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From music composition to community music

The horncall PosterCommunity music is gradually gaining ground in Britain. Among the most famous examples are More Music Morecombe ( and Sistema Scotland (  As a music composition and drawing student with the OCA, my interest in conceptual and socially engaged art has inspired me to develop my own interpretation of community music.
My professional background is in community development and I’ve always been interested in how communities function.  For communities to take initiative themselves, residents need to know each other and share a strong sense-of-community.  Carefully thought-out community music initiatives can contribute to this.
With this in mind I started a community music project  (Music for Communities) in my own community, together with community artist Norma Hunter and the local heritage centre.  Realising that we were approaching the 30th anniversary of the closure of our local paper mill we set out to capture the memories of former employees through memory-sharing workshops, after which my task was to turn these into three songs (click here) for a come-and-sing event with the former employees and the wider community.  Long-term residents and people who moved to the village more recently met each other face-to-face in the come-and-sing event, sharing the memories of the mill and in turn creating a new memory.
This interpretation of community music is different from that of More Music Morecombe and Sistema Scotland as the aim is not so much to provide classes or increase people’s musical ability, but to use music as a trigger to bring people together to create a dialogue, a story people can relate to and that reinforces their sense-of-community.
My approach to community music is inspired by socially engaged arts that stressed that dialogue itself can be seen as a form of art.  Music can contribute to community development as it can trigger dialogue among community members.  Yet, I find that I need words to complement the moods and atmospheres that music expresses.   This is the reason why I often turn to writing songs, but in the future I may well combine music and poetry or storytelling.  For a community music project to enhance people’s sense-of-community, the dialogue should be between the musician and the participants, but most of all between the participants themselves.  Community music should be music for and with communities, a shared experience in which people participate actively.
To read more about my work, please visit

Posted by author: Petra Vergunst
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6 thoughts on “From music composition to community music

  • What a great idea! You have set me thinking! We have a community owned pub, shop and other related amenities here in Hudswell, which has been widely reported. I am a musician and also composition student at OCA and some music to commemorate the events would be wonderful. We also have many local musicians and an orchestra who could play it. Thank you for nudging my thoughts, inspired by your endeavours!

  • Well done Petra. It sounds like a great way to bring people together and I enjoyed reading about how words have found their place along with the music.

  • Good to see some input about composition in the newsletter.

  • Good input, Petra.
    Classical / community music on the local level does not have a history here in most parts of Australia, so it is difficult to sell the concept. However, there are local choirs in my area, and to discuss with them the (radical) idea that a choir -and music- could actually be a viable part of the community is a tsk worth approaching.
    Thanks for the incentive

  • Hello Fionagh, Roberta, John and John,
    Thank you for your responses. It’s really encouraging to see that my ideas on community musicn somehow strikes a chord. I feel very much that I have to find my own way as I know of no-one else here in Britain who has taken a similar approach. That’s why I’m looking at the socially engaged arts for inspiration. Do let me know how you get on with your ideas!
    Best wishes,

  • A quick post script to John R’s post.
    Whilst we don’t have any plans to run a summer school at present, we are planning to convene a workshop in the autumn for OCA music students. One idea is to invite new pieces for flute and then hear them performed and have the opportunity to comment and discuss. Early days yet, but thought you’d like to know our thinking.

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