International Council for Traditional Music

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

2008 - Talking Circle Reports: Historical and Emerging Approaches to Applied Ethnomusicology

First Meeting of the ICTM Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology

Ljubljana, July 9-13, 2008

Historical and Emerging Approaches to Applied Ethnomusicology used the innovative format of talking circles—a meeting of minds around points of difficulty or difference—in an effort to raise the level of scholarly discourse about three issues: 1) ethnomusicology’s responses and responsibilities to endangered music cultures; 2) applied ethnomusicology approaches to music therapy and healing; and 3) theorizing music’s roles in conflict and peacemaking.
Conference participants formed a discussion group around each issue. The three talking circles met twice separately, and used talking circle guidelines adapted from the International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.
As a closing plenary for the conference, a reporter from each talking circle summarized the main points of discussion in his or her group, with some attention to the question “What is to be done?” The talking circle reports follow below.

Talking Circle 1: Threatened Music, Threatened Communities: Applied Ethnomusicology’s Responses and Responsibilities to Endangered Musics

Reporter and Facilitator: Huib Schippers
Participants: Ana Hofman, Eric Martin Usner, Christine Dettman, Elizabeth Mackinlay (Session I), Ursula Hemetek (Session II), Anthony Seeger (Session II), Judith Cohen (Session II)

Working against the background of a longstanding commitment of many ICTM members to contribute to musical diversity, this Talking Circle brought together voices and expertise from a wide range of environments. These included multiethnic Serbian settings, Indigenous Australia, Sephardic Jewish, expatriate Brazilian, Amazonian rainforests, multicultural Austria, and Indian musiques savantes. Speaking from these diverse backgrounds, the talking circle addressed three crucial aspects of working with endangered music cultures: 
1) The nature of musical communities
2) Aspects of music and its contexts that influence sustainability
3) The position and roles of the applied ethnomusicologist

1. The nature of musical communities
Hearing the backgrounds of the members of this talking circle, it became clear that working with “a community” is often not as straightforward as it would seem. In most contemporary environments, people identify with multiple communities, which can be defined geographically, socially, culturally, or artistically, and can be in physical proximity, dispersed over large distances, virtual, or imagined. Even within relatively homogenous communities, views and ambitions may differ widely on the basis of intergenerational differences, gender, and power structures, or simply on the basis of personal differences of values and opinions. 
Central issues like what constitutes music (or better: aspects of musicking) worth safeguarding, and how success is measured in such efforts are likely to be perceived differently. This implies that establishing what can be done with and for a community requires great sensitivity, profound research, deep reflection, and extensive dialogue with the various stakeholders in any music culture. 

2. Aspects of music and its contexts that influence sustainability 
Speaking of the forces that work on the sustainability of music cultures and how these can be influenced, the group emphasised a number of key aspects, most of which are interconnected: 
• Availability of and accessibility to effective systems of transmission (formal or informal) 
• Creation of appropriate support structures (and/or the opening of existing ones) for education, performance, production, funding, and organisational support.
• Laws and regulations conducive to music making (both the presence of ones that protect the rights of musicians, and the absence of those that restrict music) 
• A sense of ownership, agency, pride and prestige (both internally and externally validated). In many cases, the latter are linked to money 
• Minimal negative effect from extramusical factors such as poverty, war, ethnic tensions, and violence 
This extends the focus of the ethnomusicologists beyond what many would consider the traditional boundaries of the discipline. For an applied ethnomusicologist working with the aim of assisting endangered musics, a solid understanding of the entire gamut of actors, stakeholders and forces that influence sustainability is imperative. 

3. The position and roles of the applied ethnomusicologist 
In addition to a thorough understanding of music and cultural context, the above implies considerable professional and ethical responsibilities for the applied ethnomusicologist dedicated to using the knowledge acquired to benefit individuals, communities, and musical traditions. These include: 
• Openness: a willingness to place oneself in positions of vulnerability, discomfort, sometimes even subservience, embracing unfamiliar and sometimes counterintuitive approaches to appropriate process and outcomes.
• Self-reflection: a great sensitivity to approaches to “the other,” and considerable insight into values and attitudes one brings to working with specific music cultures
• Communication skills: the ability to listen, communicate, engage, understand, recognise unspoken codes, negotiate, and empower
• Broadness: applying interdisciplinary approaches (or working with interdisciplinary teams) to ensure that all relevant aspects of a threat to the music culture and all the pathways to sustainability are addressed.

What is to be done?
To prepare present and future applied ethnomusicologists for this rich and demanding task, a number of important initiatives could be considered by ICTM: 
a) Stimulate that training programs for emerging ethnomusicologists address the issues raised above, using models that have been developed to date (e.g., those found at several U.S. universities)
b) Work towards a Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology with a reputable publisher to provide a resource for both emerging and practising ethnomusicologists in this field.

