For my friends in Canada


Posted in: by Pete Moser on 4 February 2018
Tagged with:

I was asked to provide a provocation for a meeting of members of the Faculty of music at Laurier where the growing community music department is trying to further define its role and place. These were my thoughts.

Time for Radical Change

In all of our nations there are different issues that are at the forefront. In the UK at the moment we are confronted with a developing extreme poverty for the poorest, increasing community tensions as the result of immigration and refugees, the taking apart of our welfare system that supports the health service, youth and social services, a focus of results and data testing in education and a deep sense that we can't trust the 'establishment' (state, business, church, law, aristocracy).
So I have been talking about how vital it is that we in the community arts movement confront these issues and state clearly that we want to use our art to support positive change. In our current Business Plan we say:
  • We know that learning and personal development take place when people have access to varied opportunities, are encouraged to take risks, are respected and discover their voice.
  • We believe that communities change for the better when relevant regular activity is developed over the long term and is punctuated with events that bring people together to celebrate.
  • We live in a society where there is inequality of opportunity and where access to the arts is polarised along class and social lines that can reinforce difference.
  • We believe that the power of consumerism, the lack of awareness of global issues and social inequalities drive individualism rather than community cohesion.
  • We see that the 'tidal wave of poverty' is creating barriers to participation because people are struggling to meet their everyday needs.
Our vision is a society where access to, and engagement with arts and culture transforms lives and communities.
Our mission is to build confidence and spirit in individuals and communities through creative arts activities, particularly music.

Values and commitments

As community musicians we create space in which people can grow in a holistic way.
We use multiple methods and people create their own progression pathways

I would like to hear the community music students say

I am learning how to connect my music to people
I am developing my individual musicality
I am discovering what contexts my music can work in
I am learning skills in facilitation and creative play
I am understanding how my music exists in the historical development of global cultural musicmaking
I am working out how I can be useful
I am becoming a more whole person

And I wonder ...
What do the composer students say
What do the therapists say
What do the educationalists say
What do the performers say

The question of quality

Over many years I have been challenged by people in a variety of institutions. In Orchestral Education Departments, high schools, conservatoires and traditional music services. Often the question is 'how do I know it is any good ?' 
And I have replied in many ways and as I have grown in confidence I have asked them the same about their work - not only in education / participation sessions but also in their performance work. 
Why do they ask the question?
What are they scared of?
I think there are many things that concern the leaders in these places. 
They are worried about their business and that I might threaten their work and their income streams.
They can't / don't believe that what we do is relevant - and that leads them to wonder whether what they do is relevant and then that feeds their insecurity because they are already a little on the defensive. Why ? Because their world isn't the golden child any more and isn't being seen as the only culture that is relevant to the world. So we are a threat to their own sense of reality.
AND - we are friendly and keep wanting to be friends with them.

So let's define quality in musicmaking.
Arts Council England defines these quality principles for working with young people
  • striving for excellence
  • emphasising authenticity
  • being exciting, inspiring and engaging
  • ensuring a positive, child-centred experience
  • actively involving children and young people
  • providing a sense of personal progression
  • developing a sense of ownership and belonging 
Youth Music have a Quality Framework that is focussed on how session leaders deliver and is being refined constantly by people in the field.
Then there is the ABRSM Grade system (in the UK) and the Conservatoire Grade system (in Canada) which measures pure skill level in a series of levels that is relevant for some musicians.

And can quality ever be about genre? 
Can we say that a folk band is higher quality musicmaking than a string quartet? Or a band playing rock higher quality than an orchestra playing Mozart? Or a huge choir singing Bach higher quality than an a capella RnB group?
And so we move into a political and class agenda... and it gets dangerous!

In the end we all want our music to be beautiful, truthful and to connect and as Madonna says

"Music makes the people come together"