Music Creativity Ecology Revolution
Holdeman and Alastair McIntosh
Published in Music Teacher, London, 71:8, 1992, pp. 22-25. Also available in original print format as a PDF download.
McIntosh plays penny whistle and teaches at the Centre for Human Ecology,
University of Edinburgh, where he is development director. He gratefully
acknowledges Tess Darwin, ecologist and community educator, whose research into
creativity has helped crystalise his thought. Chuck Holdeman plays bassoon
and teaches music in the Philadelphia area. He works as an
artist-in-residence in schools, for Relache, the Ensemble for Contemporary
Music, and for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.
environmental holocaust with its human implications is already here. According
to the World Bank, an equivalent of 100 jumbo jets full of children die from
lack of nutrition, every day. Between ten and twenty-five plant and animal
species go extinct, every day, compared with a natural rate of just one every
10,000 years. For living standards in the third world to catch up with those of
Western Europe by the year 2,010, global iron and steel production alone would
have to increase 140 fold. This would exhaust remaining know world oil reserves
in just eleven years, and so cannot happen.
has to give or change. Either nature's time honoured recourse to war, famine and
pestilence with the added dimension of potential climatic change will redress
the balance by gearing up the frequency and scale of catastrophe. Or, just
possibly, we can achieve sustainable livelihood by drawing on the fullest
resources of our intelligence, creativity and love.
reach such a point requires recognition that the present crisis of western style
development is not primarily economic or technical, but cultural and spiritual.
The prevailing myth that human development is primarily a function of economic
growth has been likened by Susan Hunt to a neutron bomb, destroying the soul of
cultures while leaving outward structures intact. Since President Truman first
used the term "underdeveloped areas" in his 1949 Congressional
inauguration speech, thereby defining people by what they do not have rather
than by what they are, most nations have leapt aboard a "hell's
merry-go-round" of industrialisation and agricultural intensification.
Pushing ahead in the race for material prosperity is goaded by the fear of being
trampled from behind. Yet, the poor remain even more with us. The Earth is
sickening with unprecedented rapidity. And values, such as relationship, sense
of place and community, which cannot be given a price, are dismissed by most
economists because they are not measurable. Such is the development of culture
bequeathed to us by the culture of development.
in Edinburgh University we completed a study looking at how to "green"
undergraduate education, so that all students could see how their discipline
impinges on matters of environmental concern. Opinions vary as to whether
developments in science and technology are capable of coming up with lasting
solutions to global problems. Interestingly, it was the scientists more than
their colleagues in other faculties who saw greatest hope in such areas as the
arts, humanities and music. This surprised and encouraged some who had not
preveiously recognised the global import of their field. Our report on the
Faculty of Music, which was drafted with the Dean, said:
one views environmental education in a narrow sense, the role in it for
music is not immediately apparent. But
if one reflects for a moment on such myths and legends as those associated
with Orpheus or with the Music of the Spheres, or indeed on the meaning of
such commonly used words as "concord", "harmony",
"compose" (though perhaps not "orchestrate"!), it
rapidly becomes apparent that the place of music in the total order of things is
potentially more significant than is always recognized. Musical composition
involves little cost in terms of the consumption of natural resources and the
healing powers of music - its capacity to "compose the soul", as
well as to liberate human creativity - have come to be widely
recognized" (Environmental Education for Adaptation, Centre for Human
is our view that music has a central role in addressing contemporary problems of
the human condition. This derives from its ability qualitatively to affect
consciousness, to stimulate creativity, as well as from the very structure of
music. It is important for musicians and music educators to understand and be
affirmed in this. We would suggest that to help change the world, musicians
should develop some understanding of ecology, and vice versa.
