Another million blown on ‘the social impact of making music’

From the Department of Hot Air:

Guildhall School of Music & Drama has been awarded a grant of just over £984,000 ($1.1million) by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for an international consortium, led by Guildhall, to undertake a three-year investigation into the social impact of making music entitled Music for social impact: practitioners’ contexts, work and beliefs. It is the largest grant Guildhall School has received to date.

The research, scheduled to begin in early 2020, is led by Guildhall School Research Professor John Sloboda OBE, in partnership with co-investigators Professor Heidi Westerlund (Sibelius Academy, University of Arts Helsinki); Professor Geoffrey Baker (Royal Holloway, University of London); Dr An De Bisschop (University College Ghent); and Dr Gloria Patricia Zapata Restrepo (Fundación Universitaria Juan N Corpas, Bogota). Co-funding for the project has also been supplied by the International Platform for Social Impact of Making Music (www.simm-platform.eu)

 

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  • DAVID says:

    I think this calls for another study — namely on the social impact of studies studying the social impact of music.

    • Anon says:

      A lot of academic musicians talking about music, instead of playing! What a total joke. The usual intellectual masturbation heard at every interval in every concert hall. Obviously not good enough to perform and earn a living, but can talk the talk. Disgusting.

      • DAVID says:

        Yes. What they do is transform music from what it is first and foremost — i.e., an aesthetic, emotional and spiritual experience — into an academic, sterile and over-intellectualized pursuit that is strictly confined to the university setting and which, ironically, completely misses the very essence of what music is. No amount of research can help someone truly understand a musical work — it is actually more likely to create artificial barriers that disconnect audiences from the true experience of music, for they expect from such studies to find a “meaning” or “explanation” that may help them get access to the work, whereas said access lies somewhere else altogether. But research looks really good on paper — there is a natural authority to the written word which most people won’t have the courage to call out — mostly out of fear of looking bad. As the famous adage goes, “the emperor has no clothes.”

  • Caravaggio says:

    A complete waste, squandering of resources. For god’s sake, just make good music. Great, inspired music would be even better.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Absolutely, the other side to the argument that nothing needs to be taught or studied unless it makes a profit. In this case, unless it ticks politically correct boxes. Everyone is too scared to say that some things are worth doing, or listening to, or seeing because it is worth the above? Pathetic cowardice and abdication of education. Incidentally I read recently that the Miss America contest will be judged on the social impact the contestants say they will make. That should bring in several viewers.

      • V. Lind says:

        Shouldn’t be any problem — candidates have always wanted careers in TV, to learn to hang-glide, and world peace.

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    They could have doubled the grant by tapping another deep funding well to investiage “The Effect of Climate Change on the Social Impact of Music Making.” What an opportunity – virtue-signal to two groups at once, and throw away twice the money.

  • The View from America says:

    We’re awaiting the final report with bated breath …

  • Rich says:

    Given the degree to which large-scale studies like this can help provide supporting evidence when cases are made for sustaining and increasing arts funding and music education provision, I wonder if ‘blown’ might be somewhat misleading.

    • R. Brite says:

      Indeed. It’s very easy to mock social studies, but in an age when the arts are increasingly sidelined, the more evidence we have of their value to society, the better.

      • Yes I agree…but what is amazing about the project here is the truly eyewatering amount of money that is being assigned to it…and for what purpose I ask? Is this really something a Conservatoire of Music should be heading up? Not sure about that.

    • David Rohde says:

      Rich, the reason that I am sympathetic to Norman’s presentation of this item is that, at least in the American context, the minute that I hear people start in generically on “education in the schools” and “support for the arts” and especially make reference to funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, I know we’re not going to make a whole lot of progress that day on improving the climate for classical music. It’s not that I disagree – I myself have performed in venues supported by the NEA and/or the Virginia Commission on the Arts, and while I’m not an arts administrator, believe me, if I were I’d scrap for every public dollar available and use every available argument. It’s just that the main variable in America, BY FAR, is getting the idea of exciting classical music performances and the variety of compelling performers who are available into the daily cultural conversation, along with sports, movies, popular music genres and the rest. It’s what I call the watercooler test – if you can’t get regular adults to talk about this stuff in a prosaic way even before they go to buy tickets, then your chances for success are low no matter how many extra colors you stuff into your season brochure. I’m willing to bet it’s actually not all that different in the UK. Besides, the biggest variable for any individual’s interest in the performance of serious art music, on either a professional or amateur basis, is engagement in the home, not the schools. That’s just reality.

