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Community Music Speaks

A new report from the AHRC Research Network project captures the thoughts and ideas of community music professionals about where the sector is today and how it got here. Ben Higham, researcher and former director of Community Music East explains what it’s all about. Follow the link below to read the full report.

I think it would be really interesting to understand some of that participatory work that is going on out there where it really is having the biggest impact in the ways that we all know community music can.”

Practitioners, trainers, managers, academics and funders all participated in a series of discussions across 2013 exploring issues that all agreed were important aspects of community music activity. A previous report[1] had identified that the ‘UK has been a pivotal player within the development of community music practice’ and these discussions set out to examine how the current state of the sector, in light of the increasing emphasis on outcomes[2] and the shift from collective to individual achievements[3], relates to the intentions and purposes of its dynamic past.

The meetings took place across the country (in Norwich, Manchester, Leeds and London) and sought to revitalise understandings, both inside and outside the sector, of community music’s potential role in connecting and developing communities. They also drew on the expertise in the field to develop priorities for further research that will increase understanding of the impacts of such activity.

The report captures recurring themes from the discussions, particularly concerning the tension between what is currently expected of community music activity and the values and approaches that practitioners feel are appropriate to their work. Some views were expressed that recognised the need to be pragmatic in order to secure work:

“We just pick off the shelf the stuff that satisfies what people want it to do…CM’s changes in line with politics have been a good thing.”

 with other perspectives suggesting that such positions create an…

“imbalance between how we perceive ourselves, and the solidity of the work that we can see, and how the outside world views the work.”

A further theme emerged around the mainstreaming of community music and the challenge that this brings for its distinctive identity.

“To what extent do people doing CM want their practice and ideas to be visible or to be understood by the mainstream?  This is perhaps questionable.”

Other delegates meanwhile suggested the need for a more robust, distinct and accountable identification of community music principles and practices.

The report also explores what participants identified as aspects of ‘quiet radicalism’ in their work, claiming modest but significant positive systemic change, and examines issues surrounding the nature of quality, evidence and faith in community music activity. Finally the conclusions of these discussions recognise the potential value of identifying greater clarity of purpose in community music activity, from within and without, in order to make it more obviously effective, valuable and distinctive.

Download a copy of ‘Whatever Happened to Community Music’

[1] McKay, G.A. & Higham, B. (2011) Community music: history and current practice, its constructions of ‘community’, digital turns and future soundings , Project Report, Arts Humanities Research Council, Swindon.

[2] Price, D. (2002). “A quiet revolution”: An overview of current Community Music initiatives in the UK (p.3). In H. Schippers & N. Kors (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2002 ISME Commission on Community Music Activity.

[3] Matarasso, F. (2007) Common Ground: cultural action as a route to community development’, Community Development Journal, Vol. 42, Issue 4, pp.449-458



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