A pond, meadow or wood is considered to be an ecosystem on account of the complex relationships between the component species. Natural cycles of plants and animals harmonise with nutrient cycles, seasonal cycles, energy flows, and so on, the whole system being in its optimal or "climax" state when all available niches are filled. After fire, an area of woodland will quickly be re-occupied, first by pioneer species such as fireweed and birch; later by oaks, holly and other climax species, subsequently with dependant lifeforms such as mistletoe and squirrels. Relationship is central: success being not so much about survival of the fittest as survival of the most fitting.
similarly, can be thought of as ecology of sound. The way sounds find their
place within the eternity of silence, interweaving harmonies to a melody,
conforming to fundamental rhythms, dying back and resurging,
metamorphosing.... Here we have a fine metaphor for nature at work. Here is
insight into the deep process of reality; what the great cross-cultural thinker
Raimon Panikkar describes as, "... the non-dualistic integration of
movement and quiet", adding that, "Rhythm is the deepest nature of
Reality, the very Becoming of Being" (Nine Sutras on Peace, Interculture
ask, might this "ecology of sound" be central to communicating and
motivating ways of Being consistent with a sound human ecology? To claim so
would require demonstration of music's capacity to invoke change at both the
inner (personal) and outer (political) levels of human experience. Let us look
American musical history, one of the most powerful developments has been the
blues, which, as Taj Mahal reminded us at his recent Edinburgh concert, was not
invented to make us sad, but to lift us out of that sadness.
In tracing much contemporary music to the post-slavery amalgam of African
spirituality, Michael Ventura addresses the roots of western sadness, asserting
that, "All of them - the many Africans who created Voodoo ... would have
their revenge. Jazz and rock n'roll would evolve from Voodoo, carrying within
them the metaphysical antidote that would aid many a 20th Century westerner from
both the ravages of the mind/body split codified by Christianism, and the
onslaught of technology. The 20th Century would dance as no other had, and,
through that dance, secrets would be passed. First, North America, then the
whole world, would - like the old blues says - 'hear that long snake moan"
(Whole Earth Review, Nos. 54/55, USA, 1987).
the desperation of slavery and its aftermath, with a ground of African culture,
called forth this great healing music, with such strength and poignancy that it
entered the overall fabric of musical life, combining with other trends in
popular music and evolving jazz and rock. This
healing/spiritual music linked with the general cultural revolutions of the
50's and 60's and with the need for physical/sexual expression, which went on to
join the "consciousness expansion" ethos of the late 60's and early
energy/group phenomena, such as Woodstock, the Fillmore, and later the Live Aid
concert and the Amnesty tour have continued the role of music in cultural
evolution and the search for social justice.
The 1991 film "The Commitments", set in Dublin, uses a
transformation of American "soul" music as a flashpoint for a
grassroots band formation, directed at the economic and cultural dislocation of
modern urban life. This blight
existed, and still does, in Detroit, Chicago, and New York when the movie's
"ideal" James Brown gave his answer to it all. We now perceive this
cultural need in virtually all modern cities.
musics may be said to have subverted an "up-tight" cultural
establishment, and in various parts of the world actual political subversion has
been seen as a goal. This was why Elizabeth I ordered Irish musicians to be
hanged wherever found, and why post 1745 ("Bonnie Prince Charlie")
Rebellion acts, such as the 1746 Act for the Abolition and Proscription of the
Highland Dress and the Disarmament Act, effectively treated Scottish bagpipes as
banned weapons of war, their use punishable by death. [Note: since writing this,
my friend Dr Michael Newton has pointed out that this commonly stated view is
perhaps an overstatement. Only one case of prosecution came to a court of law
(in Newcastle). Nevertheless, there is a prevailing sense in the culture that
music was seen as being subversive, and the state-backed Protestant church
underscored this position.]
contemporary case in point is the role played by folk-rock music in dismantling
the Soviet Union. Western influenced Soviet bands drawing on rich cultural roots
were able to use "Glastnost Rock" to start making their own cultural
statements. This was particularly apparent in Estonia. In the early 1980's,
Soviet geologists confirmed the existence of Europe's largest phosphate deposits
under Estonia, and plans were set in motion to import 20,000 Russian labourers
and dig up 25% of the entire Estonian land area. In 1987 Estonia's top rock and
pop performers recorded in "We Are The World" fashion, Ei Ole,
which was an effort to alert people to the cultural and ecological havoc which
the mining plan would create. Banned on state radio, it was given its first
public performance at the Tartu Music Festival in Estonia's second-largest city
and thereafter regularly broadcast from Finland's Radio One. As opposition to
Russian domination grew in the late eighties, the presence of Estonian bands
became such a dominant feature at rallies that their revolution has been dubbed
"the singing revolution". Protests grew from 80,000 people on June
10th 1988 when the Republic of Estonia flag was first flown, to almost one-third
of the Estonian population, 300,000 people, at a mass gathering on September
11th at the culmination of "Rock Summer".