      I’m not qualified to say whether this grant for a consortium to perform a new study is really justified or will yield measurement results that can be profitably employed, although the 3-year timeline makes me very suspicious that it could serve as a big distraction in the way I’ve described. Again I’m not outright opposed to this idea. But asking me to hold my breath for this to really make a difference is something I’m not willing to do, and I think for good reason. Thanks.

      • Rich says:

        Thanks, David, for a really interesting angle on this and some points really worth considering in relation to classical music; I understand and agree with a lot of what you’re saying. My understanding with regards to this project, though, is that the primary focus is rather distinct from a purely classical and, indeed, concert-hall-based context. Here is a passage from the press release that – rather crucially – was not included in the item above:

        ‘The research will examine participatory music-making activities offered to groups around the world defined by factors such as their social needs or deprivation. These Socially Impactful Music Making (SIMM) activities focus on marginalised or excluded groups such as in regions of poverty, conflict or social disruption, people in prison or those who are homeless.

        Through in-depth interviews and case studies of organisations across four countries (Belgium, Finland, the UK and Columbia), the project seeks to uncover how the SIMM providers’ backgrounds, training and beliefs affect the way they carry out their work and improve its effectiveness. The research aims to provide insights for training, commissioning and funding and creative development of best practice.’

        Aside from the potential for this to support future funding bids/arguments for arts groups/projects, it looks like these outcomes could be really valuable in terms of sharing good practice.

        • David Rohde says:

          Thanks for the clarification. Ironically my examples of working for groups that receive federal or state support in the US weren’t primarily about classical music either. They are principally in the field of musical theater. Apparently “SIMM” is a thing. I looked at the SIMM website as well as re-read your comment, and honestly there’s an element of research-to-justify-more-research and buzzwords piled on buzzwords within this environment. This instinct to bury everything in a never-ending academic merry-go-round, rather than “just doing it,” is part of what I’m concerned about when it bleeds into more general areas of musical endeavor. But I’m sincerely glad you engaged in my somewhat related argument about how this orientation can throw the community of concert presenters off the track of what will really make a difference for their field in contemporary culture. I hope this helps.

    • Bob Boles says:

      [[ the degree to which large-scale studies like this can help provide supporting evidence ]]

      Which is, pray, how much exactly? And is it worth a million quid? Because I would place its actual value nearer to fourpence-ha’penny..

      A million quid – which ought to be have been spent on music – has instead been frittered away on the Bollocks Industry – pen-pushers, report-writers, and consultants – slaving away over hot wordprocssors, to produce hundreds of handsomely-published copies of a worthless report, stating the bleedin’ obvious, which no-one will ever read, or even open. It will sit gathering dust behind the glass-frounted cabinets of a every imaginable quango.

      Not a single note more music will be made, no additional child will gain access to music. But a lot of Chablis will be guzzled by the chattering classes of Crouch End and Muswell Hill.

  • Bob Boles says:

    One of the first works will be a soundcape, envisaging the sound made by a million quid sloshing down the drain.

  • brian says:

    Is it hot air because of the money involved or because of the research? Do you have empirical or historical evidence that this research is vain and useless? Because I can tell you that in science and tech we’re very often surprised at the insight and benefits that come from research that appears pointless to outsiders. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that this is true in the arts as well.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Reasonable comment. But: music is an art form and not science. If a big and expensive research project has to be set-up to see whether music making is somehow beneficial in a social sense, then this demonstrates that a lot of already available information has been ignored or not udnerstood and that music as an art form has become something alien, its social effects to be ‘researched’.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I would rather put that research funding in Life sciences and technology.

  • Larry W says:

    The study may even generate a grant of £492,000 to fund music education.

  • LondonPianist says:

    Another unbelievably sour grapes headline – come on, Norman. This sounds like an important project: with music being cut everywhere, we need serious research evidence not just that music is good for the brain but that music is also, especially, good for society. Otherwise schools and funding bodies in the UK (and further afield) will continue to undermine music, refuse to fund it, and continue their quest to make it seem irrelevant and unimportant and therefore not worth the effort or cost. Which we all know is not true.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Are you kidding? All that research has already been done. All they needed to do was go to the library, or hire a researcher to compile the existing information.

