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August 8, 2017

MOMRI – Report on SocArts Seminar in Oxford and SIMMposium at Guildhall, London, July 2017

Socarts Seminar, Oxford University, July 5-7, 2017: Focus on Music & Wellbeing by Craig Robertson

SocArts in Oxford with Sigrun Lilja Einarsdottir and Simon Procter

The original plan for this seminar was for an event similar to the one in 2016 in Exeter, where members of the Exeter Sociology of the Arts group (SocArts) meet to discuss their research and work that they have been doing over the past year and to brainstorm about future collaborative work. One of the outcomes of last year’s seminar was the idea that we should formalize our group into a research network with clear objectives and goals and outputs. This has been very slow-going due to the number of partner organizations involved, but it has been developing nonetheless. Unfortunately, due to many unforeseen circumstances, many of the SocArts members had to cancel their attendance at the last minute. This meant that there were only three of us in Oxford this time, myself, Simon Procter (Director of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre) and Sigrun Lilja Einarsdottir (Marie-Curie Research Fellow at Oxford University). As a result, we decided to forgo the original plan and focus on working together on the network.


SocArts in Oxford with Simon Procter

This was a very practical and productive day. Sigrun is based in the music department, and we held our all-day workshop in a meeting room under the gaze of several illustrious British musicians from the distant past, peering down at us with their oil-painted eyes. I shall now explain the outcome of this workshop and how our thinking about the network has developed.




SocArts in Oxford with Simon Procter under the gaze of famous musicians

We are applying for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Network Grant to establish formally the Social-Critical Network of Music and Wellbeing. This network would bring together music sociologists, music therapists in the UK and Norway, practitioners and, critically, national health policy makers. The initial purpose of the network is to share knowledge and find common ground and to publish accordingly. The ultimate purpose of the network is to then develop ideas for what future research is required by the public, the policy-makers, the practitioners and the scholars, and to apply for further research grants to achieve this. Another outcome would be to apply for a grant to support a PhD to conduct a comparative study between music and health provision practices in the UK and Norway.


The concept “wellbeing” is a hot topic in the UK research landscape at the moment, and there are several existing and emerging networks that touch on music and wellbeing. What makes this network unique is the following:

1) no other network uses social-critical thinking to the process and therefore they miss context and meaning;

2) no other network is international in scope;

3) no other network includes health provision policy-makers.



SIMM in London with Colombian music psychologist Gloria Zapata

The network would be hosted at the University of Leeds in the School of Music. There is a synergy occurring there, too, as the head of music, Karen Burland Clark, has a specific interest in music and wellbeing and is currently developing a music and wellbeing MA. The other partners include Nordoff-Robbins, Bifrost University (Iceland), Exeter University, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the UK National Health Service (NHS).

This has a strong connection to the goals of MOMRI, since there are well-established links between wellbeing and conflict: when wellbeing is prevented or decreased, the likelihood of conflict increases. Therefore, an increase in wellbeing is considered to be a part of a peacebuilding strategy.



SIMM in London with associate research fellow Elaine Sandoval

Social Impact of Music-Making Symposium (SIMMposium), Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, July 7-9, 2017


This was the second event for the Social Impact of Music-Making (SIMM) group, after the initial one in Ghent in 2016, which Olivier Urbain attended. MOMRI was represented this year by research fellows Craig Robertson and Elaine Sandoval.

The event was organized by John Sloboda (Guildhall), Geoff Baker (Royal Holloway) and Lukas Pairon (Ghent). There were over 100 participants from 20 countries. There were many short presentations, shorter than usual (10 minutes). The purpose was to take a snapshot of global scholarly activity concerning the social impact of music-making. As such, it was clear that many of the areas of interest to MOMRI overlap with many related fields of inquiry. There are also clear issues that need addressing, including finding a common language to develop fruitful collaborations and ways forward to achieve tangible outcomes. MOMRI is well-placed in order to help address both of these issues, which I will explain later.


Further evidence of MOMRI’s increasingly global impact was illustrated by the fact that at least half of the participants from around the world were already known to the MOMRI research fellows and vice versa.


The presentations covered areas such as contextual and cultural impacts of music, especially in the global south. Natalia Puerta Gordillo discussed orality and the concept of “knowing in action.” This is a growing theoretical perspective in Latin America, that considers music-making as a way of active knowing. As Natalia exposed, this epistemological approach challenges the standard Western academic discourse on music research. She presented her paper as part of her study on the music research policies of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.  Natalia is professor at the National Pedagogic University (Universidad Pedagógica Nacional) in Colombia, and Magister in Music Education from University College London.


Kim Boeskov from the Norwegian Academy of Music completed a music project in Palestine, and he echoed the approach that I have been calling for in the past: a critical approach to music-making in conflict zones needs to be used if we are to fully understand just what music does, if anything.


There were a couple of panels that discussed the roles of music institutions in terms of social impact. This was interesting, because some research has indicated that large established music institutions often impede positive social impact, but it is clear that social responsibility and impact are on the agenda now of such institutions.


There were also panels on music in prisons and music and health, which are also clearly linked to music and peacebuilding.


SIMM is now in the process of becoming established as an NGO, not currently affiliated with a university. Their aim is to continue to bring together interdisciplinary scholars from around the world to discuss music and social impact. At the moment, the participants suffer from a lack of common language and a lack of tangible and useful outcomes. MOMRI has already begun to address the former issue by issuing a call for papers for keywords to be used in the field of music and peacebuilding. I suspect that many of these keywords would also be useful for social impact. Due to MOMRI’s global scholarly reach, and the expertise of the research fellows, MOMRI is well-placed to develop a working relationship with SIMM in order to run workshops at the next SIMM in Porto 2018. The purpose of these workshops would be to provide tangible and useful processes, protocols and/or information on how to most effectively and efficiently conduct music-making for social impact.