02.07.2012 - 06.07.2012

The Potential Role of Music in Transforming Society

The purpose of the course is to awaken awareness of the role music has had, has and can have in society. The focus is on the manipulation of the music people listen to in specific contexts, censorship of music in general and, the use of song as a means of expression and/or protest.

The course explores mainly the political dimensions of music, but also other dimensions which seem more subtle, but that affect the way we relate and perceive music and the messages music can carry. Most of the course will be providing historical information on the role music has had in society in the form of lectures. To exemplify censorship, symbolism, etc. we will listen to musical examples - both classical and popular - and the students will engage on perceiving the significance of the music from specific historical contexts. The challenge will be to think critically about what is being listened to and its relevance, awakening a perception for the ways in which music can be “used" and the potential it has for both restricting and expanding purposes.

The idea of engaging music in the active efforts of transforming our society into a more sustainable and peaceful one, underlines the intention of the course.


The course is divided as follows :


  1. Introduction: Listening in a visual era.

  1. Music as a means of expression: music a mirror of society. Europe: Medieval times to 20th Century – an overview.

  2. Comments on the essay of J. Galtung – Art from the 20 century to the present.

  3. My experience in Mexico, Guatemala & Italy – with drug addicts, street-kids and people who have suffered Human trafficking.

  4. Music and Spirituality-Religion-Sensualty.

  5. Example “Imposing Harmony” in Latin America.

  6. The use of the voice and what our voice says.

    We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us” - Friedrich Nietzsche

  7. Political Censorship and manipulation of music.

  8. Protest songs: Examples in context: Victor Jara (Chile), Fela Kuti (Nigera)

  9. Music in Education today: Listening, harmonizing, working together, coordinating, improvising, dancing, developing discipline, etc.

  10. National Anthems: what do they say?

  11. Protest songs or National anthems form your experience or country.

  12. Censorship for a good reason?

  13. Music influencing individuals and society today and sharing experiences.

  14. Conclusions.



Reflection on “The Potential Role of Music in Transforming Society”


Theresia Bothe




“For me, music and life are all about style:

Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

Miles Davis



If the opposite of sound is noise, what is silence? 


It was a beautiful experience for me as a performing musician to talk about music and share historical facts, ideas and some of my experience in this course. There has historically been  great distance between people who speaking about music and the performers – as we could also read in Galtung's essay – but the fact is that this is changing. Ours is a time in which we need to reach out to other disciplines to enrich our experiences and look for a wider view to overcome the general conceptual division of the fields – which often causes our knowledge to seem – or be – very fragmented. It is also a time in which we have to talk openly about things that are happening in the world and affecting in dramatic ways a great amount of people.


Music can be “used” literally as art in conflict transformations, as a messenger, for creating an atmosphere, bringing people together in a performing experience, etc. but it can also be used also as a metaphor in different ways: the form, structure & harmony or for example playing in an orchestra – as Daniel Baremboim would say: “if you wish to learn how to live in a democratic society, then you would do well to play in an orchestra. For when you do so, you know when to lead and when to follow. You leave space for others and at the same time you have no inhibitions about claiming a space for yourself”.

I think we need to stimulate creativity to come up with a set of alternatives for solving a specific conflict which we confront, as mediators, parents, teachers, friends or in other situation in which we find ourselves involved.  We may be able to imagine situations and design plans, but when we encounter them, they will almost inevitable be different then what we expected.

A musician may imagine something which a desired instrument can't play – so he or she has to transform the idea and make it compatible to reality – or maybe invent an instrument to create the imagined sound!

There are very few (if any) things which remain as they are, our capacity of transformation and adaptation to new situations can be like a mirror in transforming a situation: allowing ourselves to change within the specific process, allows the whole process to be more flexible. It has been said that “the world changes with our example, not with our opinion”.


I think listening and imagining are closely linked and they can develop parallel to each other. It may be true that instrumental music does not “really” tell stories, but we can imagine our own stories when we listen to music. I remember one of the best piano player I've heard said he “told” all sorts of stories while he played! Imagination is as important in music as it is in education in general. Imagining different sound and the mixture of sound is the basic way of creating or “inventing” music – composing, gives a space to the imagined sounds. To perform it or write it down,  so it can be shared with others, is something that can be developed.


In my experience our listening capacities can change enormously: I remember when I could not hear the difference between two performances of one same piece of music; I remember when I could not hear the different ways of intonation. There may be things we still can not hear and recognize, but with patience one can develop this perception – with or without naming the sounds   - and link it to our imagination and through these experiences stimulate our creativity. At any age this is possible, but which children it is particularly rewarding.


The sufi say “the power of music depends upon the grad of spiritual evolution that a person has touched”  I believe that, but I also believe that we need artists who have true strong experiences in other fields as well, who can express and share these experiences through their created art. With this in mind,  there are three things to take into consideration when setting music as an instrument for peace: Choosing the music, considering the moment the music was created; the place it will be performed at;  and, who the performer/s will be. There is not one more important that the other, these three levels work together.


The idea that the artist has a social responsibility  (moral and ethical responsibility as Hindemith  would put it) can be appreciated when studying history and the role some artist, some songs or pieces of art have played in transforming societies at a specific time. Also by observing the values that are represent in art, which often represent the core of the problem the society is going through. I believe an artist who is true to her or his self is one who will speak for all,  express the spirit of the time and context in which they live, this is an artist who can carry through the difficult task of remaining congruent and genuine in his or her Art. Virginia Wolf says: “Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice”.


I remember the first time I worked with the street kids in Guatemala, it was not easy to get them to be quiet, but with the question: “where does Music come form?” it happened – the answer was: “music comes from silence”.  I'd say there are many kinds of silence, and it is through Silence that we can develop the deepest sense of Listening.  


I wish you all the best for the rest of your studies, Theresia 


Selected Bibliography 



“The Conscious Ear: My Life of Transformation Through Listening” by Alfred A. Tomatis, Marilyn Ferguson and Don Campbell (Feb 1992)


“The Ear and the Voice” by Alfred A. Tomatis, Roberta Prada, Pierre Sollier and Francis Keeping (Dec 3, 2004)


“The Third Ear: On Listening to the World” By Joachim-Ernst Berendt. Henry Holt & Co (P) (April 1992)


“Fela, Fela: This Bitch of a Life” by Carlos Moore. Ed. Allison and Busby, London 1982.


“Culture & Imperialism” by Eduard A. Said. Ed. Vintage, Great Britain, 1994


“Parallels and Paradoxes” explorations in music and society by Daniel Baremboim and Eduard A. Said. Ed. Vintage Books, USA, 2004.


“Creative Mythology” The masks of God by Joseph Campell. Pinguin Groupe, USA, 1968.


“The rise of music in the western ancient world” east and west by Caut Sachs. Dover, USA, 1943.


“Imposing Harmony” Music in society in colonial Cuzco by Geoffrey Baker. Duke University Press, London, 2008.


“Bel Canto” A history of vocal pedagogy by James Stark. University of Toronto, Canada, 1999.


      Books by Danilo Dolci


To Feed the Hungry (1955/1959), London: McGibbon & Kee.

Report from Palermo (1959), New York: The Orion Press, Inc.

Sicilian Lives (1960/1981), New York: Pantheon Books.

Waste (1964), New York: Monthly Review Press

The Man Who Plays Alone (1968), New York: Random House