On the Social-Transformative Potential of Music Mediation

In the project #BECHANGE, musicians of the Stegreif Orchester are joining hands with their audience in a collaborative artistic process that addresses the global ecological crisis. In Terra Vecchia, an alpine village belonging to the Swiss municipality of Centovalli, people with and without histories of displacement are exploring the functions that art might have in support of peaceful coexistence within a diverse society. And the EU project Traction, for its part, is seeking out co-creative opportunities in participative music theatre projects in order to bolster the agency of various communities and facilitate social transformation.

All three of these projects represent outstanding present-day examples of music mediation (also referred to as audience and community engagement and as Musikvermittlung), a field that is currently in the process of reorienting and repositioning itself: with its early days behind it and with increasing self-confidence, music mediation is now forging a different path than the one originally intended for it by the classical concert business—this in light of our current societal circumstances, under the impression of a way of thinking that is decolonial and critical of power and discrimination, and in keeping with a “social turn” in the arts (Claire Bishop). Instead of bringing people to so-called high culture in the spirit of a democratisation of culture, today’s practice of music mediation engages in value-neutral recognition of the fundamental plurality of culture in the sense of cultural democracy (François Matarasso), entailing music mediation’s departure and emancipation from the normative standards and concepts of its bourgeois culture of origin. For many of those who engage in music mediation, it has now become more and more of a priority to use music and specific musical formats for the targeted initiation of encounters between people of differing biographical, social, and cultural backgrounds whose everyday paths would likely not otherwise intersect.

It is precisely herein that the socially transformative potential of music mediation lies: as an artistic and educational practice, it ideally gives rise to cultural partaking and pargiving (Mark Terkessidis), paving the way for novel aesthetic experiences and initiating inter-actions between people from socially and culturally heterogeneous demographic groups—thereby stimulating communication, cultivating tolerance of ambiguity, and ensuring human beings their agency. And in this context, identifying and joining hands in the artistic and critical negotiation of existing hierarchies, power relations, supposed interpretive prerogatives, and internalised exclusionary mechanisms is a further important concern of music mediation activities.

Together with renowned invited speakers and music mediators—with keynotes to be given by François Matarasso (UK) and Maria Westvall (DK)—as well as further guests, this development will be debated and music mediation’s social and transformative potential will be illuminated in greater detail as part of lectures, reflections on actual practice, workshops, and panel discussions in the conference “Turning Social. On the Social-Transformative Potential of Music Mediation”, which will be held on 15 and 16 June at the mdw. The following questions will be on the agenda:

  • What (new) tasks and functions can and should music and music mediation take on in light of present global challenges, upheavals, and crises?
  • How can the practitioners of music mediation contribute to decolonial and diversity-sensitive processes within the cultural sector’s currently existing structural conditions, in higher music education, and in society as a whole?
  • How might projects look whose emancipatory aims entail making voices heard that are otherwise inaudible or have been silenced in public discourse, thereby strengthening people in terms of their ability to act in society?
  • What does the self-expectation that one’s practice of music mediation be socially transformative entail for high-quality university-level musical training and for the training of future music mediation practitioners?

The mdw’s Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics and Elementary Music Education (IMP) and Department of Music Sociology (IMS) are once again cooperating closely in the realisation of this event, which is open to members of the mdw community as well as outside guests, can be attended free of charge, and includes the opportunity to take part in music mediation projects offered onsite.

Registration & further information: mdw.ac.at/turningsocial

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