Archive for the ‘PHD’ Tag

Lots of writing, not much blogging

It’s that time of year again.

For many people it is a crazy time, filled with competing work and family demands. For me, there is some of that craziness, but mostly I am feeling the satisfaction of having got through a long period of competing deadlines relatively unscathed.

Over the last three months I’ve completed three book chapters, several conference abstracts, an article for The Conversation, and got to grips with two new software packages that (hopefully, in time) will yield tremendous productivity gains in this PhD adventure! Needless to say, it’s been a lot of screen time. Hence the silence on the blogging front.

I’ve been working on my Bosnia case study. Here’s a bit of a run-down:

For one of the book chapters, I explored an idea that I called “life-space” – the real and imagined boundaries of a quotidian lived experience, and the expansion/contraction of these. The war in Mostar contracted the life-space of many of its young citizens very dramatically. The way they described their experiences of playing and learning music at the Pavarotti Music Centre suggested that it had resulted in expansions of their life-space in a number of dimensions – physical/geographical, personal/emotional, and social. It was an interesting way to analyse the participants’ descriptions of their experiences.

I’ve also developed a framework for understanding the goals and intentions of many music interventions in conflict-affected settings. These kinds of projects are initiated in response to particular needs, such as the need to create dialogue towards conflict resolution or peacebuilding, the need for psychosocial healing, the need for positive and productive activities for young people to supplement limited education and employment opportunities, the need to ensure music education opportunities (either within formal schooling or in addition to it), or the need to address the destruction of cultural knowledge, taking strategic steps to nurture and regenerate it.

The other two chapters laid out this framework, explaining the contexts that lead to these areas becoming priorities, and the ways that music interventions can offer meaningful and purposeful responses. One of the chapters used the Pavarotti Music Centre as a case study, to see how these different goals and intentions are realised through community-based cultural action.

Relevant to my research, although somewhat peripheral, are discussions surrounding the next set of development goals, and so I’ve been following these fairy closely. The Millennium Development Goals have set the global development agenda since 2000, but they expire at the end of 2014, and a new set of what are called Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted by the United Nations Member States in September 2015. There is a lot of discussion and debate about what the SDGs should be (they will basically set the agenda for the next 15 years, and I added my voice to the argument for the inclusion of culture in an article for the online daily, The Conversation. You can read it here.

I was then invited to update the article for publication in the Media Asia Journal, and that print publication will come out in January, I believe.

This week, with the last of the book chapters at the final stages of editing (trying to get the word count down), I’m happily able to return my attention to my raw data. It feels like ages since I’ve been able ‘hang out’ in the transcripts, thinking and exploring, and following lines of thought that arise as I read and make links with the literature that I’m constantly exploring. What a luxury! I am a pig in s**t these days, as the saying goes.

So, lots of writing going on. Not as much playing and singing and just thinking in music as I’d like, so that is a balance I’d like redress next year. But coming up is my annual Christmas carol-singing party, so in the spirit of that, please enjoy this Christmas classic! Not quite a carol, but a number we’ll definitely be including this year.

Not as much blogging going on either. Thanks for hanging in there, subscribers! Back in the saddle now.

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Unpacking music in post-conflict settings

I enrolled in PhD studies (at Griffith University) at the end of February, and have since been throwing myself into it on a fulltime basis (taking a bit of time out here and there to lead short-term composition/improvisation projects, which are the main content focus on this blog). Let me introduce you to my big, crunchy PhD topic – I’m examining the impact and contributions (if any) of music education initiatives in post-conflict settings. I want to look at some big initiatives from the past that had lots of international support and media attention, such as the Pavarotti Music Centre in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as projects that are in operation right now.

Lots of booksI find I love the luxury of time that I have to settle into my topic, to read, and then write responses to what I read, and to reflect and ponder and observe the way these reflections become new branches or nodes on the tree-like structure of my topic.

Where does the reading start for a topic like this? Surprisingly (given the amount of media attention these initiatives can garner) there is little written specifically on post-conflict music education initiatives themselves. There is a bit more if you go into the area of ‘music and social change’ (El Sistema and other similar projects around the globe – see the links I’ve added to my Blogroll for some of these) and there is some literature on the Israel/Palestine conflict (although this work cannot be considered ‘post’-conflict – I am limiting my scope to post-conflict settings at this stage). Music therapy has also turned its attention to conflict settings in the last 20 years, so there are some interesting perspectives and accounts to be found there as well.