Talking Circle 2: Applied Ethnomusicological Approaches to Music Therapy and Healing

Reporter and Facilitator: Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg
Participants: Bernd Brabec de Mori, Vojko Veršnik, Katarina Juvančič, Jelena Jovanović, Paola Barzan (Session I), Francesco Facchin (Session I), Lasanthi Manaranjanie Kalinga Dona (Session I), Alessandra Faresin (Session I), Judith Cohen (Session I)

Music therapy as a discipline is a Western medical concept, which is fairly new (approximately 50 years old). The use of music to heal or the established relationships between music and health, however, is very old.
Just as we must query definitions of applied ethnomusicology, we must question definitions of music therapy. What is therapy? What is health and indeed, what is music and who says what why? Is health merely the absence of illness? What constitutes “an illness”? Concepts of “health” are culturally and spiritually defined.
What is the relationship between the medical sciences including music therapy, and applied ethnomusicologies of healing? Could or should we try to find a point of collaboration these areas and if so, how? 
Participants in this talking circle thought that the relationship between music therapy, medical sciences and (applied) ethnomusicology might be developed further, despite tensions that exist between music therapists and scholars, and medical scientists. Some music therapists are using “culture-centred” approaches to music in relation to health. However, many medical scientists believe that there is very little “objective” evidence to suggest that music itself is an effective tool for “curing” “illnesses.”
On the other hand, how can applied ethnomusicology contribute to Western concepts of music therapy and vice versa? (Applied) ethnomusicology can:
• offer information on how to approach music therapy in a culturally appropriate fashion 
• make us aware of the diversity of ways in which the same music can affect different individuals, as per the individuals’ histories and cultural contexts
Talking circle participants agreed that (applied) ethnomusicology cannot offer a definitive theory or methodology on the ways in which music is related to health, or how music should be employed to promote health because all therapeutic intervention is context dependent. Talking circle participants also agreed that this fact does not diminish music’s ability to potentially effect positive, “health” related changes if used appropriately.
What are perceptions of music therapy as a beneficial and effective form of therapy in minority groups in Western cities or diasporas? How can Western music therapists access (applied) ethnomusicological details that help to them develop appropriate approaches to music therapy for minority groups or diasporas? In some cases, music therapy is viewed as being ineffectual, especially where people who might potentially benefit from “treatment” are deaf, which culturally can be an unacceptable and discriminated social and physical position.
This talking circle also considered the question: Is it the music or the extra-musical associations that are beneficial? Possibly both, participants thought. For example, in the case of deaf people, vibrations are the means by which music is able to affect positive change. In other cases, like with the elderly, associated memories or activities such as companionship can offer benefits.
What is the relationship between physical contact, closeness, and the beneficial embodiment of musical sound or act of making music? General consensus was that embodiment in the act of performing or consuming music plays an important part of music therapy and that it is not “just” the sounds that have the potential to heal.
Who is music therapy for? Is it just for the person who comes for “treatment” or is it for an entire community?
The importance of singing and listening to folksongs among other genres, by elderly people was mentioned, as was the significance of specific instruments (such as the accordion or zither in Vojko Veršnik’s case) for providing therapy and entertainment, particularly for those with dementia. People with dementia are able to remember songs and certain instrument types and musics from childhood whereas they may have forgotten many other things. The act of being able to remember can create emotional responses in listeners. 
How do we reconcile Western, medical knowledge that contradicts Indigenous healing practices with our own ethical responsibilities towards those we work with? What are our responsibilities as scholars and practitioners when we decontextualise unfamiliar or “foreign” musical practises? For example, music therapists might use the didgeridoo for healing purposes, with deaf people or as a massage instrument because of its vibrations. We must acknowledge that our uses of certain musical practices and/or instruments are different from the ways in which the practices and/or instruments are used “traditionally.” 
Should we consider music therapy not just as a method of healing, but also a method of empowerment and even prevention?
Can we use technology, such as film and recording, to promote more reflexive responses to working in a therapeutic environment? Technology might help us to make observations about how people respond to music, but also about how we as facilitators operate in a “therapy/healing” setting. Physical, verbal and emotional responses of a facilitator can be highly influential in determining the outcomes of healing sessions.
Applied ethnomusicologists interested in health must try to attend medical, music psychology and music therapy conferences in order to see to what extent we can collaborate with scholars from such disciplines.

