International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

2012 - Talking Circle Reports, 3rd Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology

Since its first symposium, the study group has used a specially designed format of talking circles in order to stimulate and promote discussions and knowledge exchange on topics important to applied ethnomusicology.

In 2012, the central topic of discussion was the practices and challenges of applied ethnomusicology in relation to institutions.

All symposium participants met initially as a large group for an introductory discussion. In a second meeting, participants split into groups focused on said issue in several geographical areas and groups of areas: 1) Australasia and Africa; 2) Northern and Western Europe; and 3) Eastern and Southern Europe.



Talking Circle 1: Australasia and Africa

Reporter: Leila Qashu (Ethiopia/Canada)

Facilitators: Aaron Corn (Australia)

Participants: Bernhard Bleibinger (South Africa), Pamela Costes Onishi (Singapore), Anthea Skinner (Australia) and Sally Treloyn (Australia)

How, where and when do applied or collaborative studies and activities fit in the curriculum of participants working in academic institutions? Is it part of standard coursework in undergraduate programs or part of graduate education? Is it limited to outreach activities or are other activities included as well (which ones)? Are they articulated across disciplines and knowledge areas? Are they part of broader institutional programs or isolated projects by individual scholars? Do they comprise teamwork or individual scholars working with non-institutional collective bodies?

What is the situation in other institutions? How is applied ethnomusicology integrated there?

In Australia, collaborative work and applied research projects in indigenous communities are prevalent. The AIATSIA guidelines for ethical research in indigenous communities require you to give back to communities you work with if you can. Sally Treloyn and Aaron Corn provided several examples in their papers and the talking circle discussion of how their work and that of other researchers working with indigenous groups in Australia was collaborative and applied. Generally, this type of work is not directly part of coursework or curriculum, but rather projects led by individuals or groups combining both institutional and non-institutional bodies. In Aaron’s work, many key researchers and collaborators on the project are indigenous, and they have been brought into the university to work as adjunct faculty researchers. On a curricular or institutional level, this applied and collaborative work is more difficult to put into practice. Corn mentioned that Australian National University policy states that students and faculty have to contribute to communities, but getting administration and students to do this is difficult. For example, last year he was asked him to put together a Thai music festival, which was successful because students were immersed in the event and they received credit for it. This led a desire to head further in that direction, but dividing up courses and calling something "applied" won’t work in his university because it would be considered too narrow. He said that people involved in the teaching of music in education do more "applied" work, but this hasn’t produced much in terms of applied ethnomusicology. It remains contained in institutions.

Treloyn gave the example of an online ethnomusicology course that had an applied bent and ran for three years at Charles Darwin University. It was largely online, but there was a week-long intensive part in the middle of the semester during which students worked with community groups to develop a short project around recording and documentation, and to produce results that the community wanted (such as CDs or building a database). This course was not part of standard coursework and it is no longer running. Treloyn added that community engagement is valued, but not as much as pedagogies of community service learning in Canada. Despite a lack of applied work directly written into curriculums in Australian universities, Corn argued that all that faculty and researchers in his university (and others in Australia) teach and do is "applied," and has to be by the nature of its work in indigenous and other communities.

In contrast, Bernhard Bleibinger’s experience at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa attested to applied work being an integral part of the curriculum. For example, he and a colleague go into the field and collect traditional music, but they also invite music practitioners from villages to give workshops and teach at the university. At his university, a couple of the examples of the applied work involved local schools, and a community outreach marimba band aimed at getting boys off the street (and for which the students and the boys made instruments). The university has academic work requirements, but practical applications are also part of the curriculum. For example, one course requires students to make instruments from the East Cape and to play them. His university's vision statement asks students and faculty to contribute to communities, and although these examples attest to such activities, Bleibinger mentioned that faculty are not always sure how to contribute to communities. Leila Qashu spoke to the Ethiopian context in which there are ethnomusicology courses in a Western classical music conservatory and graduate programme at a university. Ethnomusicology courses and institutionally led recording and archiving projects only began about six years ago with a UNESCO project. Until recently the applied work comes has come from foreign-taught coursework and workshops, but there are a couple cases of applied and community-led or initiated projects, such as a sound archive museum in Harar and music and dance festivals in other areas.

