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July 14, 2015

A Conference Celebrating the Official Launch of the Min-On Music Research Institute

February 26, 2015 at the NS building in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Addressing an audience of around 100 people, Mr. Hiroyasu Kobayashi, president of the Min-On Concert Association and director of MOMRI, welcomed the participants and introduced the speakers. Koji Saeki, director-general of the Cultural Affairs Department, of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, expressed his expectations for the new institute and Mr. Tokihiko Umezu, president of Toho Gakuen College, shared why he believes that research on “the application of music in peacebuilding” is of great value in today’s world.

The four Research Fellows then introduced the main goal of the Institute for next year, which is the development of a review and survey describing and analyzing the state of “music and peacebuilding” in the world today, in particular from the angles of music psychology, music education, music sociology and music and ecology.


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The institute’s Senior Research Fellow, Dr. Olivier Urbain, director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, gave an overview of current research into the neurochemistry of music and the importance of the empirical proof provided by music therapy.


Associate Research Fellow Elaine Sandoval, PhD Student in Ethnomusicology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, described her research concerning the El Sistema music education programs that originated in Venezuela. She pointed out the need for a critical approach towards aspects of this movement, in particular outlining an idea for a “cosmopolitan music education” that would value all genres of music, including local music cultures as well as classical music.


Research Fellow Dr. Craig Robertson, Project Coordinator of the Communities and Culture Network+ and Research Fellow at the School of Media and Communication at Leeds University (UK), shared his ideas concerning the effectiveness of music in conflict transformation programs. He emphasized the crucial role played by repetition in making extraordinary musical experiences ordinary and therefore part of daily life.


Research Fellow Dr. Michael Golden, Professor of Music Composition and Theory and director of the Creative Arts Program at Soka University of America, shared some current philosophical and scientific views concerning the links between music and ecology, as well as illustrative examples from many different civilizations.


To conclude the event, participants were asked to give a show of hands to indicate which aspects of this research they consider most interesting, and their enthusiasm bodes well for the future of this institute.


Launch Event

Summary of the presentations by Olivier Urbain


Introduction (Olivier Urbain)

Since 1963, the Min-On Concert Association has created heart-warming cultural exchanges throughout the world and last year they have established the Min-On Music Research Institute. Four research fellows have been appointed to strengthen the academic foundations of “the application of music in peacebuilding.”


Our goal for 2015 is to establish a “Critical Literature Review,” to provide an overview of what people are doing all over the planet in order to make the world a better place through music. Our team will examine the role of music-making in fostering relationships, and support peacebuilding projects aimed at using music to develop and heal social bonds. Among many other fields that we are going to explore to establish a first overview by February 2016, some of our research in the fields of music psychology, music education, music sociology and music ecology is described below.


Music Psychology and Neurochemistry (Olivier Urbain)

When we listen to or play music, or sing along, or clap our hands or tap our feet, (all these musical activities are part of what it called “musicking”), all kinds of things happen in our brain. Recent research in neurochemistry using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that musical activity can increase the production of hormones in the brain, for instance dopamine, the hormone of anticipation and hope, and also oxytocin, the hormone of bonding and love. According to a recent article by Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel Levitin entitled “The Neurochemistry of Music” (2013), further research is necessary to find out how music can contribute to peacebuilding, because other activities can also increase the production of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, and because it is possible to act in a destructive way with hope and anticipation. It is also possible to bond with members of one’s group against members of another group. These are examples of research in the field of music psychology, which is widely applied today, for instance in music therapy. Personally I am very much interested in stretching the boundaries of music therapy in order to establish what can be called “social music therapy” in order to improve human relationships within societies through musical activities.


Music Education in Peacebuilding: Toward a Cosmopolitan Music Praxis (Elaine Sandoval)

For the past several years, I have done research on and worked within the El Sistema movement, which began in Venezuela in the 1970s. It strives to make music education more accessible, especially to those who come from under-resourced backgrounds. This has led to a global movement of El Sistema-inspired programs that emphasize the concept of using music education to pursue social justice. However, as an ethnomusicologist, I consider the overwhelming focus on classical Western music in El Sistema to be problematic to social justice, and especially peacebuilding, goals. Drawing from the work of David Hansen, I have been developing a framework for music education in peacebuilding based on a concept of “cosmopolitan music education.” I believe that (1) pursuing cultural justice through the inclusion of local music traditions within curricula, as well as (2) representing a diverse range of music cultures with the aim of developing young people’s cosmopolitan sensibilities are fundamental to orienting music education toward peacebuilding goals. A cosmopolitan music education would support young people in grappling with the experience of other cultures, recognizing difference, but also respecting difference.


Music Sociology: A Focus on Conflict Transformation (Craig Robertson)

I am doing research on the effective application of music in conflict transformation, prejudice reduction and social cohesion. Through my research into music sociology and conflict transformation, inspired by Tia DeNora and others, I have developed a model for “music and social behavioural change,” which demonstrates how music, identities, beliefs, emotions, memories and, ultimately, behaviour, all influence each other. I use a second model, namely the “inter-group contact model,” which defines conditions for successful exchanges (e.g. equal status, cooperation, friendship potential) and the processes involved (learning about the out-group, behavioural change, in-group reappraisal). I believe that failure of any particular project is likely due to a lack of attention or understanding of one or more of these processes. In addition, I would like to emphasize that “repetition is the key to success.” Extraordinary musical experiences can provide turning points, but repeated musical contacts would need to be engaged with in order to promote tangible change. In other words, for real change to occur, people need to experience an extraordinary experience, and the experience needs to be repeated many times until it becomes ordinary. Due to a lack of understanding and planning with this in mind, all known current music and conflict transformation projects have not been wholly successful in effecting lasting social change. I want to contribute to a better understanding of all this through my research.


Linking Music, Ecology, and Peacebuilding (Michael Golden)

This is a brief outline of my current research on the links between music, ecology, and peacebuilding. Through ethnomusicological studies, we learn that one common element among music cultures from around the world is the understanding that music connects us to our environment. We do not yet have clear answers to the question of why we engage in musicking, but this commonality suggests some possibilities. Understanding our musical activities in the context of relationships between living things and their environments can give us a fresh perspective on their significance. Work in ecology-related fields, such as that of Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana, can yield insights into our nature and behavior. If it is true that the violent divisions among us and human violence towards the earth are related, then ecology and peace are clearly related. If music can help foster in ourselves the ecological perspective – understanding of the interconnectedness of all life – we may be able to reverse our destructive behaviors in both environmental and social arenas.


Final Comments (Olivier Urbain)

I hope that we have been able to share with you how exciting, challenging and truly vast this research on music and peacebuilding is going to be. We look forward to continuing our research, starting with a who’s who of music and peacebuilding, or as mentioned at the beginning, a “Critical Literature Review.” We hope to involve many people in the collection and analysis of interesting and amazing examples and case studies concerning this field. We invite all of you to stay in touch and join us in our research.