Can Music Change The World? is the title of Associate Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet’s public lecture, which was held at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Griffith University, on 7 June 2016. Drawing on national and international projects, Associate Professor Bartleet, who is director of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, examines the role of musicians, educators and researchers in health, social justice, intercultural understanding, poverty alleviation, prisons, post-conflict settings and environmental conservation.
Her lecture begins with the individual. She recalls singing to her premature babies, who were in intensive care for two-and-a-half months. ‘I learnt how my singing could slow their heartbeats and stabilise their oxygen saturation levels,’ she says. ‘When you sing your body releases oxytocin as well as endorphins, the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals.’
At the lecture’s core is the exploration of music’s role in social change. ‘For every major social movement, social change and social upheaval throughout history, music has been present, sometimes driving change, other times resisting change, other times documenting and commenting on that change,’ Associate Professor Bartleet says. As a child in apartheid South Africa, she experienced ‘how music was used a vehicle for protest and self-determination, a way of subversively spreading an anti-colonial agenda, and a way of healing the past but also imagining a different future.’
Also examined are the many music organisations that ‘explicitly’ work to ‘change the world’, such Musicians without Borders, Musicians for Human Rights and Barenboim and Said’s East-Western Divan Orchestra. The Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre embodies its ‘commitment to social engagement and change’ through its partnerships with individuals and organisations in Australia and around the world.
Finally, Associate Professor Bartleet reminds listeners that effective social change demands asking some ‘very hard and uncomfortable’ questions, ‘equally applicable to policy makers, funders, philanthropists, arts administrators, festival organisers and those who play a role in establishing and encouraging these sorts of change projects’. These include:
- How can we be sure we’re actually making a change?
- Who is driving the change agenda, and for what purpose?
- Does music allow us to get too comfortable?
Associate Professor Bartleet’s Can Music Change The World? Lecture can be viewed below: