms I was also leaving the darkness of my study space for a light, bright open room with sunshine flooding in, and an open door leading out to the balcony. Suddenly there was a lot more space in front of me than there had been before.
But, could I have got many of these same impacts by going and making a cup of tea, or practising some flamenco footwork on the balcony for a few minutes? I don’t think so. I think that the music I chose to play (a lullaby from Benin), had a part to play in my energy change.
Sometimes the power of music discourse can get swept away in its own enthusiasm:
During war, Music brings serenity, happiness and hope. After war it brings dynamism and energy for reconstruction, galvanize juvenile minds for action and make happiness an object of desire. During peace, it brings comfort of mind, awareness on love and motivation for the future. In front of different cultures or ideologies it brings cooperativeness, understanding and create unperceived ties among people. Even in front of different languages, songs become understandable for everyone and appreciated when your mind is touch… Because Music could be use forever as an essential remedy to cure souls and minds, to create harmony and put foundations for reconciliation, or simply to do things better in a time of tremendous challenges for the world and for humanity. (Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima, Introductory Statement to the Music as a Natural Resource Compendium, published in 2010 by UN-HABITAT and ICCC)
When I read this, it can give me tingles of excitement, or a slight, zephyr of thrill. A bit like the kind of emotional, warm-fuzzy nostalgia I sometimes get when I hear the song ‘Down Under’ being played on the radio or – even better – sung by children. Yep. That can make me gulp and gets my eyes all hot.
Such sentiments about music (I’m referring to the quote above, not ‘Down Under’s lyrics) can be incredibly attractive to us. Peace and harmony become so achievable, and through such beautiful means! It’s an example of a Design Fallacy, where because an idea is beautiful and attractive, it becomes true for us. We embrace it, and resist efforts to de-bunk it. Purse-strings may open and funding may roll in response to idealised, romantic claims like this, but if the ultimate goal in a conflicted community is one of genuine conflict resolution and cooperation among divided peoples, then it is people who need to be active agents in such processes, rather passive recipients of a mysterious power generated by music (and, by inference, musicians as the diviners and conduits of that power).
My colleague in the Music and Culture subject that I co-teach at NMIT on Mondays asked us today to apply ‘Socratic questioning’ to the cultural constructions that abound around the notions of Talent, and Inspiration. The ‘talent discourse’ is similar to the ‘power of music’ discourse, in that it distances ‘ordinary mortals’ from our own potential to be extraordinary (through hard work, persistence, and grit). So here are some Socratic-style questions that I am asking myself as I read through all the literature I can find on the different music initiatives that have started up in post-conflict countries in the last 20 years:
Is this notion [that music has a mysterious, inherent power] a myth, or is there evidence for it?
Why is this notion so tantalising? Why do these ideas/myths persist? What are the motivations for maintaining them?
If we agree to this notion, what else are we agreeing to? What is the ‘fine print’?
Does the image of the power of music to bring people together devalue the actual process of making music together, and all the minute, nuanced interactions that are part of that?
Is the fact that we are focusing on the final product keeping us from understanding the complexity of the process?
Does the idea of music’s power give certain “special people” (eg. musicians) ‘permission’ to generate music outcomes for others, potentially rendering the participants/non-musicians passive or dependent?
Perhaps one of the reasons the discourse of ‘the power of music’ is so enduring (and compelling) is due to limitations of language – it may that the process of music-making is such a complex one that our expressive language is insufficient to explain and understand it, and to recreate it in words for others. We resort to metaphor and ideals in order to make sense of an experience, but then these become embedded within the vernacular and cease to be challenged or critiqued. They become accepted as truths.
Still with me? It can be an intense ride, working my way through these ideas. Ultimately, as I read through the literature, I can see evidence of the many beliefs and assumptions that people have about music. These will be culturally-based, but if we are talking about international aid contexts (where most of the projects that I am interested in are situated), it is the culture of the donors – and therefore their assumptions and beliefs about music – that are foregrounded. So what are the implications of this? That, my friends, will be for the next instalment.