Pamela Costes Onishi talked about the Singapore context, in which there is no intentional outreach at the moment. Most ethnomusicology classes are introductory, taught so that people can be more open to other cultures around them. Costes Onishi works in the National Institute for Education in which the focus is on how to teach ethnomusicology in schools. The idea of doing something for one's own communities is not a part of the ethnomusicology classes in Singapore yet, as many people don’t even know what ethnomusicology is.

Qashu also spoke to the context of Memorial University in Canada, in which there are some courses, such as public sector folklore, that involve community projects. There is also an applied folklore course, which can be more historical or can include an applied project. Ethnomusicology students can take these courses. Although fieldwork is a definite part of ethnomusicology coursework and research, applied work is not in the curriculum. Departments are, however, open to applied work, for which students can receive credit and on which thesis work can be based. Memorial’s ethnomusicology programme is housed in the Research Centre for the study of Music, Media and Place, which was established in 2003 “to initiate and enable music research within the academic and general community.” Many applied projects in conjunction with local and regional communities continually come out of this centre, so applied work is very much a part of the programme and community at Memorial.

Is the relative prestige or, on the contrary, devaluation of applied work in your institution and to different sectors of society related to the disputes for legitimacy in academia and in society at large? How?

In Australia, as Treloyn mentioned, there has not been a countrywide notion of respect for indigenous knowledge. In some areas, the government is only now incorporating indigenous knowledge into the school curriculum. Anthea Skinner and Sally Treloyn agreed that the value of this knowledge and applied work in general depends on where you are in the country. Corn added that some universities do specialize in this type of knowledge, such as James Cook University, which invented a national heritage framework. Treloyn also attested to the presence and value of vocational training programmes in Australia. In contrast to varied levels of value and legitimacy in Australia, Bernhard Bleibinger spoke about the consistently high respect given to indigenous knowledge in South Africa. In the Ethiopian context, however, Leila talked about how the government regulates projects and research, so certain types of applied work simply are not possible. For example, anything that is directly political, ethnic, or critical of the government is not valued or authorized, but music is generally seen as safe and unthreatening.

One can give differing examples of how applied work is valued in Australia. Corn has found ways of giving more value to community members and to applied work. He has been empowering indigenous knowledge bearers as adjunct faculty researchers teaching applied subjects. How does the latter give legitimacy to applied work? For example, faculty at a university can receive full credit for a co-authored publication if the person with whom you are co-authoring is adjunct faculty.

In Australia, receiving grant money is extremely valuable because the government matches every grant amount received. Although there is tension in the country about the way aboriginal issues or gay and lesbian issues are actually tolerated and advocated for on a national level, there is much grant money for research on the issues and relevant applied research projects are receiving large amounts of funding. The grants count towards tenure track jobs so they add additional value to applied work. Such "applied" researchers are still producing many publications, but they are also working on and receiving grants. Treloyn spoke about her move into applied work being very helpful and valued because it led to her research funding and employment. Community engagement in her projects helped her to acquire the work she has now.

In contrast, Corn spoke about Australian music departments not valuing the applied work they do, which makes it difficult to have ethnomusicology as anything as more than an elective. At the same time, applied work receives funding more easily because applied researchers can indicate the broader value of the work. For this reason, applied ethnomusicologists are valuable for the department. Corn expressed that, in Australia, knowledge and arts are not valued as much as sports are. Everything that is based on government funding now derives from articulating why you should exist, and you will eventually be out of a job if you cannot articulate this. Skinner spoke to her experience at Monash University, where music academics are wildly underfunded and are justifying their funding and the need for more funding by doing things such as reviving and using all the instruments they have. For Australian PhD students, there is a diversity of sources of both government and private funding, but they are receiving small amounts of money from different places.

Bleibinger emphasized an interest in indigenous knowledge systems in South Africa. One of his predecessors developed the current programme in the music department in which he works and there, a high level of respect for indigenous knowledge and applied work. Funding has been good. The National Arts Council and the Indigenous Music and Oral History Project have provided funding for projects. Recently, Bleibinger was approached by UNESCO, which would like to work on South African indigenous knowledge in terms of what is produced and what is done musically -- traditional, modern or other. Bleibinger mentioned that connections between local communities and universities and their departments also depends on where a university locates. If one is in a small and remote university surrounded by fields and villages, there will automatically be connections with people in the rural areas. This is why his university has such good connections with surrounding communities. In Australia, the situation is quite different because the country is so large and many of the indigenous communities locate thousands of kilometers away from universities. In Ethiopia, the countryside is never very far away, but there is not much government funding for applied projects; most relevant money comes from outside the country. As a result, it is difficult for students to conduct fieldwork or research for their degrees unless they are working for the government or company, or have funding from other sources.

In Singapore, Costes Onishi explained, the government is currently "opening" everything, so funding is very good. The government is putting much money into ethnomusicology and applied education programmes. Her centre’s generous funding for research in Singapore is coming from the Ministry of Education and the National Arts Council. Their centre is a UNESCO observatory, and workers there would like to observe in other countries, however, they are not eligible for UNESCO funding. In order to receive funding from Singapore, the workers need to demonstrate how these other countries or populations affect Singapore or are of interest to a national agenda. The workers have ideas, such as looking at neighbouring countries from which the large numbers of immigrants and migrants to cosmopolitan Singapore come.

Is the role of applied work in your institution affected at all by the policies of supranational entities, the State and/or non-governmental organizations?

In all of these countries, applied work in institutions is definitely affected by the policies of supranational entities, the State, and non-governmental organizations. One of Australia’s research priorities is "Understanding Our Region in the World." Ethnomusicology research fits well into this nation’s goals for indigenous cultures, as part of its national agenda. Treloyn mentioned that Australian Research Council grants argue for the benefits of applied work but at the same time, Australia is not abiding by certain UN priorities.


Talking Circle 2: Northern and Western Europe

Reporter and Facilitator: Jonathan Stock (UK)

Participants: Klisala Harrison (Finland/Canada), Britta Sweers (Switzerland), Ray Casserly (Ireland), Carolyn Landau (UK) and Sarah Ross (Switzerland)

The Northern Europe circle began by discussing the places for applied ethnomusicology in our various curricula, noting some contrasts and also some overlaps from institution to institution. For example, certain courses immerse students in ongoing social projects outside the classroom whereas others teach them skills they can apply in future work in the public sector, for instance training in the making of radio programmes. Collaborations with external stakeholders are regular and seen as a strength of this work.

Applied ethnomusicology is not always part of the core curriculum in the music programmes where we teach, and sometimes it is there in actuality but not very visible, as for instance when it occurs as part of a course on ethnomusicology more generally. An advantage of this is that when we do teach it, we tend to get a whole class that's committed to the subject. A drawback is that some of those who would really benefit from it (not least, classical music students aiming to work in outreach programmes of symphony orchestras, opera companies, etc.) are not aware of its potential to help them in their future careers.

In comparing experience on the issue of respect or prestige for this work, we noted again a range of responses. In some institutions, outreach and impact are now highly welcomed, although effectiveness there may not yet be directly supported by grant funding. Generally, we felt that we wanted to integrate applied work with ethnomusicological enquiry, rather than planning free-standing applied interventions. We recognized the potential that we each hold to encourage the valuing of such work in our institutions, and noted that this challenging task would require us to be able to articulate with great clarity what our public sector work contributes to all involved.

The discussion went on to note how some educational institutions are becoming increasingly commercial in ethos. Here, the picture seemed quite variable across the region, as it was too for expectations in terms of amounts and kinds of research we were expected to undertake, how that research was funded, and who finally evaluated its standing.

Despite the challenges of coming to terms with what feels like a rapidly shifting employment scene, applied ethnomusicology seems to be becoming better established across the region, and a contribution is being made.


Talking Circle 3: Eastern and Southern Europe

Reporter and Facilitator: Paola Barzan (Italy)

Participants: Mike Hajimichael (Cyprus), Andreas Tsiartas (Cyprus), Angelina Sotiriou (Cyprus), Petros Siammas (Cyprus), Rosmarie Alexandreou (Cyprus), Nefen Michaelides (Cyprus), Dimitris Papanikolau (Greece), Marija Dumnic (Serbia) and Svanibor Pettan (Slovenia)

The discussion group was quite heterogeneous with respect to the background of the participants as well as their institutional and non-institutional positions. Some of them, in fact, are not ethnomusicologists but instead are trained in psychology or anthropology, while others have trained as performers and in music production. In addition, some participants are not closely affiliated with any educational institution, and rather work as independent professionals in music research.

