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Music and Mediation

By Kjell Skyllstad
Marrakesh-born Sapho, whose Nazareth Orchestra is comprised of Muslim, Christian and Jewish musicians  [Rémi Boisseau, French Institute in Fès]

Two hundred years ago in his opera The Magic Flute Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in a tender duet between Pamina and Papageno, expresses the utopian hope of the unification of mankind through the power of music.

This lyrical outpouring takes place after a concrete demonstration of the power of music to channel and divert aggressive emotions and threats of destructive action into releasing dance. I am referring to the memorable scene where the Muslim outcast Monostatos and his helpers, after having kidnapped Pamina (the heroine) and Papageno, abandon their cruel intentions and throw themselves into a dance.

This message of The Magic Flute, however, would not appeal so strongly today if Mozart did not also in the same opera address the underlying causes of aggressive behavior that are still prevalent in our societies, as it was in Mozart’s times: exclusion, humiliation and demonization. "Am I not of flesh and blood?" the Muslim outcast cries out in an aria full of despair. When Monostatos and Papageno meet for the first time, both think the other is the devil himself.

Misuse of Music

A special responsibility of artists to fight ethnic exclusion rests on the fact that racial discrimination and humiliation are often justified on an aesthetic basis. During the Holocaust, prisoners in the extermination camps were humiliated and tortured to make them "inhuman" enough to be annihilated. Even music became an instrument of humiliation when prisoners in the Nazi camps were forced to play Viennese waltzes during executions.

Racism, as it gained momentum in Europe during the latter years of the 19th century, was promoted not only by the biological sciences, but found its most ardent promoters in the human sciences and the arts. The place of the arts in codifying and justifying social and ethnic stratification was prevalent in the Eugenics movement, advocating "racial hygiene." Appealing to aesthetic sensibility, they drew a line between the primitive and the noble, the savage and the cultured, the morally superior and the degraded--a black-and-white picture of the world revived by today’s political demagogues of the war on terror. Hitler, during his years as a student in Vienna, inherited the idea of racial inequality as justification for annihilation of "inferior" races from the writings of (and meeting with) right-wing extremist Lanz von Liebenfels.

In recent conflicts, from the Vietnam War to the brutal campaign in Iraq, the use of music as an instrument of terror has been brought to public attention. One might recall the musical "bombardment" of Sarajevo by Radovan Karadzic singing Serbian war songs through gigantic loudspeakers situated on the hills above the beleaguered city. And in his concentration camps prisoners were forced to sing Serbian patriotic songs as another instrument of torture. The recent accounts of the use of loud music in "softening up" prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq tell their own story.

Music and Conflict Transformation

The Vietnam War became a turning point in the history of music. The great mobilizing medium in the mass movements across the world against the war was music, the songs of protest heard at mass rallies and youth camps, and in millions of homes. Music also played a great role in keeping up the spirits of Vietnamese people, as Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, National Liberation Front (FNL) foreign minister and later vice president of Vietnam, told me during her visit to Norway at the time of the Paris peace talks. She described how, during the roar of the heaviest of bombardments, people would break out in singing.

The history of how committed artists through the ages have been instrumental in preventing and solving destructive conflicts has yet to be written. It goes back to antiquity when artists often accompanied diplomatic missions. Monumental reliefs in the ruins of ancient Persepolis tell the story of this musical diplomacy. The first diplomatic mission to the Roman emperor from ancient Taprobane (Sri Lanka) is said to have included a trumpet player. In the recent history of my own country Norway, Edvard Grieg, our great national composer, became a leading figure in the movement that succeeded in preventing war with Sweden over the independence issue in 1905.

Kjell Skyllstad lights a lamp for peace at the First Multicultural Music Festival in Sri Lanka in January 1999, together with the ministers of education and culture. The Festival was the result of a three-year cooperation project between the University of Oslo and Kelaniya University, Colombo

Special credit should be given to the musical "go-betweens"--musicians who move between cultures with the capacity of mediating in conflict situations. Among these the function of the Roma in Europe has recently attracted attention. Dr. Svanibor Pettan, in his study Gypsy Musicians in Kosovo: Interaction and Creativity, shows how the Gypsies, through their ability to perform a multiethnic repertoire, became musical bridge-builders in the composite ethnic fabric of Kosovo culture. He points to the sad turn of events when the Gypsies became silent victims of a war they by all means wanted to avoid. Many died during the war, and more were forced to flee in the late 1990s.

In Southeast Asia social harmony is promoted through music making in a social context that involves all age groups. For example, every village in Bali has a music club meeting every week where village people are encouraged to interact musically, each freely introducing proposals on how the music should be played. It is this process of musical interaction, not the end product, that is the core of this tradition, every rehearsal being in itself a concert.

Formalized music education in Southeast Asia is likewise geared toward maximizing social benefits through the use of special one-note producing instruments, the angklung. Children are only responsible for this one note. The development of musical and social skills then lies in integration with the other players. Local music traditions on the Indonesian islands may be incorporated in programs of social rehabilitation. Some years ago I recorded the drum traditions of the island of Lombok as adopted by a center for rehabilitating young criminals. Ritualized duels of music and dance as found in Asia and Latin America like the Silat or the Capoeira may serve the purpose of letting out pent-up steam and prevent destructive and aggressive behavior.

As a parallel to the function of Gypsy musicians in Europe, a special lineage of West African musicians and culture bearers called griots or jallies have since the early days of the Mali kingdom played the role of important peacekeepers all over the region. In East Africa the ngoma traditions point to the widespread conflict-solving functions of music and dance in conflict situations.

Reggae superstar Bob Marley performs at the historic "One Love" peace concert in Kingston, Jamaica, on April 22, 1978, which marked a truce between the warring Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party; Bob persuaded Prime Minister Michael Manley (left) and opposition leader Edward Seaga to join him on stage and shake hands. For this and other efforts he received the United Nations Peace Medal

The musicologist John Blacking’s studies of music cultures of South Africa, especially the Venda people, disclose how music makes it possible for members of the society to relate more closely to one another and to transcend their position as individuals more than in Western societies. Music which could be played by one individual is allocated to be played by a whole group. The resulting musical structure which may be rightly called "democratic polyphony" enriches both the music and the social situation. It enhances both individual and collective consciousness and generates greater human energy. The leading music educator Christopher Small relates the development of African music to the search for means to manage and contain disruptive social impulses.

Individual and Community Music Therapy

Music lies at the very heart of the intercultural process of bringing people together. Since the early days of humankind, musical activities have been developed as tools in the training and development of the human capacity for communication, social interplay and democratic interaction at all levels. The secret of this unusual capacity of an artistic medium rests with the innate and universal musicality of man.

Taraf de Haïdouks, one of the world’s leading Gypsy bands from Romania. See www.divanoprod.com  [©Youri Lenquette]

Essential physiological and cognitive processes that generate musical composition and performance may even be genetically inherited, and therefore universally present in every human being. And music is interpreted through the same psychic faculties that we use to interpret other aspects of the sociocultural system in which we live. Through musical interaction two people, two groups or two nations establish ties of empathy that no other form of social and cultural intercourse could establish, and create forms that forever bear the imprint of social dynamics in the very fabric of musical composition.

Even the origin of the advanced formal structures of the concerto, symphony and sonata are to be found in archetypical patterns of social interaction, and their development is closely linked to social dynamics and especially to the function of conflict transformation. Extended musical forms unfold in time in a dynamic interplay of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic contrasts. Conflicts are exposed in the so-called exposition, followed by a working out in the development and a reconciliation in the recapitulation.

Sometimes the conflicts engulf the whole work, finding their solution in the finale. The listener is drawn into the dynamic flow of the musical process. He is not only emotionally stimulated but invited and encouraged to mobilize his imaginative powers and cognitive skills. This means that the musical process motivates the listener for problem-solving, mobilizing the psychic readiness to recognize and experiment with relationships, to explore possibilities, predict outcomes and consequences, to relate the whole to its parts, and, not least, to seek alternative solutions.

In societies we often regard as "primitive," social harmony and ecological balance are renewed and often restored through social rituals with a core symbolic and therapeutic repertoire of music and dance. It is recognized that rituals hold great potential for both preserving and altering the norms and values of societies. Conflicts are worked out through a therapeutic dramaturgy with the aim of restoring both personal and social balance within the community. My own experiences are especially linked to research into the place of rituals in individual and community therapy in areas of conflict in South and Southeast Asia, with special focus on Sri Lanka. Music and dance play a central role in these rituals, such as the rehabilitation ceremonies of Yak Tovil and Riddi Yaga, the latter a ritual for infertile women.

