Community Music

I recently took a course in Community Music.  For some of you reading this, you are familiar with this term, but for many of you, including myself three months ago, I only had a vague idea about what community music was.  I thought it was community groups that form in some church basement and play music for fun with their friends.  And it is.  But it’s also SO much more than that. In his book on Community Music, Lee Higgins (community musician, rock guitarist, scholar, professor, and now president of ISME) explores and explains community musicianship.  He defines community music as (1) of a community, (2) communal music making, and (3) an active intervention between a music leader or facilitator and participants. 

Community musicians have at the core of their practice an ethos to engage people in the making of music, not only for its aesthetic value, but for its ability to help people.  They help people find meaning, joy, understanding, and acceptance.  They help people build relationships and explore new possibilities.  They have an attitude towards making and facilitating music that creates culture through inclusivity. Community musicians do things.  Great things.  Life-changing things.  Societal change kinds of things.  

Over the course of semester, I kept coming back to the same question - asking myself how these attitudes can be included in popular music programs.  I have this nagging thought that somehow, popular music and the people that engage in creating it can change the world.  Not like Live Aid or a similar event, which certainly made a difference – but something that could actually change the social fabric of humanity.  Could community music and its principles offer that possibility?  If we educate people in popular music classrooms and programs with an ethos towards the tenets of community music and similar philosophies such as cultural democracy, personhood, and artistic citizenship, can we help facilitate larger change?  If those same students go on to massive success and they have at the core of their artistry and practice and ethic that encapsulates these principles, could the music they make, which could reach millions, have a larger societal affect?  Especially if their music speaks to change they want to see in the world?  If those students then facilitate community music programs and activities would that change the social fabric of society?  Can they make a difference?

With the political turmoil currently occurring in my homeland, I have so many students writing songs of protest, of pain, and of love – wanting to do something.  I have students asking me ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘why should I bother?’ and I say – “because we need you - because you can be the voice of the people who don’t feel they have them.”  Maybe be can help them be that voice.