What is community music anyway?

When I introduce myself as a community musician, I often receive the looks that read, “What exactly is community music?” Even though I recently graduated from the Masters of Arts in Community Music program at Wilfrid Laurier University, I couldn’t answer that question. There really isn’t a universally accepted definition. But I can tell you about the values that drive me as a community musician.

Three years ago, I started my organization, KW Junk Music with two goals in mind:

  1. We want to make music accessible to everyone.
    By creating instruments out of found objects, music becomes available to all regardless of age, ability, or skill. The idea behind this movement is to breakdown the norms of what instruments should look like and encourage people to explore the creative musical potential of everything in their lives.

  2. We want to challenge people to think about their sustainable practices.
    Why do we have so much junk that we can make instruments out of it? It really boils down to this question. We encourage participants to think about ways to upcycle material typically labelled ‘junk’ and how we can reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place. 

Although I have these two goals, in practice there is A LOT more that happens at each community music experience. My graduate research into my own community music practice brought to the forefront the importance of what I call affective atmosphere. Basically, we come into the music-making circle with our own personal experiences and histories; we also bring an eclectic mix of cultural understandings. All these experiences inform how we react to different experiences and environments – what makes us angry, what makes us cry…this is affect

In addition to what we, as an individual, bring, there is a intermingling of larger influences. Are there sociocultural politics around particular members, a particular group, the space the event is being held, or the city/country/globally? For example, are we bringing an interfaith group into a space that is claimed by a particular faith? In this case, the space an event is hosted may affect the community music circle. 

I believe that everyone should have a chance to make music and enjoy music in their lives. In order to best serve this idealistic mandate, I need to understand the spaces I work in and the people coming into the space. I also need to be adaptive to respond to whatever happens spontaneously at the moment. As a community music practitioner, it is important for me to be aware of what is happening in the music-making circle to facilitate the opportunities for everyone to participate.

Ultimately, for me, community music is bringing music to everyone.

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