What did the Romans ever do for us? Why community music making needn’t suffer when the Romans leave town. A call out to community musicians!

I’ve been invited by Lee Higgins and Brydie-Leigh Bartlett to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Community Music (OHCM).

The aim of their book is to present a collective statement that shows how community music is often part of a larger eco-system of arts education. The mixture of chapters from both emerging and established scholars and practitioners has been chosen to define, challenge, and speculate on emergent themes, theoretical frameworks, and contexts and processes for practice. While these chapters will feature a diversity of topics, approaches and authors, the resulting collection will be coherently structured into five parts that come together to provide a “one-stop” accessible text.

The book is intended for an academic audience at all levels: undergraduates, postgraduates, faculty and researchers interested in community music, music education, music therapy, and arts education more broadly. The audience will also include community musicians, music industry members, as well as professionals from other fields interested in community music making, such as health professionals, social workers, youth workers, community cultural development workers, and educators.

 The abstract of my chapter is as follows.

 As Molesworth might have said in Down With Skool, ‘any fule kno’ that the impact the Romans have had on us is an unending list of civilising and culture enhancing benefits. Just take our roads as an example: they are long and straight, invariably lead to Rome, connect our major cultural centres, revolutionise industry and business growth and are directly responsible for the Highway Code and Motorway Service Stations.

The Arts, like any industry, have been blessed by the Roman approach to road building: so much so that we now regularly talk about arts and cultural infrastructure as if it were some kind of super cultural highway system.  That infrastructure creates the biggest cultural players, determines how they connect with each other, and sets the rules on who else gets to set out on the nations cultural highways. It has its own version of the Highway Code with qualifications, progression opportunities and rules of engagement to boot.

But what happens when the Romans leave town?

We’re seeing the effect of that now in our highways and byways. Roads fall into disrepair. Potholes are rife. Signage points in the wrong direction. We realise we’ve become reliant on a system which cannot do everything it promised to. The centre, as usual, can’t hold and things start to fall apart.

What we forget in the gloom of broken highways and damaged cultural motorway infrastructure, are the byways which existed before the Romans ever trampled over our green and pleasent land.  We used to have green roads, white roads, turnpikes, ridgeways, death roads and all manner of connections which allowed us to connect with differing communities and make sense of the wider world.

With our larger cultural infrastructures such as the Arts Council and the local authorities facing whole sale restructuring, and hugely inflating competition for ever dwindling public resources, the Romans are now leaving town too. The promises of infrastructure – careers, qualifications, shorter journey times are now well and truly found wanting.

My chapter aims to examine the impact of the change of cultural funding on community music from 2008.

It will identify the highways and byways of old and make new connections on the equivalent of our white roads which don’t rely on the grace, favour and declining ability of the big funders of old to help us plot our way through the current contemporary cultural economy.

It will identify new cultural economies and new coherent multi-nodal cultural connections which demonstrate how cultural villages can connect, supply each other, develop their own longevity and take some ownership back of their own destiny.

It will be structured around the following framework:

Public funding for community music since 2008

The consequences of funding models on community practice and practitioners

The consequences of withdrawal of funding

The identification of alternative economies

New models of the economics of community music.

 If you work in the community music sector, and think I should hear about your work for possible inclusion into the chapter within the guidelines above, please feel free to drop me a line.

Background Notes

Community music as a field of practice, pedagogy and research is coming of age. The internationalization of the field has brought insights from cultural contexts, which are challenging and problematizing accepted approaches, priorities and ideas within the field. The increase of scholarship and academic courses has significantly increased the amount of people engaging in community music, and these new voices, agendas and contexts indicate that the field is continuing to expand, diversify and mature.

The OHCM sets out to capture the vibrant, dynamic and divergent approaches that now characterize the field, but also chart the new and emerging contexts, practices, pedagogies, and research approaches which will define the field in the coming decades. The OHCM will feature around 32 chapters of about 8,000 words each, and an accompanying website.


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