Over the past century, many musicians have likened their practice to the principles of democracy. Music has been held to enact new kinds of freedom and equality for participants, and to offer a democratic symbol for other areas of social life. Despite this interest on the part of musicians, the conjunction of music and democracy has received little sustained academic attention, leaving important questions largely unexamined. How can different musical practices instantiate different ideas of democracy? What assumptions are made about democracy by ‘democratic’ musicians? Which elements of democratic musical practices are open to democratic decision-making, and which are placed beyond democratic debate? How does music contribute to the global circulation of contestable ideologies of democracy?  

This project, led by Professor Robert Adlington, will undertake a comprehensive investigation of such questions, questions that remain of very real present-day importance both to creative musicians and to organisations seeking to promote music as a tool for positive social change. In seeking to address this research gap, significant weight will be given to political theorists’ preoccupation with the contested nature of the idea of democracy, and the way in which any one model of democracy brings costs as well as benefits. Adopting this perspective brings into greater relief the shortcomings as well as the strengths of any particular musical-democratic practice, and helps to explain why sharply different opinions frequently exist over whether a given musical practice is democratic or not. 


Project outcomes:

CONFERENCE: 'Finding Democracy in Music – A Symposium', 4-5 September 2017, University of Huddersfield. Co-organised by Robert Adlington and Professor Esteban Buch (L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales – EHESS, Paris), this symposium welcomed scholars and practitioners from around the world and from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to address the question of where and how democracy might be found in music.

EDITED VOLUME: Finding Democracy in Music, ed. Robert Adlington and Esteban Buch. This volume, to appear in Routledge’s ‘Musical Cultures of the Twentieth Century’ series, arises from the ‘Finding Democracy in Music’ symposium. Expected publication 2019.

STUDY DAY: ‘Finding Democracy in Music: Past Practices, Present Traumas, Possible Futures’, International Summer Course for New Music, Darmstadt, Germany, 22 July 2018. CeReNeM researchers Robert Adlington and Liza Lim have convened a day of lectures and responses, featuring leading scholars and practitioners from Europe and the United States.

KEYNOTE LECTURE: Robert Adlington will deliver the Le Huray Keynote Lecture for the Annual Meeting of the Royal Musical Association, University of Bristol, 14 September 2018.

EUROPEAN PREMIERE: CeReNeM composer Liza Lim will have her new work 'Atlas of the Sky' for voice, percussion and crowd performed by Jessica Aszodi (soprano) and Speak Percussion at Lichtenbergschule at the International Summer Course for New Music, Darmstadt, Germany, 19 July 2018.

WORLD PREMIERE: CeReNeM composer Bryn Harrison has been commissioned by the Belgian chamber choir De 2de Adem to produce a work exploring the idea of democracy through a collaborative creative process, for performance at the TRANSIT Festival for New Music in Leuven, Belgium; first performance 13 October 2018.

PUBLIC TALKS: Robert Adlington will convene two public talks during the TRANSIT Festival for New Music in Leuven, Belgium, 13-14 October 2018. These will examine democratic practice in composition and ensemble practice, in discussion with leading composers and performers.