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Growing Community Music International Research Report



As part of Community Music Victoria’s Growing Community Music project we are interested in learning how communities in other parts of the Western world, and within Australia, consciously build their leadership skills base for growing and strengthening community music making.

A group of CMVic volunteers has conducted web searches to locate various Community Music leadership courses and programs (see Note 1 below for full list of research undertaken). The search has not been exhaustive but provides a picture of the content and variety of approaches to building community music leadership skills. The programs found fall into the following categories:

  • University Courses
  • Short Courses (single day/evening for a number of days or weeks or single workshop events)
  • Online modules with face to face component

Networks with shared knowledge, developing leadership through practice in a supported environment

The reason for conducting this research is to help us assess how we might go about delivering Leadership Skills development, particularly in Stage 2 of the Growing Community Music project. Are there courses ready-made which might be available to our CMVic members? Are we about to duplicate something that already exists?  Which path do we wish to follow?

University Courses

There are a number of undergraduate and postgraduate (music) university courses available in the UK, USA and Canada. These are mostly designed to be face to face vocational courses, providing music graduates with employment. Many of the course outlines look interesting and relevant to our community music leaders, covering aspects such as Community Music in principle, music in education, groupwork, therapy and health, world music and other arts, as well as project management and arts administration. However, these courses are largely inaccessible to our networks - geographically, financially and in terms of prerequisites particularly in the case of the post graduate courses (most of our potential leaders do not have a music degree). It is positive to see that in other parts of the world, there is an attempt to treat Community Music leadership as a valid form of employment and community building with applications in prisons, hospitals, aged care facilities and schools among other settings.

Community Music academic and one time CMVic Board member, Gillian Howell recommends the Community Music course at Wilfred Laurier University in Canada as being a practically based course

The University of York UK and York St. John in particular, would also be worth further investigation for any Australian institution considering initiating a tertiary education community music course.

Short Courses

The short courses that were found are diverse and apply to a wide range of situations. These include working with young people in disadvantaged areas, working in conflict zones (via Musicians Without Borders ) working in the music therapy field and others. The advantages of the short courses are that they are cheaper and require less time commitment and can be targeted to address quite specific issues or situations.

Many of these courses do not require previous study or experience, so are open to a broader range of students. According to Gillian Howell, the Musicians Without Borders training program is a course of 5 days duration that our members could undertake at a cost of around AUD$650 and is currently available in The Netherlands. If there were an organising body and enough participants a Musicians Without Borders course could be mounted in Australia.

Online Courses

One online course was found by our volunteer researchers: ‘Community Choir Professionals’(CCP) . This course is delivered by two women in the UK and has additional in person sessions from time to time in London. It is flexible in terms of length: individuals can sign up for as long or as little as they like, paying by the month if they choose. The course is open to participants who do not have a formal musical background.

CCP allowed access to their website for a number of days (for free) in exchange for a review (see Note 2 below). Exploring this option helped in understanding the extreme limitations of an online course and the hidden underlying assumptions that are often brought to an education setting. There is largely a one-way flow of instruction and information and the course content is prescribed, rather than in response to the needs and experiences of the participants. There does not seem to be an acknowledgment that every participating individual is a resource and that the strengths of the participants will help to shape the unique identity of the group.

Shared Knowledge Networks

These networks are supported and driven by a common culture. They are essentially groups of passionate volunteers who are sharing knowledge and developing leadership through practice in a supported environment. They seem to rely a lot more on the passion and enthusiasm of volunteers than the other courses which makes them vulnerable to unsustainability. Perhaps they are more responsive to the needs and interests of the members/participants and there is a higher level of shared ownership. 

In exploring some of these networks online, it seems that ‘developing leadership’ may not be the key focus of the network but is definitely a by-product. CMVic currently belongs mainly in this category. See also:

CMVic’s Values

Through examining these courses and programs, we reflect on our own values as an organisation and begin to measure the relevance of their course content to our practice, philosophy and underpinning values.

As stated on the website, CMVic values include: creativity, empowerment, generosity, inclusivity, integrity, joy, leadership and participation.

How do these values look as part of a Leadership Skills development program?

At the outset of the project, as joint Project Managers, Jane Coker and I made a list of CMVic’s underlying principles with regard to Leadership development:

  • The body of knowledge is not a landing pad but a springboard
  • You bend it, you break it, you blend it to create it
  • The CMVic way – ‘collective empowerment’
  • Shared leadership: All input is valued

The leadership journey is of course a continuum with participants presenting with a huge variety of skills, understanding, previous experience and models of group music making. They are not empty vessels.

In all our designs, we should be checking back to our values.

Pros and Cons of Accreditation

The pros and cons of an accredited prescribed course have come up at almost all of the consultation meetings. 

On the plus side, a course from a reputable institution validates the career path, the skills gained and possible funding partnerships. It could also generate partnerships with institutions (hospitals, prisons, schools) for student placement and possible employment. The traditional learning model can fast track the acquisition of specific skill development.

However, there is a danger that more might be lost rather than gained; it could be seen to be buying into the very issues CMVic is attempting to address ie: the virtuosic, expert model as opposed to the participating, sharing, empowerment model. The skills that are being offered may not be the ones that are needed by an individual or community.

As an organisation Community Music Victoria is attempting to democratise community music leadership, to provide greater access to music leadership skills to a greater diversity of the population. We need to be listening carefully.

The process of consulting with Gillian Howell (see Note 3), confirmed for me that, particularly in Australia, there is a lack of available courses and programs for individuals and teams of people wanting to increase their community music facilitation skills. Further to that, Community Music Victoria’s role is unique in encouraging widespread community music leadership.

Community Music Courses, Programs and Networks

The following list was located through volunteer research for CMVic’s ‘Growing Community Music’ project November 2019

  1. Community Music BMus Wilfred Laurier Uni Canada
  2. Community Music Masters US Southern California Thornton
  3. Community Music MA University of York UK
  4. Community Music MA York St. John Uni UK
  5. Music (Community Music) BA Hons Bath Spa Uni UK
  6. Nordoff Robbins Aus
  7. Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin Ire (music training programme in collaboration with Musicians without Borders)
  8. Musicians Without Borders
  9. Fondation Alta Mana Italy (Working with Syrian refugees, trained by MWB)
  10. The Music Leader Training Programme (Community Music UK)
  11. Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance UK
  12. Goldsmiths (for working with youth) UK
  13. Community Choir Professionals UK
  14. Finnish traditional music: kansanmusiikki-instituutti
  15. Singing Network UK
  16. Natural Voice Practitioners Network UK (Chris Rowbury)
  17. Community Choir Leadership UK
  18. Sky Music Hub UK
  19. Community Music UK
  20. Sound Sense professional association for Community Musicians UK
  21. Community Music Wales
  22. Australian Music Therapy Association

Online Training Course for Professional Community Choir Leaders

Our international research volunteer found ‘Community Choir Professionals’ (CCP)

There is a lot to learn here and an interesting website for CMVic members and singing leaders to peruse (or indeed, subscribe to).

Course providers Victoria Hopkins and Christine Mulgrew from the UK believe singing is for everyone and that you don’t need degrees or diplomas before you can conduct a choir. They are teaching from their own experience and are developing an online community to share that experience.

Aspiring Community Choir leaders are able to access the course by paying monthly, 6-monthly or annually.

The following topics (and more) are available to paying participants:

  • Stepwise course for learning to lead a choir
  • Support and extension for existing leaders
  • Use of short videos for learning about a range of topics from basic conducting to performance planning
  • Live training Q&A sessions with troubleshooting
  • Some repertoire available, including warm-up plans
  • Online Peer exchange

Examination of the content threw into focus the unique perspective of Community Music Victoria. The areas of overlap and commonality become apparent, but so also do the points of difference in approach and philosophy between the sort of online course CMVic might develop and Community Choir Professional’s existing one:

Areas of commonality:

  • There are a number of elements of the CCP that are aligned with CMVic understanding and practice. Some are already mentioned above, eg: the notion that singing is for everyone and that you don’t need a formal qualification to be a successful professional choir leader.
  • It was reassuring to hear addressed the issue of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in the first session. Additionally, there is useful practical advice for conducting, warm ups, being aware of posture and a toolkit of basic music theory to support the work of the choir leader; all provided in a friendly relaxed way.

Points of difference:

  • Of course, there is no single experience or course that is going to be perfectly aligned with any individual and that will totally equip him or her to go into the world as a newly minted community music leader. We take from all experiences and education settings the parts that resonate for us and leave the parts that do not.
  • Although our examination of the course was not in depth, we nevertheless did not find any exploration of ‘Why’. What do you want to achieve by starting a community choir? What are the participants hoping to gain? What are the shared values of your group and agreed behaviours? What sort of group do we want? What range of repertoire are we interested in?
  • There did not seem to be an acknowledgment that every individual who attends is a resource and that the strengths of your participants will help to shape the unique identity of your group.
  • The course is servicing the needs of the choir leader; and that you as the choir leader, will be the provider of all, rather than a collaborative approach that empowers participants to take responsibility and have ownership of the group.
  • Perhaps the most obvious absence in the Community Choir Professional course is the CMVic belief that singing can be a shared activity that is an end in itself with performance being an optional extra.

We recommend that the Community Choir Professionals course should be approached with:

  • An already well-established sense of purpose for yourself and your group 
  • An understanding of the benefits to the individual and to the community,
  • An appreciation and respect for the participants of your group and the living resources that they are,
  • A sharing of responsibility for your group’s success with (possibly) co-leaders and participants
  • A succession plan for your group (even if it may be a long way off!)
  • A range of sources for new repertoire, a commitment to culturally appropriate material and a desire to contribute to local cultural growth

If you have the values underpinning your work, firmly in place you will be well equipped to add down to earth practical strategies and techniques to your tool kit from the ‘Community Choir Professionals’.

Transcript of interview with Gillian Howell

Gillian Howell is an experienced community music researcher who until recently was a Board member of CMVic. See her bio here.

