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Community Music Leadership - A Paradox?

Plenary Speaker
23 August 2023
10:30 - 11:15 hrs (GMT+7)

Music is a universal phenomenon that has existed in every known culture around the world. It plays a prominent role in society by shaping sociocultural interactions between groups and individuals, and by influencing their emotional and intellectual life.

(Greenberg et al. 2021)


This is a broadly accepted premise, evidenced by historical literature, oral tradition, archaeological discoveries and art objects of various origins and forms. Given the deeply historical and, in most cases, sustaining nature of musics and musicking (Small 1998) across the globe, is there a genuine need for advocacy for and promotion of group music activity? Is community music in its purest sense a democratic process, and therefore, is the idea of community music leadership a contradiction in and of itself?


Over the past three decades, there has been a noticeable growth in awareness of the social, cultural, and emotional benefits to be derived from arts activity, and an increase of academic interest in community music specifically. These factors, combined with my own experiences over twenty years of working across community and professional performing arts, multi-level formal and informal music education systems, and doctoral research into the sociocultural impacts of group music activity, have led to my current focus on community music leadership and leadership training models, and how those models can best be used to support greater access to the musics of our own, and others’ cultures, and to make localised, meaningful practice sustainable.


In the context of this symposium’s theme of accessibility and sustainability in our musical cultures, this presentation examines how the transformative power of music can bring our communities together while establishing durable practices within our society. Four questions will be addressed:

1. How can we as educators and leaders involve ourselves in local, community-based learning and participation without interfering, intervening, or subverting the practices, values, and cultural specificity of a community?

2. How can we support, facilitate, and inform local, community-based, learning and participation?

3. What is the place of the cultural outsider in informing and/or assisting with accessibility and sustainability of discrete musical cultures?

4. Can musics integrate, combine, or cross-pollinate without loss or degradation of individual integrity?


Using the example of a professional symphony orchestra in bi- and increasingly multi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand that uses community engagement as the basis of its operational model, I discuss my theoretical model for, and practical approach to, effective CM Leadership, which I conceive of as a fluid and reflective process of respectful relationship-building and as characterised by mutual trust. My approach to CM leadership is based on my experience early this year embedding in CM leadership training environments across Europe and North America. Discussion will include proposed artistic and pedagogical approaches for meaningful engagement that can further enhance accessibility and sustainability–something that music communities, large and small, cherish. 

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