Sunday, January 21, 2007


I have amended the tagline of this site from 'the politics of dancing' to 'the politics of dancing and musicking'. On this site I don't want to just focus on dance music scenes in the narrow sense, e.g. soul, disco, house etc. I am interested in other kinds of scenes - for instance I am planning to write about anarcho-punk - but on the other hand I don't want to focus on bands and songs. I am interested in what happens when people come together in a particular place and move and socialise to music - whether or not they are actually dancing, and whatever the soundtrack.

That's where the term 'musicking' comes in. It was coined by musicologist Christopher Small in the context of defining music as a verb rather than a noun: 'To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called compos­ing), or by dancing. We might at times even extend its meaning to what the person is doing who takes the tickets at the door or the hefty men who shift the piano and the drums or the roadies who set up the instruments and carry out the sound checks or the cleaners who clean up after everyone else has gone. They, too, are all contributing to the nature of the event that is a musical performance'.

Small's intention is to critique the idea of music as a one directional process from performer to passive audience. For him 'musicking.. is an activity in which all those present are involved and for whose nature and quality, success or failure, everyone present bears some responsibility. It is not just a matter of composers, or even perform­ers, actively doing something to, or for, passive listeners. Whatever it is we are doing, we are all doing it together—performers, listeners (should there be any apart from the performers), composer (should there be one apart from the performers), dancers, ticket collectors, piano movers, roadies, cleaners and all'. Musicking is not just about live performance: dancers in a club, somebody walking down the road with an iPod and people whistling in the bath are all musicking too in Small's definition.

For Small, musicking is no small matter - it helps constitute our social world: 'The act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relation­ships that the meaning of the act lies. They are to be found not only be­tween those organized sounds which are conventionally thought of as being the stuff of musical meaning but also between the people who are taking part, in whatever capacity, in the performance; and they model, or stand as metaphor for, ideal relationships as the participants in the perfor­mance imagine them to be: relationships between person and person, be­tween individual and society, between humanity and the natural world and even perhaps the supernatural world'.

Source of quotes: Christopher Small, Musicking: the meaning of performance and listening (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1998).


Wessex Folk Festival said...

I love you blog. It is so much in tune with what the Wessex Folk Festival is trying to do down in Weymouth through dance, music and song.

The belief underlying the Wessex Folk Festival is that it can't be successful unless it involves all the community and not just the people who are involved in Morris dancing or traditional English folk dance tunes, important though they are.

At the 2008 festival, which was very successful, there were a wide range of dancers and folk rock was very much on the agenda.

In June 2009, it is hoped that even stronger links will have been forged to involve all cultural elements of the community so the folk festival becomes a 'showcase of folk'.

However, it is very much an ongoing experiment :-)

Rob Hopcott

Lynette Yetter, author of Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace said...

I, too, am a huge fan of Christopher Small's Musicking. It influenced me to shift from being a solo performer to performing autochthonous music in community settings in the Andes. It was a shift from a Western Industrialized Society concept of individual separate from Nature and community, to an Indigenous concept of unity with each other and Mother Nature (Pachamama). I quote him extensively in my novel, Lucy Plays Panpipe for Peace.

Happy musicking!