Last week we had the first of this year’s 2-day workshops for the 2013 MSO ArtPlay Ensemble. Twenty-seven children aged between 8 and 13 gathered at 10am on Monday morning, and by 3pm Tuesday afternoon we had created our first group composition. Have a listen to our music while you read the rest of the post:
This year’s Ensemble is full of characters (every year’s Ensemble is actually – read here to learn about our selection process), and lots of talent. We spent the first hour of the first day getting the group’s energy up and flowing. I allow quite a lot of time for warm-up games on the first day, because no-one knows anyone else and it is important to get everyone relaxed and bouncing ideas off each other. We played a few old favourites – the Chair Game, a game of strategy and forward-thinking that involves a lot of very rapid switching of chairs; Introductions, which involves memory work and listening; and Shape-Making, which gets people working collaboratively and to time limits.
Our music focus was the British composer Thomas Ades, and in particular, his Four Scenes from The Tempest. We used short extracts from the libretto to create four musical scenes of our own, depicting Ariel’s very rhythmic, fast-paced description of the shipwreck, an argument between Ariel and Prospero in which Ariel is denied his request for freedom, a very simple, beautiful interpretation of ‘Full fathom five’ (re-written as Five Fathoms Deep by Ades’ librettist) with eery, shimmering sounds from bowed crotales and submerged bells, and a sweet romantic theme, growing in intensity, depicting the love between Ferdinand and Miranda.
It always interesting to see the mix of children that we meet in the Open Workshops settle into becoming an Ensemble, experimenting, being courageous, and learning from each other. Some older children start the project with a certain amount of shyness or self-consciousness but then blossom into peer leaders. In this project I saw two of the older members of the group, both violinists, take on a task of making up their own bluegrass-style melody with a certain amount of trepidation and shyness. The melody they came up with was infectious, and pretty soon, other violinists were clamoring to learn it. I saw the two older children grow in stature and confidence as they saw the group respond so positively to their music, and they became unofficial leaders of the violin section.
There is always space for children to take up the challenge of improvising a short solo. The points in the music where these solos happen are often only chosen halfway through the second day. In this project, we had two improvised solos – one from a saxophonist who did a wild, savage squawking solo, using all the side keys and trill keys on his instrument and playing as loudly as possible; and one from a flautist who traded short riffs with the MSO cellist who was working on the project. Every person who takes on a solo is modeling this role for the other players, giving them an idea of how this ‘territory’ works.
We have an incredibly strong percussion section in this year’s Ensemble. One of the three boys is particularly interesting. He is intensely musical – ideas just burst out of him constantly – but I wasn’t sure (from the Open Workshop experience) how he’d go working in a group this size, with such long stretches of waiting in silence or standing by. Well, he did just great. I could see it was hard work for him at times, but it is for all the children in different ways, and it was lovely to see how much joy he was getting from being part of the group, and how much he was contributing to the music we were creating. I am so happy to know that we have created an Ensemble where there is a lot of space for the children to simply be themselves. The focus on creating our own work means that everyone’s different skill levels, strengths, personality quirks and interests can be accommodated as the music comes together.
One of the things that the children work out in this first 2-day workshop is that I say ‘Yes’ a lot. When a child says, “Can I play that melody?” or “I’ve had an idea – can I play it like this?” I say “Yes, sure!” By asking questions like this, the children start to learn that this music really is theirs to shape. After a while, they ask less, and just play their ideas, trying them out and seeing how they sound. For some, the speed with which new ideas may be introduced can make things feel quite confusing. As one boy said, “It’s good, but it’s also a bit weird when you are doing it [making up a piece in a group] for the first time. It takes getting used to.”
My favourite comment from the project was sent to me by one of the children’s mothers. Her daughter told her at the end of the first day, “”I loved it SO much today, that I completely forgot to eat the chocolate in my lunchbox!”
Sounds like a definite vote of confidence to me. I am really looking forward to working with this group of children this year.
A tension that arises for me in my research topic is about the perceived (and/or assumed) ‘power of music’. There is a considerable amount of writing from respected academics that proposes a power inherent within music that makes it particularly effective in conflicted and post-conflict settings. There is far less writing that examines this notion critically, or offers up grounded evidence to support these claims. It is stated or assumed, rather than being tested.
