Back in June, we received an invitation to get involved in a Community Music conference in Munich. This sounded very exciting, as usually discussions around community music either happen on a very small scale, or on the margins of bigger music events. For once, this entire event would be dedicated exclusively to community music, and in addition, some of the biggest names in the field were going to be there!
Masamba’s philosophy is that it is always better to the part of something than to witness it from the sidelines, and so we decided to submit a proposal to deliver a paper at the conference, based around the difficulties of a community-based organisation getting involved in large scale professional arts productions – to our delight, it was accepted, and we were on the road to Munich!!
The event was extremely well organized and, in true German fashion, ran pretty much to time all across the weekend. The details of venues, times, etc. were all very clear, and there was always someone on hand to point us in the right direction, if there was any doubt!
One of the most innovative elements of the conference, was that it took place in a different venue each day. This could have created logistical issues, but again, all the instructions were clear, and in fact, it turned out to be an asset to the event. This was because the 3 venues, a university, a community arts facility and a performance venue, represented the places where community music and discussions around community music are happening. It was also an opportunity to learn more about some of the members of the Community Music Action Research Group, who oversaw the organisation of the event.
In terms of content, we were really spoiled for choice, with a large number of very high quality presentations across the spectrum of community music, from theory and practice, and from a number of different geographical and contextual areas. To be honest, it was very difficult to choose between some of the parallel sessions, and I only hope that the organisers have the time and the capacity to gather together all the powerpoint presentations and put them on a web resource somewhere, so that I can dip into the ones I missed.
One particular highlight was Pete Moser’s music making and songwriting workshop. Obviously, Pete is somewhat of a legend in Community Music circles, but I have never had the opportunity to work directly with him. His session was delivered in such an amazingly relaxed style, and yet he had the whole room participating and enjoying every minute of it. It was also a lovely opportunity to actively make music with some of the other participants, and the quality of the musicianship and listening was apparent by how quickly things came together.
It was unfortunate that I was the only Irish-based delegate there, as there was a genuine interest in finding out what’s going on here. There is an understanding that we have developed a somewhat unique approach to community music in Ireland necessitated by the funding available, but also by the specific context of working here. I would encourage my colleagues to try to get to more of these events, as there is a receptive audience for our stories and our experiences.
Of course, Phil Mullen was flying the Irish flag too, but his particular presentation was on the UK experience, and as always was informative and fun!
My own presentation was the last section of the last panel of the whole conference, and while I think we were all tired, and the brains were almost ready to explode, the attendance remained high until the very end, and there were still a number of insightful and challenging questions and comments, even at that late stage.
The presentation was well received, and it has given me the energy to pursue the topic further, and perhaps look at an adjoining piece for the ISME Community Music gathering in Edinburgh next year.
After the official closing of the conference, delegates were invited to a stunning performance of some local community music initiatives, in the black box theatre. Although most of the dialogue, etc. was in German, it was still easy to see the passion and enjoyment of these performers, young and old, and the amazing relationships between the participants and the professional musicians and facilitators – what a great way to end the weekend!
Simeon Smith, Nov. 18th 2015