As a community musician, I am as concerned about the impact of my projects on communities as the musical side of things. Many of my community music projects aim to contribute to community development by bringing people together as opposed to participants’ personal development only. The question is how the impact of community development on communities can be understood and how the set-up of my projects influences these outcomes.
I consider my community music projects to intervene in communities. Such intervention is intentional in that I aim to bring about a certain social or cultural change. The Parallel Lives project aimed at enhancing the participants' understanding of the experiences of people from Central and Eastern Europe in their community, thereby improving community relations. The Culter Mills project aimed at enhancing people’s feelings towards their community.
Yet, the two projects had a different set-up. In the Parallel Lives project participants themselves wrote the songs. Though the transfer of authorship to the participants meant perhaps a less pleasing musical outcome, it did mean that the participants took complete ownership of the project. As a result, their understanding of the experiences of people from Central and Eastern Europe in their community was raised. The process of writing the songs together also boosted their confidence in their musical abilities. In the Culter Mills project the songs were written by myself on basis of the memories of former mill employees. Rather than expressing their ownership of the composition process, the participants said the songs captured their experiences and feelings and this made them feel important.
The question whether or not to transfer authorship to a community involves considerations about the relative importance of process and outcome in a given community music project. If time is limited less may be achieved musically if participants write songs themselves, but this may weigh up against the ownership they may take of the process and the subsequent social and cultural changes achieved. Writing the music for a community on basis of materials provided by them may generate an outcome that is perhaps musically more pleasing and that holds up a mirror for participants through which they re-evaluate aspects of their life.
In practice, the question who is to write the songs goes hand in hand with considerations about participation. The transfer of authorship often involves a higher degree of commitment and some degree of confidence in one’s ability to contribute to a creative process. This may work well if working with existing groups. In practice, many people find it difficult to make longer-term commitment involved in joining a new, project-related group. They therefore prefer one-off events in which they are presented with a finished piece of music.
Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst