Community Music

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Welcome to the first posting of the e-column dedicated to Community Music!

We believe that Community Music is a dynamic force within music and music education and we hope that this column will reflect the diversity of its practice whilst contributing to its growth and development.

As an emergent force within music education, discount Community Music needs to elevate its status, cure mark out its territory, and find its identity amongst other musical disciplines. We hope that this column will provide a springboard through which Community Music can launch its principles and practice whilst continuing a responsive approach to change.

In order to represent the scope of Community Music from a global perspective, and to reflect the organising group, this column will initially present a statement in two distinct areas.

Community Music as:

  • Social Change: Lee Higgins presents a historical perspective of Community Music in the UK.
  • Schools, Marja Heimonen Presents a Finnish perspective to creating a music school network

The success of the column depends upon regular dialoguing and we hope that you feel able to contribute.

From the outset I would like to propose three broad perspectives of community music:

  1. Community music as the “music of a community
  2. Community music as “communal music making,”
  3. Community music as an active intervention between a music leader or leaders and participants.

Perspectives one and two describe music that is made by any community at any time. Both of them point to the expression, through music, of a community’s local identity, traditions, aspirations, and social interactions. The suggestion here is that “music of the community” and “communal music making” perspectives are ways of describing and understanding music in culture with a particular emphasis on the impact it has on those who participate.

Perspective one uses the term community music as a descriptor for a musical identity of a particular group of people. Consider, for example, Samba Reggae or Drum Damba. Both of these instances could be described as the “music of the community.” Samba Reggae is the “community music” of particular Afro Brazilian communities of Salvador Bahia, in Brazil, and Drum Damba, an annual New Year’s festival, is the “‘community music” of the Dagbamba people of Ghana, West Africa.

Perspective two, community music as “communal music making,” is closely aligned to the first statement but has a different emphasis. Whereas perspective one identifies and labels a type of music, perspective two describes being part of, or exposed to that music. For example, an Irish music session in Dolan’s bar, Limerick, Ireland, or RiverSing, a public singing event on the banks of the Charles River, Boston, USA both involve musicians and participants drawn from the communities where the music is made. They are “communal music making” events because they strive to bind people together through performance and participation. In these musical contexts, it has been our experience that musicians will mostly identify themselves as musicians rather than community musicians. They will however have a very strong sense of place and a deep rootedness to the people they perform with and for.

The third perspective, “community music as an active intervention between a music leader or leaders and participants,” is the perspective of community music that I would like to explore in this column. This perspective may be understood as an approach to active music making and musical knowing outside of formal teaching and learning situations (By formal I mean music that which is delivered by professional teachers in school, college, and other statutory organizations).

From this third perspective, community music is an intentional intervention, involving skilled music leaders, who facilitate group music making experiences. It has an emphasis on participation, context, equality of opportunity, and diversity. Musicians working in this field seek to create relevant and accessible music making experiences for those participants who choose to be in the group. There are many musicians and music educators throughout the world who work in these ways. What I have found is that in this musical context, musicians will actively identify themselves as community musicians if they have had connection to local, national, and international organizations that support, advocate, and name this perspective as community music. If this is not the experience, these music leaders will identify themselves in other ways, such as music educator, music teacher, cultural development worker, musician-in-residence, and music outreach worker.


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