Being International at Home by Integrating Other Cultures at Local Level

Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values -solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings (José Antonio Abreu)

Community Music as a tool of social transformation

Being home does not mean that we cannot be international. This statement is proved by multiple community projects implemented by various associations and non-profit organisations with the aim to encourage activities promoting international cooperation and dialogue. Community Music is about making music together with other people regardless their age, capacities or social and economic circumstances. Music in such projects plays a role of the main instrument of communication, inspiration and expression of experiences and feelings [1]. Being the only language, which does not need a translation, it serves as a connecting tool nurturing identities and promoting creativeness and lifelong learning.

In the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such community projects have started to play a vital role in establishing relations with people from different social and economic backgrounds and in exchanging different cultural traditions and ideas but these kind of projects exist in many countries and they have been alive for many years. As for example the well-known El Sistema from Venezuela which was founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975 and also, and not so well known, the Orquesta infantil de la Serena from Chile, precursor of the previous one and founded in 1964 by Jorge Peña [2]. In some states, such as Scandinavian countries, Community Music projects have been funded since 1960-70s as projects helping migrants to discover the local culture, young talents to get access to music education, and marginalized groups of people to reintegrate back into society. By empowering people to develop their cultures, artistry and even health, both physical and mental, music can play a powerful role in building healthy and diverse societies. According to numerous psychologists, group music-making leads to an increase in self-confidence, and it helps to improve health and the general well-being of people playing the music instruments or singing [3].

Acción Social por la Música [4] is a clear example of the inclusive side of the music world, as this Spanish organisation aims at integrating children and youngsters, as well as their communities and families by music as a tool of social transformation. The Peace Orchestras and Choirs of this organisation are open for all people regardless of their level or background. Today, more than 200 boys and girls are playing in such Orchestras and Choirs guided by music professionals. The Special Action Program of Acción Social por la Música of this foundation is aimed at minors with different capacities who can find their own place and develop their identity with the help of music. This program is implemented in partnership with the Teatro Real in Madrid. Social classroom entails not only individual music performances but also ensembles of youngsters and even dances. These projects result in structural changes contributing to the eradication of poverty and promotion of equality.

In other cases, Community Music projects are launched in order to gather people of different backgrounds together and at the same time to discover the local culture. For instance, the Folkmusikens Hus in a Swedish town Rättvik has launched Community Music project devoted to traditional Swedish music. The project’s main goal is to bring people of all ages and backgrounds to play together traditional Swedish melodies, thus building community networks and a new sense of identity [5].

Integration of immigrants through Community Music projects

Psychological effect of Community Music has been thoroughly studied in relation to the immigrants’ integration into the foreign society. Not only group music-making helps them to overcome challenges associated with moving to another place and integrating to another culture with a substantial alteration of their identity perception, but it also helps them to find hope for building a new life while connecting with other people of different backgrounds and boost their physical and psychological health.

For some Community Music projects improvisation is a core of music activity helping not only to discover the world of music but also to participate in the process of its creation. If immigrants are involved in such projects and then can present the results of their work to local communities through public concerts, they can develop important skills by exchanging their experiences but also feel the freedom to raise their own voices and tell their own stories with the use of music tool. As a result, Community Music projects serve a social inclusion tool and foster the feeling of being able to bring something to the local society [6]. Freedom associated with improvisation can foster social inclusion of immigrants and promote an intercultural dialogue.

Such projects promoting cross-cultural interaction and social cohesion of immigrants with the use of improvisation were launched in Wales in the UK. For example, the project Oasis World Chair and Band launched in a Refugee Support Centre, entailed weekly gatherings of women and men of immigrant origins [7]. Due to the lack of English skills and different cultural backgrounds, these participants sometimes could not even understand each other, as they were not speaking the same language. However, it did not prevent their interaction with the use of a universal language tool, the music there were making together.

By organising these meetings, the centre was aiming to empower the participants through music-making while encouraging creativity and accepting differences. Improvisation was used in order to bring joy and the feeling of freedom to participants who had been exposed to difficult situations in the past, such as conflicts, wars or political instability in their countries. Some participants even underlined that such group music-making had a therapeutic effect on them, as it helped them to forget about their problems and difficulties, as well as to experience a feeling of belonging to a group.

