Music Practice for Social Integration

workshop flyer

A while ago my interest caught an email — an invitation to a workshop. Organized by the BRAMS –  International Laboratory for BRAin, Music and Sound Research, what is a unique centre dedicated to research excellence, located in Montreal and jointly affiliated with the University of Montreal and McGill University. The research centre is devoted to the study of music cognition with a focus on neuroscience. As the date worked for my schedule, I decided to participate.

The main idea of the workshop was to introduce and discuss the project ‘Music practice as a tool for social integration’.  Here is more information from the workshop flyer:

This project focusses on intergenerational, amateur music making in recently immigrated communities as a means of social integration and development. The main goal of this workshop is to build a research and knowledge mobilization program articulated on three axes: 1) bring knowledge together in the fields of psychology, sociomusicology, and pedagogy regarding the impact of amateur music practice on a sense of belonging and social integration; 2) create an interdisciplinary synthesis of the scientific underpinnings of the creation of devices that promote amateur musical practice; and 3) apply these principles to the development of one or more prototypes of musical practice in partnership with the music and community and school associations.

In this framework, and supported by the vice-rectorat à la recherche, l’innovation et la création de l’Université de Montréal, BRAMS and OICRM, the researchers Isabelle Peretz (neurocognition of music) and Michel Duchesneau (sociomusicology) who initiated the project, are organizing two workshops.

When I saw that Isabelle Peretz is behind this project, I got really intrigued. As a professor of psychology, she is one of the world top researchers in the field of the music neuroscience. 

On top of that, there would be a presentation by Bill Thompson, another top scientist in the music psychology.

As we were in Montreal, majority of participants were speaking French. Therefore, with another non-French colleague we were lucky, that one very kind and truly multilingual  colleague helped two of us out and simultaneously translated for us the whole time. Thank you again Floris!

I must say, that to me, using music to help newcomers and immigrants in their integration into a new society sounds logical. But as I learned from the workshop presentations, it is not that straightforward or easy. Very enlightening in this was presentation by Caroline Marcoux-Gendron called Immigration and Musical Socialization. The Relationshiop to Migrants’ Music as a Window on their Relationship to the World

The thing is – depending on the country of origin, many times immigrants bring with them musical culture that is much more socially oriented, then what they find in Canada. For example immigrants from Northern Africa are used to theit centuries old culture of active music participation, with inclusion of all generations. When they come to the North America, they are confronted with the much more passive and siloed music culture that has developed here in the last decades. 

From this perspective, I think, that we would be much better off, if we learned from immigrants how to use music to improve social life. Unfortunately, as the presenter pointed out, assimilation process is sometimes very rapid. In particular members of the young generation acquire music habits of their new country very fast, because they don’t consider their musical heritage valuable enough. 

A couple following presenters were real practitioners who work with and help immigrants’ communities through the arts and music, like Jeunes Musiciens du Monde Laval. It was interesting to learn, that they get quite a lot of support from the Province of Quebec as well as from many private supporters and benefactors. Obviously, this is based on the good results of these activities, so no surprise, that some of these charitable organizations are growing and spreading to other communities that need such help. 

The whole day workshop culminated with the presentation called Music and Intercultural Understanding by William Forde (Bill) Thompson, who is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, where he is Director of the Music Sound and Performance lab. He is the author of an important pedagogical book Music, Thought, and Feeling: Understanding the Psychology of Music. His presentation put previous contributions into a broader context, based on reasearch in the music psychology. 

My trip to Montreal was for me an interesting visit to the academical world of the music research. As a musicologist I am always eager to learn something new and to meet new interesting people. It was also a confirmation of the direction our activities at Musicably are heading. Because if researchers are ‘re-discovering’ the importance music plays in life of children and immigrants, their findings should be applicable to the rest of the population. Or to be more blunt – the active music participation can improve social wellbeing of everyone who is willing to give it a try. 


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