About the symposium

Finding Democracy in Music – A Symposium

University of Huddersfield, 4-5 September 2017

For a century and more musicians have sought to relate their practice to the values of democracy.

Composers have justified innovative approaches to musical material and performance practice in terms of democracy. Jazz and orchestral social inclusion projects have been championed globally as models of democratic process. Experiments in group improvisation, audience participation and online networked performance seek new kinds of emancipation and egalitarianism in the name of musical democratisation.

But what is meant by democracy in such instances?

In recent times, the UK’s Brexit vote, the US presidential election, and other elections worldwide have made democratic processes the subject of unprecedented public debate. Political theory has long taught that democracy is a highly contested category, one that has been imagined in many different ways, and any particular realisation of which carries costs as well as benefits.

This symposium aims to interrogate claims for the ‘democratic’ nature of music.

We ask: What ideas of democracy are assumed by different musicians and musical practices? To what extent do discourses ascribing democratic attributes to music map onto the realities of music-making? What are the shortcomings as well as the gains, in terms of freedom and equality, of particular democratic arrangements? What can musical democracy have to teach us about democracy in the political field?

Our symposium brings together specialists from eight countries to examine these questions in relation to the widest range of musical genres from the past century.

Our distinguished keynote speakers are Professor Tina K. Ramnarine (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Professor Georgina Born (Oxford); their papers address ‘democratic’ music-making in 1917 and 2017 respectively. Additionally, an evening session will feature the premiere screening of a filmed interview with leading French composer Georges Aperghis, commissioned especially for the conference from award-winning director Momoko Seto. You can view the full programme here.

A book arising from the conference is planned for the Routledge series ‘Musical Cultures of the Twentieth Century’.

Conference organisers:

  • Professor Robert Adlington (University of Huddersfield)
  • Professor Esteban Buch (EHESS, Paris)

We acknowledge the generous support of:

  • University of Huddersfield Research Fund
  • Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM), University of Huddersfield
  • Royal Musical Association
  • Music and Letters Trust
Main image: hdl.loc.gov/loc.music/gottlieb.08441