Women for Refugee Women [8] based in London aims at empowering refugee and asylum-seeking women by helping them to speak out, perform on the stage and learn English, drama, poetry and music, which consequently help them to gain necessary skills in order to get confidence in themselves. The project is vital for tackling isolation stemming from difficult life situations of women seeking asylum.  The organisation helps women to tell their stories and raise their voice, while courses and lessons can help them to better understand how to build their new lives and exchange their experiences with others. In addition, Women for Refugee Women works on research devoted to refugee women, results of which are communicated to policy makers.

In the quest for new talents: music as an empowering tool for young musicians from vulnerable societies

Finally, Community Music projects can be also a tool of supporting young talented musicians from peculiar social and economic backgrounds, lacking in the access to music education and communication with professionals. The project launched by Jennifer Stumm, American violist and professor at Music and Arts Private University of Vienna, Ilumina [9] tackles this issue of alienation of young musicians from Latin America. Ilumina is an inspiring social project that has been implemented by professional musicians in Brazil since 2015. It has become one of the leading chamber music festivals in Latin America uniting young talented musicians from different South American countries and internationally recognized music professionals. Youngsters coming from developing countries of the Global South are often lacking in access to private music lessons. Yet Ilumina based in São Paulo enable them to participate in a creative process alongside music professionals from all over the world. The best of the best young talents coming from deeply different social and economic realities gather in one place in order to impact each other, perform together and learn from each other, as the main idea is to generate a sense of learning by doing and creating connections coming from making music together.

The festival organised on a Brazilian farm where professionals live together with young talents involves the organisation of masterclasses, technique lessons, rehearsals, financial planning workshops or even walks together in the forest. The principal idea of the project is to reflect different profiles while working internationally and with different approaches. The product of this creativeness is then presented at local stages for free. According to Ilumina, “there are no rules, apart from a hungry pursuit of musical mastery and creativity” [10].  

Ilumina strives to support youngsters around the world by searching for professional musicians or student volunteers who could exchange their knowledge with talents from different countries by lessons, group classes, including online ones, or even filmed instructional videos on a topic.

Conclusion

To sum up, Community Music is a powerful instrument enabling societies to build cross-cultural ties, develop creativity and communicate via the music tool with different categories of the population regardless their economic or social situation, nationality, age or music capabilities. Music in this case is a universal language bringing people together and giving them enjoyment and happiness of communication with each other without words.


[1] Veblen Kari (2007) The many ways of community music international, Journal of Community Music, 1(1): 5-21, DOI: 10.1386/ijcm.1.1.5_1

[2] Molinari, Olivia. (2012). El legado de Jorge Peña Hen: Ias orquestas sinfónicas infantiles y juveniles en Chile y en América Latina. Revista musical chilena. 66. 60-65. 10.4067/S0716-27902012000200004.

[3] Fancourt, D., A. Williamon, L. A. Carvalho, A. Steptoe, R. Dow, and I. Lewis. 2016. “Singing Modulates Mood, Stress, Cortisol, Cytokine and Neuropeptide Activity in Cancer Patients and Carers.” Ecancermedicalscience 10: 631. doi: 10.3332/ecancer.2016.631

[4] Acción Social por la Música . URL: https://accionsocialporlamusica.es/ (accessed on 17.11.2020)

[5] Veblen, K. K. (2003). Community musicians, music educators, and music workers: International dialogues.  In M. Espelund, (Ed.), Sampsel: Proceedings of the 2002 ISME Conference. Bergen, Norway: ISME

[6] Sofia Vougioukalou, Rosie Dow, Laura Bradshaw & Tracy Pallant (2019) Wellbeing and Integration through Community Music: The Role of Improvisation in a Music Group of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Local Community Members, Contemporary Music Review, 38:5, 533-548, DOI: 10.1080/07494467.2019.1684075

[7] ibid

[8] Women for Refugee Women. How we create change. URL: https://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/ (accessed 17.11.2020)

[9] Ilumina. Homepage. URL: https://iluminamusic.com/ (accessed 18.11.2020)

[10] Ibid

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