  1. Are there any exemplary CM leadership courses or programs that you know of within Australia?
    • We have a really strong history of community cultural development – but musicians are not often the drivers of those projects.
    • Melbourne polytechnic course (that I taught) was made non-compulsory in 2016 (there was a whole music course restructure) and became optional - so it couldn’t generate the numbers after that.
    • Monash music school has been re-visioned – what is the place for community music? Students come in with big dreams – every undergraduate course has a dilemma between fulfilling their dreams and providing them with resources to earn a living in that field (music). Community Music is not what they sign up for.
    • There is a big problem with the image or brand, of Community Music – amateur orchestras or choirs – trying to replicate what happens professionally – closer you get to a professional sound, the more it’s valued.
    • Nordoff Robbins (Music Therapy institution) – more and more we are going to see CM leaders come through music therapy, but generally, those graduates are not very good facilitators. They (music therapy) have a lot of territorial expansion. There is a real problem with seeing things in a deficit model – that people have something wrong with them and need to be fixed. G doesn’t see collaboration with Nordoff Robbins (or music therapy in general) as viable. Ideologically, there are fundamental differences.
    • Sound Sense is an organisation in the UK that includes music outside of music education which also includes therapists.
    • Music education has not done a very good job of extending out to community music settings.


  1. Are there any exemplary CM leadership courses or programs that you know of internationally?
    • Wolfred Laurier University in Canada – have produced masters students – Capstone project – where the student produces a project and presents it. It is a practically based Master’s degree; going into community settings (rather than writing a paper).  G’s friend is coordinator. The course attracts a lot of enrolments – not sure of recruitment methods. G thinks that possibly there is a policy environment in Canada that makes this course attractive and effective with a practice basis ending up in university.
    • Community choral music was the basis. That is a strong culture in Canada, but other staff have brought a breadth and are more effective in including community music as a source of healing working in communities that have need of healing.
    • International Centre of Art for Social Change – Vancouver, Simon Fraser University is not music specific. If you broaden it out (beyond just music) you find a whole lot more programs.
    • Name of Community Music is problematic. The way we train musicians is directed to formal music making.
    • We’re not just investing for more music per se - we’re investing in public good and social change


  1. Are there courses or programs already in existence that CMVic members might be able to tap into?
    • Musicians Without Borders model is interesting – significant branding. People then can call themselves a Musicians Without Borders ‘trainer’ on completing the course – more about a brand than a certification.
    • Training goes for a week – currently have to travel to Holland – but they would come to Australia if a group of trainees was pulled together. However, caution is needed – as this is income stream for them, a survival tactic – to gain recognition for MWB – increasing their space.
    • Maybe if CMVic was a national organisation – you might be able to partner with them – but it would be a long road ..
    • There is a much stronger awareness of decolonisation – Art for Social Change can be framed as an ‘intervention’ – moving away from this model needed. Not ‘doing to’. (Coming in with a program that is delivered to/imposed on a community)
    • CM filled with conundrums delicate work.
    • There is a need to capture these different potential markets
    • Maybe it’s a two strand or three strand process, to attract the potential leaders from different spheres. We also need to be aware of the dangers of having a tiered system – this is what we are trying to avoid in the current environment (formal trained musician versus informal)
    • Or will enough musicians figure these things out for themselves?


  1. With your knowledge and understanding of CM internationally and CMVic participants locally, what would you recommend as the most effective method(s) of building community music leadership skills?
    • Partnerships with universities is a good way to go – but there is such a tension between opting for the recognised (but elite) public profile and staying less visible but (more egalitarian/democratic)
    • CMVic has carved out a niche – democratising – we can all make music
    • The weakness is the people with formal music study don’t see the relevance of CMVic. 
    • This keeps CMVic small and not powerful or influential.
    • Being seen -being relevant – 
    • Undergrads need a taste of community music (so they get a sense of what it can be) but the main place for a course is in post graduate work.
    • Students (including school students) need to experience community music settings – so it’s not seen as a poor relation that you do when you are unsuccessful as a performer. It needs to be attractive in its own right.
    • Sound Sense model is the best so far – musicians with formal training but a range of applications. Who gets paid to do this sort of work – this paves the way.
    • There is a role for someone who has a lot of musical knowledge at the front of a group. They can do more.
    • There’s an idealistic thing (the concept that anyone can be a community music leader) but the reality is that most of the effective leaders (but not all) have some formal music knowledge.
    • To what extent are people prepared to embrace unpredictability? How do you create new music with people? How much are you prepared to hand over this musical space to other people’s ideas – that’s a set of skills and a set of values and a set of musical skills. You want them to have ownership over the work.
    • Predictable – or unpredictable? Some people want it to be Predictable – don’t want to sit in that uncomfortable space.
    • Who is going to sign up for this training? (Speaking about the facilitation training)
    • Uni musicians increasing their portfolio……or
    • The community musician wanting more music in community

"I loved my course (Community Music at Melbourne Polytechnic) – it was about making music in the moment together, using a huge variety of ways of organising sound. It started with ourselves being more flexible and adaptable musicians – and our partners might be in the improvisation department or ethnomusicology."