This puts the critical thinker in me on alert. Some statements come across as very woolly, romantic notions of music’s mysterious powers that separate it from its context and all the other variables that may be at play. Eg. Music creates peace and harmony, music works miracles and stops violence, the singing of Silent Night in WWI trenches brought about a ceasefire, playing music together turns enemies into friends, and so on. When these stories are recounted, I find myself thinking, “But what about the influence of..? What about all the events that had gone on before the [music event]?…”. Music doesn’t exist in isolation.
Some of the writing in music therapy research I’ve read also tends towards this – one statement I read recently declares that music “bypasses the head and goes straight to the heart”. I know that this isn’t true for me (my head is very involved in all of my musical experiences)… but anyway, what does it mean? That it circumvents our thinking and logic and goes straight to emotion? Is that desirable? (think of propaganda…) Is it what really happens? Always? If not always, when?
Does being a musician make one less well-placed to examine the question of music’s power (or lack thereof)? Does the intensity and longevity of our engagement with the musical arts blind us to the other variables so that we cannot examine all the variables and influences of an event in a dispassionate way? (Reading some of the intense debates on Geoff Barker’s Sistema blog pages – be sure to scroll to ‘comments’ at the end of any of his posts – suggests that sometimes, musicians can be such true believers that any perceived criticism or critique that questions the accepted wisdom of the tribe is received as ill-informed and shocking injury. Either that, or Geoff is really overstepping the mark with his questions, observations and critique).
But it could also work the other way – maybe my many years of schooling and study in music and music-making give me a different (or limited) perspective on how my brain (intellect) and my heart (emotions) receive and engage with music. I know that I am far more intrigued by music’s role in our social lives – the way it can connect people in all sorts of ways – than by any inherent “power”. Perhaps I am a social scientist at heart, as well as a musician! I know I am drawn again and again to music experiences, not because it is the way I make my living, but because it calls me. And has done ever since I joined my first music ensemble at the age of 6. But is it something inherent and unknowable about music itself that draws me to it? Or is it about what happens when I play/participate/listen/engage that is the call and ongoing motivation?
Also, I know that there can be many ways of knowing. Indigenous knowledge, for example, is just as valid as the Western version of knowledge with its roots in the Enlightenment project. Would my critical thinking be so much on alert if this statement about “the power of music” came from an indigenous culture? It’s a moot point, because it hasn’t, and because what I know of indigenous cultures’ relationships to music suggests that they see music as an essential element in all sorts of social interactions, frequently taking place within ritual and daily patterns. The idea of music as something to be focused on and listened to, purely as a passive, disembodied engagement, is a very Western one.
My response to these ideas also reveals my own beliefs about music and how I understand it:
- That while music may be a cultural universal (in that every culture, in every age throughout time, and into the future, engages in and with music as part of being human), the meaning that people ascribe to it and derive from it is not universal. It is often perceived as such, and thus considered to be a powerful way to bring people together, but the meanings of music are culturally-based. This doesn’t negate the fact that it can be a powerful way to bring people together, but the universality of musical meaning is not the reason for its effectiveness.
- Because of this, considerations of music activities and their meaning should not be separated from their contexts, because music-making (or ‘musicking’ as Christopher Small calls it) is a social undertaking, with social meaning and with social relationships at its core. What takes place before, during and after the music event is an essential part of the story. Separating the music event from these considerations (ie. seeing music as an independent event or experience with its own inherent properties) denies the huge significance of the context.
- I also think that isolating the music event from its context weakens arguments about music’s effectiveness. For example, in conflict transformation, removal of context implicitly takes power and agency away from the individuals engaged in the transformation of conflict and assigns responsibility and the power of transformation to music. In such a context, effectiveness is all about the people making active choices and adjusting mindsets, rather than being passive recipients of a mysterious ‘power’. Music has a role to play but it will be the context that determines any possible transformation.
(I’ve been reading Arild Bergh’s PhD dissertation on Music and Conflict Transformation – another inspiring piece of scholarly work – and he raises many of these same issues. That thesis has been a very influential piece of writing for me, a very fortunate recommendation so early on in my project).
There are some of my musings for today. Everything changes… the very act of setting some of these ideas down in this blog means they will continue to evolve and expand for me, making more nodes and branches on the tree-like structure of my topic!
References relating to this post:
Bergh, A. (2010). I’d like to teach the world to sing: Music and conflict transformation. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Exeter.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.