in the Estonian cultural weekly, Sirp ja Vasar, Heinz Valk said,
"Participating in that celebration compensated for suffering decades of
humiliation and denial of one's true nature. It was the most magnificent
demonstration, the likes of which I've never seen in films, television, in my
dreams or in real life. A singing and rhythmically moving mass of happy people,
tens and tens of waving national flags, smiling faces, unanimity, no anger, no
enmity, in their hearts but one word: Estonia.... People who make a revolution
singing and smiling should be a noble model for everyone" (Whole Earth
Review, No. 65, USA, 1989).
the realm of art music, several Americans have become identified with change and
a shift of consciouness. An early leader and still vibrant exponent is John
Cage. His reaction to the enormous
level of intellectual complexity in western art music, e.g. Schoenberg, led him
to embrace chance and "disorder" in sound, derived from the philosophy
of the far east, particularly using the I Ching method of chance discovery.
Pauline Oliveros is another American composer whose fascination has been
devising procedures, rituals one might say, to unlock a group intuition for
musical discovery. Still other
composers like Steve Reich have immersed themselves in African drumming or
Indonesian gamelan as a means of discovering the ceremonial and meditational
sides of musical consciousness, in contrast to the expositiory, event A leads
to B leads to C mindset of most European based classical music.
Another American, Paul Winter, sometimes touted as a founder of "new
age" music, has established major concerts at the changing of the seasons,
solstices and equinoxes, as well as using whale or wolf "songs",
overtly embracing Earth themes to generate music.
we see that there is much to suggest the musical experience can bring musicians
and listeners to a common plane of emotional or spiritual excitation, or
relaxation. While some music referred to may have overt political or social
meaning based on its lyrics, non-verbal sonic qualities also have a powerful
emotional sweep which may be pleasureable, upsetting or inspiring. Plato's
grounds for censoring the arts in his ideal state, The Republic, was
that, "Rhythm and harmony penetrate most powerfully into the innermost part
of the soul and lay forcible hands upon it, bearing grace with them, so making
graceful him who is rightly trained, and him who is not, the reverse" (Book
3, 401, trans. A.D. Lindsay, Dent, 1935). Pythagoras, according to Porphyry, saw
music as being able to exercise, "a healing, purifying influence on human
actions and passions, restoring the pristine harmony of the soul's
faculties" (De Vita Pythagorae, Edit. A. Nauck, Leipzig, 1885).
a personal level, finding a way to express one's predicament or ideals through
musical creativity, or other artistic means, can free the spirit.
The need for freedom or love, or the anger at oppression can find a
necessary outlet. Barbara Swetina of the innovative community Findhorn has
suggested that singing is as important to health as brushing your teeth: do it
at least twice a day!
British composer Nigel Osborne, a developer of the "community music"
initiative, gives two examples of transformational music in prison life:
a prisoner rendered temporarily unable to speak by prolonged solitary
confinement found musical release in creating a John Cage - like "soundscape"
to accompany his text, a collection of aural events evoking the great
significance of sound in his experience of enforced silence; and
an in-prison three day festival of African Yoruba music, based on the ethnic
background of some prisoners, was able to bridge and effectively erase the
explosive racial tension which existed before the festival.
Reality, as we daily experience it, comprises only nature and art. Perhaps art is what happens when the inner nature of our being acknowledges outer nature. This fusion of subjective and objective changes both. It is the very process of creation; a matter of taking the outer world as we find it, holding with it in solidarity, becoming vulnerable so as not to hold back, and thereby allowing the magic of Touch to happen. Through art in all its forms we actually call one another into Being, creating relationship, ecology, community, between the Earth and its peoples.
us? Brushstrokes of our greater self, touched against the canvas of Life: Artist
painting artist becoming Artist. Oh yes! Here is why creativity is central to
finding ourselves, be we in prison, living under injustice, burdened down by
affluence, or restoring right relationship with the Earth. Individual creativity,
guided by what we find meaningful, is our icon into the deep creativity of all
process. Like the Indian god, Krishna, our flutes and conches are for
awakening one another to the divine backdrop of reality. It's nature? Well,
most songs are love songs. But we can play whatever lifestyle we wish.
liberating factor of contemporary musical life is the fascinating diversity of
styles we have. World music with its myriad folk traditions and hybrids has been
brought to our attention by recordings and touring groups.