      • LondonPianist says:

        Crucial to this project is the actual project description, which Norman didn’t bother to include (thanks to Rich for sharing in the first place):

        “The research will examine participatory music-making activities offered to groups around the world defined by factors such as their social needs or deprivation. These Socially Impactful Music Making (SIMM) activities focus on marginalised or excluded groups such as in regions of poverty, conflict or social disruption, people in prison or those who are homeless.

        Through in-depth interviews and case studies of organisations across four countries (Belgium, Finland, the UK and Columbia), the project seeks to uncover how the SIMM providers’ backgrounds, training and beliefs affect the way they carry out their work and improve its effectiveness. The research aims to provide insights for training, commissioning and funding and creative development of best practice.”

        So NO, this research has not been done before. If it had been, it certainly wouldn’t have been funded by the AHRC.

    • Peter says:

      Every sane person knows it is good for the brain, and for society. It’s just politicians prefer not to pay, or put it right at the bottom of a list of priorities.
      The ISM suggests that the average one to one hourly teaching rate in 2019 is £32. This grant would pay for over 30,000 hours of teaching. And considerably more in all sorts of amazing group activities.
      As a former Guildhall student I am sad that they are engaging with such a ridiculous waste of money. I rather hope their ‘report’ says “Thanks for the money. We spent it on making music. We felt that was the answer to the question posed”.

    • Bob Boles says:

      One born every minute.

  • Shorvon says:

    No we do not need yet another vanity study to show that music has biological or sociology impacts. Personally, I am interested on how much money would be used for conference funding, ‘curation’ of practitioners, rental of space just for a group of virtue signallers to preach to an already converted audience who would nod their heads and pat themselves for being enlightened.

    Better to spend money funding students or ailing musical academies.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    If thousands upon thousands of people are eager to pay 100 quid to see Lady Gaga or Dire Straits or Paul McCartney or Nigel Kennedy or Joshua Bell or (fill in the blank), what more need be said about the social value of making music? What about the social value of German or French or Italian cuisine? Or, the social value of indoor plumbing? Or the social value of underwear? Or the social value of yearly health checkups? Some things are too obviously beneficial to be seriously questioned. This “study” is just a scam. Music in general (and Classical music in particular) must be in some sort of trouble; otherwise, this sort of “study” would not be so sorely needed.

    • Larry W says:

      JH, your first question relates more to the economic value of making music for an elite few. As for the economic value of a music degree, it would be interesting to know how many graduates of the esteemed Guildhall School of Music are gainfully employed as professional musicians.

  • addam says:

    A typical waste of money. You should look at what the major foundations are throwing their money at.

    • LondonPianist says:

      How is this a waste of money? The AHRC funds research, not performance. Would you prefer they didn’t fund music research at all but give the grant to some other humanities field?

  • M McAlpine says:

    No doubt this incredibly expensive waste of money will end up telling us things most of us could all work out with a bit of common sense. The mind boggles that with austerity in the headlines this amount of money could be spent on this sort of nonsense.

  • Peter Owen says:

    I’m sure I spent 30 minutes writing an essay on this when a music undergraduate 40 years ago. It was actually quite easy; I mentioned Adorno and probably Benjamin as was required in those days but my conclusion was essentially based on the bleedin’ obvious: music rocks.

  • PianistScholar says:

    By slamming this project, and by proxy the important funding body AHRC and the researchers / academics / musicians involved, we (you) are falling into the trap of discounting experts – a dangerous and possibly fatal mistake, as we have all too horrifyingly learned over the past three years. Let’s see what they come up with in 3 years, shall we, before passing judgment?

    At the very least, this project should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. Better would be to support any and all efforts that support arts and humanities research rather than tearing it down – cutting off your nose despite your face and all that.

    This page should be better than this…*should be*. Just as I should know better than to hope for more from it.

  • SVM says:

    Provided that the researchers are open-minded and prepared to critique the manifold “sacred cows” on the scene, this research could be very timely and worthwhile (of course, it is a fool’s errand to predict the value of research in advance — the whole point of good research is that the outcomes are uncertain, and a lot of great research has been that which led to surprising outcomes).

    Previous track records suggest that we have reason to be optimistic: in particular, Baker is notable for his critique of El Sistema, uncovering abuses before “Me Too” became mainstream and articulating the limitations in certain core precepts of the system’s philosophy at a time when it was receiving lavish praise everywhere. Let us hope, then, that he and his colleagues will be similarly forthright in interrogating any abuses and deficiencies they might discover in the course of this new project.

  • Anon says:

    Remeber that nutty professor from Dartmouth who did musicology without music. This study reminds me of hum

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