Music Makes the World by Joel Edmondson
“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” - Arthur O’Shaughnessy
One of the core challenges facing the leader of a publicly-funded arts organisation is how to successfully convince others of the company’s value. Why does Queensland Music Festival matter? Why is it unique and indispensable? Extensive meditation upon this question invariably leads one back to the more fundamental question of the purpose of music in human and social development. Fortunately, there are many centuries of answers posited by artists and philosophers, as well as overwhelming contemporary scientific evidence linking music to an extensive array of health, education, productivity and community wellbeing outcomes. Music matters – and everyone knows it.
Music can play a far more instrumental role in the evolution of our civilisation than our everyday engagement with it might lead us to assume. Music inhabits a very specific place in our personal and private lives, one idiosyncratic to the individual, but history has also shown that music has had myriad transformational roles at the transpersonal and societal levels. Music can be thought of as a kind of fluid technology that can be repurposed to achieve infinite ends, depending on the context in which it is implemented. For example, the first custodians of the lands we now call Australia have always used music to transmit and preserve knowledge about their culture, most crucially their relationship to country and to spirit. On the west coast of the USA in the 1960s, an anti-war, free-love movement for political change arose inspired by songwriters like Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. Electronic dance music’s community culture was the salve for a 1980s English working-class atomised by Thatcherite austerity.
How music might transform the world does not have to be a design process that is articulated in hindsight. No compelling proof exists to demonstrate that human beings have exhausted their ingenuity in how music might be utilised to achieve certain purposes. 21st century people are preoccupied with innovation, and design-thinking tools are now ubiquitous, meaning that we are in a position, if we so choose, to consciously, proactively and skilfully use music to create the kind of society we want.
Queensland Music Festival’s signature works are an internationally unique example of how musical experiences can be designed to facilitate social change. Since Lyndon Terracini’s tenure as Artistic Director, Queensland Music Festival has produced a long line of artistically and socially ambitious projects in partnership with regional communities and leading artists, creative producers and performing arts organisations. From Boomtown in Gladstone, to Bowen’s Behind the Cane, and this year’s The Mount Isa Blast, communities from around regional Queensland have come together in a musical conversation that celebrates their cultural identity and opens up a space to imagine new possibilities. It is the universal appeal of music that draws everyone into this conversation, even those who do not consider themselves artists or musicians. Those lay contributors bring something unique of their own creativity to the table, and in doing so, challenge our preconceived notions of what art is.
What is most wonderful about this work is that it provides a totally different (and otherwise non-existent) context for communities to genuinely come together to reflect and imagine themselves anew. At its heart, it is a kind of experiment in cultural democracy and togetherness of which the polarised echo-chamber of social media is a poor facsimile. There is an increasing sense that the traditional institutions that have underpinned community cohesion are in terminal decline, and we will need new fires around which to collectively warm ourselves if we are to find a renewed sense of togetherness (hint: they won’t be screens). We could do much worse than build a social culture of collaborative artmaking that genuinely enables everyone’s contribution to a creative visioning of a new world.
Katie Noonan’s final program as Queensland Music Festival’s Artistic Director provides audiences and participants with many windows into their own empowerment – and I encourage you to look through them all. The mass choir participation works that have been a signature of her Queensland Music Festival programmes find their final form in Help is on its Way, which is sure to be an ocean of goose bumps for the thousands of vocalists that will literally sing as one voice in support of men’s mental health. Frank and Fearless will provide the next generation of changemakers with an insight into the life and times of Queensland’s iconic feminist activist, academic and author, Merle Thornton. Jessie Lloyd’s Mission Songs Project will remind you of the power of music to preserve stories that might otherwise die with those that lived them, stories that nevertheless have deep resonance in the Queensland of today, and that we need to understand if we are to have a genuine connection to the true history from which we are all born.
As the convenience of technological connectivity begins to eclipse the visceral value of real human contact, Queensland Music Festival gives us a chance to unplug for a while, and instead, plug into each other. I call on everyone attending the festival this year to think about how to best use those moments of connectedness to achieve something greater than themselves.
The only question remaining is:
Who do we want to be?
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