The situation of institutions in South-Eastern Europe also appeared to differ widely, both in relation to the various political and territorial situations, some being newly-established (Slovenia, Serbia), others being afflicted by problem resolution (Cyprus), others being rocked by the difficult economic conditions affecting primarily Mediterranean Europe (Italy, Greece).

All participants reported that their experiences in applied ethnomusicology related mainly to intercultural dialogue in the broadest sense, that is, between cultures of different countries and communities, or between different cultural layers within the same community. (A side benefit of the talking circle, was the exchange, among participants, of information and material produced during such experiences).

The first topic of discussion regarded the relationship between studies in (applied) ethnomusicology and academic institutions. One problem in thinking about this seems to be an inability to think of a global ethnomusicology, capable of understanding and preserving all types of music. In many countries of South Eastern Europe, official institutions tend to favor on the one hand research on national folk music, and on the other, a focus on the recovery and archiving of historical material.

It was the opinion of the participants in this talking circle that greater foresight and flexibility is necessary when considering (applied) ethnomusicology as an academic resource and a tool for interaction between academic institutions and society in the world of music. It is clear that this assumption, which underpins the work of this study group, has yet to be put into practice by institutions in this geographic area. Sometimes it is easier to find flexibility, collaboration and freedom of choice at a lower educational level than universities, for instance in middle schools or high schools.

Local bodies, councils, charities, and cultural organizations often do not offer collaboration, or rather promise interventions that do not materialize or promote only musical events which provide a utilitarian and immediate political return. It also turns out – as in the case of Cyprus – that important local musical heritage is in danger because institutions do not recruit a teacher who is a qualified musician, or because radio airtime leaves no room for other communities that make up the social fabric, or because musical events are entrusted to external professionals.

The cultural policies of institutions, even government institutions, have disappointed many of the participants. Those who are responsible for their management often have inadequate education and preparation.

Positive experiences were also reported, for example in an institutional archive in Serbia, a new cultural policy is being proposed that allows ethnomusicology to not only have scientific importance regarding the documentation of the past. The policy promotes the documentation of traditional music today.

Our work should be executed in ways that allow it to be applied to areas outside of academia, possibly in a give-and-take manner to mutually enrich different parties involved.

Finally, two points were discussed among participants which led to not so much to a contradiction, as to different perspectives and interpretations of the difficulties encountered in the application of ethnomusicology.

The first concerns the power of music to really affect the lives of people, and to resolve social and political conflicts. On this topic, a climate of pessimism prevails, especially amongst those who have extensive experience in the area: music can hardly change the world, but it certainly serves as a voice for the demands and needs of society. Music certainly has the potential to convey important messages, and the Internet is capable of spreading these messages especially among young people, with a breadth and effectiveness that was not possible in the past. But we must also be realistic in evaluating the real possibility for music to have an impact on real life, for example, outside schools, and in dramatic situations of poverty and social conflict that are being foreshadowed in Europe and worldwide. In addition, we must also consider that overexposure to music can have an opposite effect, especially in some young generations, in which habit puts all types of musical messages and content on the same playing field and flattens all critical capability.

The second point concerns economic aspects, which for some are paramount because they can condition our power and ability to adequately transmit knowledge or to develop and complete projects. Institutions are largely responsible for this and often are not able to or do not aim to distribute funds in a manner that will sustain initiatives in music genres deemed to be uninteresting.

It was agreed, however, that a better and more open style of education, which from early childhood considers all types of music as an integral part of education of the individual, could produce a real change, and could start with those who guide and are responsible for institutions at all levels. Education, in fact, should be considered not only as professional training and musicianship for individuals, because this is not really lacking, even at a local level, within Cyprus or in any other national context discussed. Rather there should be an education of conscience: an adaptation to a more culturally open and modern mindset that also values individuality. Our work can become very valuable in this area, especially in schools and in the academic world, to encourage open-mindedness and tolerance, to destroy prejudice and xenophobia, and to form critical thinking. Certainly, however, these processes take time.