Music Australia News

Music’s Capacity to ‘Change The World’ Explored in Griffith Uni Lecture

Jasmine Crittenden
| July 4, 2016

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.

Prof Brydie-Lee BartleetHer 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:


  1. Erica Jolly

    Send this information to the Minister for the Arts and Communication. Get academics and bureaucrats to understand that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics involve music and need the arts if they are not to perpetuate the ‘divide’ that undermined education in the 20th century thanks to the misreading of C.P. Snow’s “Two cultures” which ignored his correction in 1964 in “The Two Cultures” A Second Look”. Music was for the supposedly able only in SA in the special music schools. IY steadily undermined the range of music, seeing it as an extra that could be sidelined. For example, the SA Department of Education cut the funding for peripatetic instrument and singing teachers. One school was not allowed to buy a piano because they no longer had music in the school as a subject! Imagine the bureaucratic mentality that did that! I am going back 20 years. And now the panic is on about the STEM subjects, since so many girls were discouraged from studying science and mathematics, told it was not needed. And subjects are still seen too much as ‘silos’ in the Australian National curriculum. At the STEM conference in Melbourne, Rose Hiscock is giving the opening address and asking the question, Should it be ‘STEAM’? Wednesday July 27th. She want creativity to be encouraged in all subjects. I hope to attend that session. Share this with the Friends of the ABC. And music brings hope in so many different ways, helping all to make connections across social divisions. And the Elder Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide, I think, got rid of composition to concentrate on performance. And the Centre for the Aboriginal Studies in Music – CASM – appears to have been reduced. In the ABc’s “Revolution School’, the best sign was the fact that the teacher of mathematics also brought together all the students because he directed the school’s first musical in eight years. So he would not have been seen just as a maths teacher. For the Gondwana Choir to be defunded was a sign that program that bring young people together from all kinds of backgrounds are not recognised for their intrinsic value. I am glad this article was shared with my by Dr Kathryn Seymour.

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