Sunday, 8 May 2011

Community music - music for communities

Community music is gradually gaining ground in Britain. The most famous example may well be More Music Morecombe, but recently Sistema Scotland’s work in Raploch, Perth, has received a lot of media attention. 

My own background is in rural community development, urban regeneration and community processes. One of the themes I’m really interested in is community asset ownership, i.e. communities developing their assets such as heritage, woodlands and buildings for the benefit of the community. For communities to take such initiatives residents need to know each other and share a strong sense-of-community. Community music can contribute to this. Carefully thought-out community music initiatives can bring people together and help develop a story that can form the basis for a developing sense-of-community. 

In a way, this has been the approach in the Culter Mills project. Through the project former mill employees and other residents of Culter came together to sing about the former papermill in the village. They met each other face-to-face in a come-and-sing event, in turn creating a new memory for the participants. The Culter Mills project created a story on a range of levels: it formed the reason for bringing people together and the topic of the songs. As the story started to spread word-of-mouth  and through media attention, it started to contribute to people’s sense-of-community.

This interpretation of community music is different from that of More Music Morecombe and Sistema Scotland in that my aim is less to provide classes or otherwise enhance people’s musical ability (and thereby creating confidence), and more to use the music project as a trigger to bring people together to create a dialogue, and a story people can relate to and derive confidence from as a community. 

My approach to community music is inspired by socially engaged arts that stress that the dialogue created through the project can be seen as a form of art itself. Recently I had an inspiring conversation with Chu Yuan, a PhD student at RGU, who uses her Taste Buds project to open up a conversation about cultural similarities and differences. Yuan works one-to-one or with small groups. My emphasis is on bringing communities together and I therefore tend to work with slightly larger groups.   

Music can be a means for community development. The strength of music is that it communicates moods and atmosphere. Creating a story is important in community music and this means that the music has to be accompanied by words. This can be in the form of song lyrics, accompanying poetry or story telling, perhaps even combined with visual outputs. The impact of a project increases if the experience is shared rather than individual, and if people contribute actively rather than listen or observe only.

Copyright text Petra Vergunst

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