Within western "serious music" in the classical and jazz
traditions there is tremendous variety so that we no longer have a situation
that creative "contenders" have to write atonal music or to keep up
with the particular innovations of the late Miles Davis. While the most commercial music urges conformity on those who
aspire to its type of success, success in other musical genres can happen in
myriad ways, and while music criticism has an undeniable need to categorise, the
creation of new categories is an everpresent possibility.
related phenomenon in the world of European-type classical music is the seeming
disappearance of the "genius/romantic hero" composer or conductor - we
just do not seem to produce a Stravinski or a Stokowski anymore so that there is
a greater anonymity of musical talent, looking at the range of activity.
The very talented have a more specific, limited in number, audience.
would also appear that another "super group" like the Beatles is
unlikely! A pop group or artist may
have great popularity for a time, like Tracy Chapman or Lionel Ritchie, and then
an ongoing limited following, like the Grateful Dead, Peter Gabriel or Sting.
accomplishments in scientific areas such as space exploration are now made by
teams of relatively anonymous researchers rather than by geniuses.
It seems that history has thrust upon us the necessity of collaboration,
the imperative of community in contemporary life.
Perhaps what we most need now are linkages: between individuals, between
cultural groups, between performers and listeners as "collaborators".
Super individuality, as hero or genius, seems passé.
see that current musical culture is not exclusive. A million tastes and genres
co-exist, and we need not fear the expert, who has lost the genius/god-like
status "he" once had, and we do mean the "he" of yesterday,
not the "s/he" we now aspire to.
As educators we want to give students the means, yes give them reading
and tunes as always, but also give them the musical materials, pulse, sonority,
mode, and the habit of making things up, trusting the subjective, learning to
make variations spontaneously, and to use memory or notation to keep what we
like. We also owe students the
knowledge and experience of other cultures because they are beautiful: India,
Java, Peru and others already mentioned, and because we need to communicate with
these cultures if we are to save what we treasure on the planet.
also propose music and the other arts as an alternative to what Maxwell MacLeod
has termed "retail therapy", our tendency to go out and buy something
when we are feeling down. Getting
our frustrations and emotional needs expressed, especially in a sympathetic
group, is spiritually freeing. We
need more contexts for this and on a regular basis - monthly, weekly, even
daily! It can happen at private
gatherings, school-centered functions, and insofar as we have churches,
community or art centres, we want to invigorate these venues with collaborations
between ethnic musicians, composers and improvisors, dancers, actors, artists,
and the public.
advocate "the active", doing music yourself, or responding actively by
dancing, or by writing or drawing or speaking a response, with a workable
context for this activity. In
contrast, the passivity encouraged by some concerts, carried to the ultimate in
a passive "arts" experience, T.V. watching, as well as the consumer
mentality, have contributed to a spiritual crisis of poor mental health,
escapism, and frustration, displacing deep human needs into a surrogate junkie
world of material objects and accutrements which cannot be supported by our
ecosphere. We do not pretend or
aspire to eliminate computers, cassette tapes, synthesizers and the lot, but to
shift the focus from these items to the human exchange, which they were intended
to encourage but have often supplanted instead.
It would be interesting to know, via psychological testing, the effects
on work satisfaction of a person singing while doing a job versus listening to
tapes or the radio!
in our groups, we say "show us what you've made" or "let's hear
your sounds". This year's
Human Ecology midwinter ceilidh comprises all home-grown entertainment under the
caption, "What we are is what we get!" You may feel embarassed or
vulnerable, that your own music is not good enough, but only by releasing our
deepest longings, for understanding, for community, for our children's futures,
can we change ourselves and dance gaily over the Earth in a way worth singing
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