Sustaining music, engaging communities

Learning ca tru in Vietnam - a culture explored during the Sustainable Music Futures research project.

While we take easy access to music from all over the world for granted, there are serious concerns about the sustainability of global musical diversity.

A team of international researchers led by Griffith University has developed a new approach to understand the mechanics of music survival at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

“The initial research project was conceived seven years ago with the International Music Council and nine other partners to better understand the dynamics of musical change and sustainability, and to counteract this threat and the loss of music cultures,” Lead Chief Investigator Professor Huib Schippers of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre said.

“It was one of the largest music research projects ever funded by the Australian Research Council, bringing together more than 100 international scholars to address a complex issue which has been placed high on the international agenda by organisations like UNESCO.

“We investigated nine music cultures across four continents, ranging from Australian Aboriginal music to Mexican Mariachi, from Western Classical Opera to Indian ragas.

The launch of the Sustainable Futures research project.
Professor Huib Schippers (fourth from left) at the launch of the Sustainable Futures research project.

“What we found is that music cultures operate much like ecosystems, which invites a dynamic approach to sustainability rather than treating musical styles like artefacts.”

Sound Futures

A key outcome was the website, which provides an overview of the history, background and approach of the project, summaries of the nine case studies as well as additional audio-visual material, contributions and resources.

Now the research is moving to a second phase — in partnership with the world’s largest museum and research complex, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. An application is currently being considered by the Australian Research Council, with results due mid-year.

According to Professor Huib Schippers, Sound Futures will take up where the first project left off — to find practical strategies to empower communities across the world to build musical futures on their own terms.

“Sound Futures proposes to pilot the findings of the first phase by working closely with seven communities in Indigenous Australia, Cambodia, Tanzania, China, Easter Island, Oman and Bhutan, in order to test and refine the model through action research,” he said.

Professor Schippers visited Smithsonian inMarch for a consultancy to highlight key findings from the initial project, and consider ways the sequel project could optimally support music cultures around the world.