Communicative Musicality

In Europe the further development of a "Community Music Therapy" could hold similar promise. Community Music Therapy is here as in Asia practiced in inclusive, nonclinical and open community settings and intended for milieus threatened by cultural and material poverty, injustice, violence and conflict. It derives its raison d’être from the view of music as an agent of socialization and the ways in which music functions in society through what may be termed a communicative musicality. This lays the foundation for a performance of peace. Christopher Small emphasizes the role of music as a performance of relationships.

In discussing musical performance as a social ritual, Small sees the performer as participating in an ideal society that the performers create. The individual performer likewise models his or her personal relationship to this society through the creation of musical structures or dance forms.

Malo Sonko, Baba Kone and members of the Drum Café UK team perform at Southwark Cathedral. Drum Café, which originated in South Africa, uses drumming in corporate team building to bring people together and bridge divides. See www.drumcafe.com.

Experiences from many countries show how important it is to make plans and provisions for establishing and maintaining musical meeting places where these processes of intercultural communication can take hold.

The nations of the Middle East and Central Asia involved in a dialogue with Greek antiquity made a fundamental contribution to music therapy. On one of my visits to Uzbekistan in Central Asia I asked about musicologists in the region. I was surprised when someone mentioned Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna in Shakespeare) as their great musician. Born in 10th-century Bukhara (Uzbekistan), this musician/philosopher/physicist became one of the founders of music therapy in the Arab world. It was in the cities of Kufa, Fallujah and Baghdad that the foundation for a science and practice of music therapy in the Arab world was laid 12 centuries ago. A leading Baghdad scientist Al Kindi, in his monumental work Kitab Al-Siysa, described then how mental disturbances may be corrected through music.

And it was here that the form of the suite (nauba in the Arab tradition) was established, with its potential for therapeutic effect and, through its musical dramaturgy, the dispersion of aggressive drives. I have myself observed Nobat (nauba) musicians in Kedah Province in Malaysia, practicing healing in their tower. Every Friday mothers with children with some incurable disease will come up to the royal musicians sitting on the upper floor of the Nobat tower facing the central mosque. Through the power of the instruments and the power of music, mothers are hoping for cures for their children. This musical genre of the nauba was transferred to Europe by the Baghdad master musician Zyriab in 722 AD through the establishment of the famous academy of music in Córdoba.

Healing the Wounds of War

A major operational field for community music therapy is confronting the aftereffects of conflict. Building on experiences from Northern Ireland, Julie Sutton recently edited Music, Music Therapy and Trauma, treating trauma as a psychological as well as a social and cultural phenomenon seen in relation to community and political contexts.

In the work mentioned above, Marie Smyth suggests ways in which music projects could help heal the wounds of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

"Music therapy as a whole-school activity in divided societies might use such approaches to contribute to the reconstruction of our society after a period of devastating destruction and division, such as we have lived through. Music therapy in Northern Ireland and other divided societies could well provide an opportunity for creatively exploring our divisions and contribute to our capacity to understand and transform those divisions into harmonious rather than dissonant societies."

I will in conclusion suggest some ways to involve the school system in conflict-transforming activities.

Cooperation for Peace

Education for democracy and for the development and preservation of civil society will depend on the advancement of teaching built on the principle of cooperation. The guiding principles of cooperative learning are seen as a contribution to an effective and simultaneous development of individual and social skills: positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation and simultaneous interaction. In a multicultural setting, cooperative learning has demonstrated great potential for conflict reduction or prevention. Music making, which is not dependent on verbal proficiency and which bridges language barriers, is an ideal medium for introducing cooperative learning. In the music ensemble students exchange ideas in a creative interplay that honors all the principles mentioned above.

The following article, Azra: Linked by Music, introduces the Azra project which was started in 1994 by Dr. Svanibor Pettan and the present author. It was aimed at observing the psychosocial effects of a musical program of interaction between Norwegian music students and Bosnian refugees, based on the success of the Resonant Community project which introduced music from the cultures of immigrants to Norway to schools.

These and other programs in the Nordic countries show the great potential for peace education through music, and have influenced education programming in other countries in and outside Europe, including areas of ethnic conflict. In spite of setbacks in the political arena, dedicated teachers and culture workers all over the world, often under very difficult circumstances, work to make Mozart's dream come true. They need our support.

Musicologist Kjell Skyllstad is professor emeritus at the Department of Music and Theater, University of Oslo. As peace activist and researcher he has been involved internationally in exploring the potential of music in preventing and resolving conflicts.

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