This is also a multi-disciplinary topic. I find I am looking at writing from a wide range of disciplines, including (music) sociology, anthropology, conflict studies, international development, music therapy, education, peace-building… to name just a few.

In these first few weeks, my approach is to consider some of the reasons behind the existence of the kinds of music initiatives I am interested in (which are music schools and community arts centres that offer opportunities for participation in music activities), and focus my literature searches and reading in response to these.

I have found that these kinds of music initiatives may have multiple goals and agendas, including:

  • bringing opposing parties together and/or communicating peaceful messages to combatants);
  • healing and therapy;
  • social connections;
  • diversion for at-risk young people;
  • education and (informal) learning opportunities;
  • regeneration of cultural knowledge and traditions;
  • asserting (or creating a new) identity;
  • beauty, joy and optimism;
  • escape from the brutality/depressing reality of daily life and recent memories
  • the necessity of creativity and creative outlets to survival in unpredictable, unstable environments.

Therefore I’ve been reading everything I find about arts in post-conflict settings, as well as under the ‘music and conflict transformation’ banner, and more generally about ‘education and reconciliation’. It’s a pretty stimulating, fascinating, complex topic to be exploring, so in these early, heady days of full-time research, I am wildly, unreservedly, passionately excited about my project. Yes! (It’s important to declare this right now, because the standard PhD narrative has the researcher hitting a bit of a slump in the second year. I want to be able to return to this post to remind myself of this early energy :-)).

Endings; and the momentum of the beginning

2012 was a big year for me. I had more freelance projects booked in than ever before, a fairly full load of regular teaching gigs, and three overseas conference presentations . If you take a look at my Project Diary page you can scroll down and see what was on in 2012 – and this list doesn’t include teaching full days in 2 schools and 2 universities (I taught one of the university courses online and in the evenings, as my students were in the USA and Canada). It was a very satisfying year professionally, with a number of new ventures, including the opportunity to work in north-western Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and running my own series of workshops at ArtPlay. But it was a tricky year in terms of finding balance. I felt like I never stopped working!

'Farewell' flowers given to me at the end of term by my two schools.

‘Farewell’ flowers given to me at the end of term by my two schools.

I am looking forward to a different pace and focus in 2013. The big change is that I am starting my PhD this year. Next week I will be heading up to Brisbane to meet with my supervisors and will officially be a student again. To make space for full-time study, I resigned from my two primary schools at the end of 2012. In some ways it was sad to say good-bye – I’d been at the Language School since 2005, and even though students were constantly arriving and leaving (it is a transitional school), I’d developed longterm relationships with the teachers, and built a really lovely, hand-picked collection of instruments. I’d been teaching at Pelican Primary School since 2009 for 2 days a week, and the children who’d been in the younger years when I started were now heading into the senior classes in the school. It is a wonderful thing to observe a cohort of children growing  like this. I’d built relationships with parents as well as with teachers, and it was sad to let those go.

At the same time, I was feeling restless. I’d started the year feeling that I’d “done lots of this before”. I found it more and more difficult to feel patient with the kind of frustrating timetabling issues that arise in primary schools everywhere that can really impact specialist programs. I loved the children, and loved playing music with them, but no longer felt as energised by the teaching work. Moving on at the end of the year therefore felt quite liberating.

There is a great momentum that comes with being at the beginning of something. I’m excited about my PhD topic (looking at music education and participation in post-conflict countries around the world), and about starting a new research project, which I find stimulating and inspiring in similar ways to creative project development (I’ve blogged about the commonalities here). And even though all of those who have already been through the PhD journey or know someone who has, shake their heads and say things like, “I hope you survive, it’s a lot of work!”, I feel undeterred. In fact, I feel relieved to think that no matter how much work it is, it will at least be just one big project, rather than the many multiples of projects I had in my head in 2012, all unrelated to each other, each needing their own amount of space and time. Having one thing to focus on for the next 3-4 years seems like a really straightforward proposition at this point. (Though perhaps I should revisit the optimism of this notion in 6 months time!).