Talking Circle 3: “Theorizing Music’s Roles in Conflict and Peacemaking”
Reporter: Klisala Harrison
Facilitator: Kjell Skyllstad
Participants: Alba Sanfeliu, Ian MacMillen, Britta Sweers, Samuel Araújo, Jakša Primorac, Svanibor Pettan, Regine Allgayer-Kaufmann (Session I), Ursula Hemetek (Session I), Bernhard Bleibinger (Session I), Ruth Davis (Session I), Margaret Kartomi (Session II)
Session I Scribe: Michael Birenbaum Quintero

In Session I, participants introduced themselves by discussing how themes of conflict and peacemaking intersected with their research and academic experience within the frame of an acknowledgement, from Kjell Skyllstad, that the format of the talking circle—a sort of mediation of ideas—is what conflict mediation is all about. Ironically, we got caught in a debate about whether, in discussing music, conflict and peace, we were aiming at peace or at human rights, including cultural rights and minority rights.
Drawing on our research expertise from Norway, Brazil, Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Germany, Palestine, Spain and Colombia, for example, we offered different observations about the role of music in conflict management, such as: the possibility that songs can perpetuate and remind us of humiliation that could have happened hundreds of years ago. We touched on different social configurations of conflict like interpersonal and intergroup (particularly interethnic and religious) conflict. Talking circle participants began to discuss how conflict may operate, including the points that while groups can be in conflict, perhaps through music, there is still common ground. We considered the problem of power in conflict, and the importance of the population and not only the actors to conflict.
Samuel Araujo offered a number of insightful and relevant observations including: the point that institutions that work with conflicts need to rethink themselves. He encouraged us to think about how problems of conflict come together, particularly influences of “macro” conditions. Can we address “macro” catalysts of conflict through music?
In discussing possibilities for academic research on conflict, participants were interested in what sort of research outcomes are those of studying music and conflict management—particularly the changes in personal situation and phenomenological experience that music may negotiate vis-à-vis conflict situations. How can we work towards ensuring that such research results are viewed as “legitimate” in the academic environment? For further notes on Session I, please email Michael Birenbaum Quintero at
Session II: Taking as starting points our cursory observations on the role of music in conflict, the operation of conflict and the catalysts of conflict, this talking circle focussed more specifically conflict determinants. Being careful not to overstate the role of music, we first needed to consider whether the types of conflict we each were discussing were similar, or whether we were dealing with different phenomena. What was the basis of the conflict that we studied with regards to music?
It turned out that many of the conflicts that we each researched were influenced by the key ideas of 
• economic resources; and
• ownership systems
often and currently within the pressures of neoliberalism, but within pressures or graces of nationalisms, especially historically. Talking circle participants had differently nuanced and sometimes conflicting political views about neoliberalism(s) and nationalism(s).
In our own ethnomusicological studies, aggravating factors for current types of conflict included the oppression of certain groups by others, sometimes in single, and sometimes in multiple or intersecting oppressions of economic, raced, gendered, classed, and educational natures, for instance. Inequalities in neoliberal contexts tended to have an economic emphasis. 
We were concerned with the human effects of such inequalities and oppressions—for instance, that we are in a human world that is lived through lower and lower levels of solidarity between people. Kjell Skyllstad and Svanibor Pettan raised the possibility that humiliating people may cause the humiliated to humiliate others. Humiliation using music was a technique of torture during the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as documented by Pettan. As demonstrated by Britta Sweers’ work with right wing extremist youth music in Germany, people may feel that no one is interested in them—“disinvestment,” to use a neoliberal term. The “disinvestment” may be tied up in societal trauma, Sweers argued, or as Klisala Harrison noted, in a sudden change of larger societal organizing structures, such as governments or economic systems, that necessitates drastically new sorts of human relationship. In Samuel Araujo’s work in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, which are dramatically pressured by neoliberalism and the disintegration of the Brazilian state, it is drug dealers—entrepreneurs—who instigate conflict, and take over the social roles of regulating social movements of citizens, which we might reasonably expect politicians or government to provide. 
The talking circle on conflict and peacemaking did think about whether we were dealing with forces of conflict that were non-musical but societal and economic. We did ask whether music’s role could only reflect these forces or whether music had power to affect other sorts of social change. Yet since making music is typically a social activity and since catalysts of human conflict, in our experience, seemed social, might music be used (critically, we assumed) to direct the conditions of cultural change—even the “meta” determinants of conflict, which may be social in origin—in ways that could facilitate peace? We felt that we needed to know more about how music can play a role of humiliation or disempowerment, and empowerment with regards to these “meta” determinants. Two participants added that some conflict determinants relate to environmental destruction.
In conclusion, the talking circle decided to take action on our identification of economic resources and ownership systems as two key ideas to encourage in conflict and peacemaking studies in applied ethnomusicology. Elaboration of these ideas would necessarily develop the literatures on economics and ownership that already exist in ethnomusicology, but with the intention of theorizing further the role of music in conflict and peacemaking. Talking circle participants expressed special interest in collaborating with ethnomusicologists from countries with Socialist histories, such as China and Russia, with a view to learning how diverse configurations of economy and ownership intersect with conflict, and possible musical conflict mediation. The rationale for this openness was as follows: Conflict is provoked. If we do not ask what is provoking conflict, then we cannot return or maintain the peace.
The talking circle decided, for future conferences, to organize one or more panels of conference papers that address the catalysts of conflict as they can be understood and mitigated through applied ethnomusicology. This may help to provide further theoretical basis for conflict and music studies.