In the midst of today’s extremely serious and tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?
Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering, we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day from today (08/16/2017) until the American Labor Day holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.
If an important part of positive social transformations includes exposing social injustices and preparing future music makers to “put their music to work” for human betterment—as many classical, pop, rock, and hip-hop performers and composers (and others) are doing now and have done for decades—then we begin to see the potential of what we and others call “artistic citizenship education.”
So artistic citizenship goes beyond academic talking and writing about social justice because it emphasizes actions for transformation. “Intellectualizing”—reading, writing, and discussing—do not by themselves move people to take meaningful embodied and social actions for social change. This point is extremely important for educating our students’ dispositions to participate (now or in the future) for social change. To motivate people to join a social movement of any kind, small or large, it is essential that they engage in some kind of action. For example, students in school and university music classrooms can learn to compose, perform, and record songs, or create musicals and/or other kinds of musical events that challenge a wide range of social injustices.
Engaging in some kind of action is essential because “people’s personal identities transform as they become socially active, and actions for social justice create new categories of participants, and political groups: identities modify in the course of social interaction” (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly, 126). As Jean Anyon (2005) says, “One develops a political identity and commitment … from walking, marching, singing, attempting to vote, sitting in, or otherwise demonstrating with others” (142).
Musical actions of all kinds, small and large, often rise to the level of what Stephen Duncombe calls “ethical spectacles.” An ethical spectacle is a “dream” imagined (“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King) that is made concrete when members of social movements of all kinds—including music makers of all ages and levels—participate democratically in creating the spectacle. Their political aims are expressed in their means of protest. (171). Duncombe cites the example of the civil rights movement in which leaders often modeled their interracial “beloved community” in the ways they actually organized and carried out their protests, which included singing and playing music. In these cases, music was not an escape; it was not usually a “staged” performance but participatory music making (Turino 2008). Its meaning was in the actions of transforming the oppressors and the oppressed.
A musical-ethical spectacle “demonstrates” against oppressions. Ethical spectacles help to disrupt cultural hierarchies, build safe communities, promote diversity, and engage with reality while asking what new realities might be possible (Duncombe, 126).
Our students can—we believe they should learn to think critically about and, we suggest, be prepared to—engage in music making to create small and large ethical spectacles in/for their schools and communities.
Crucially, if we conceive “music” not as a noun with rigidly encoded power relationships, but, instead, as a process of mutual music making, shared musical-ethical responsibilities, and reciprocal musical power sharing toward a joint social project involving sympathy and empathy, then we might find a major path to reconciliations through groups that make musics together. This is already happening in many schools worldwide.