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The Brisbane Declaration: a blueprint for the musical world

Does Psy represent the future of music? AAP/ Yonhap News Agency

Earlier this year the number of views of South Korean mega-star Psy’s Gangnam Style YouTube video exceeded two billion. That’s more than a quarter of the people on the planet who have watched the video. It also adds up to a collective 16,000 years spent watching (assuming everyone sat out the four-and-a-bit minutes, which is a big assumption).

At the same time, many musical practices face enormous challenges in getting any attention at all - particularly those of Indigenous and minority peoples. As I wrote on The Conversation in May, an estimated 98% of Australian Indigenous music and dance traditions have already been lost. Without urgent action, the remainder are also in jeopardy.

It’s difficult then to generalise about the state of music in the 21st century. But a new declaration, drafted in Brisbane last year, attempts to do just that. It aims to articulate a “sharpened vision for the musical world” as we approach the year 2020.

What might this mean for the future of music – in Australia and beyond?

DanceSite, Alice Springs. Rusty Stewart

An action agenda

In November last year, Brisbane hosted the 5th World Forum on Music (WFM5) of the International Music Council (IMC). During the event, the IMC solicited the views of the 600-odd delegates on the key priorities and action areas for the musical world towards 2020.

These ideas were then drafted into a formal statement, approved in principal by the 35th IMC General Assembly. This statement has become known as the Brisbane Declaration.

As an “action agenda”, the Brisbane Declaration aims to ensure a “sustainable, thriving and diverse musical life on our planet”. It makes some acute observations on contemporary musical practices. It also draws attention to some of the challenges and concerns surrounding music and music-making in the 21st century - such as the vulnerability of many local music traditions in an increasingly globalised world.

Five Musical Rights

Underlying the Brisbane Declaration are the Five Musical Rights, proclaimed by the IMC in 2001. These are:

1) the right for all children and adults to express themselves musically in all freedom
2) the right to learn musical languages and skills
3) the right to have access to musical involvement through participation, listening, creation, and information
4) the right for all musical artists to develop their artistry and communicate through all media, with proper facilities at their disposal
5) the right to obtain just recognition and remuneration for their work.

African Children’s Choir. Louis

The Brisbane Declaration reflects on the progress made since 2001 regarding these rights. It connects the rights to key issues in contemporary musical life around the globe, including the roles of communities, educational institutions, governments, the music industry, and the mass media.

Will the Brisbane Declaration help?

It’s difficult for a statement such as the Brisbane Declaration to accurately reflect the situation for all musics and musicians across the world, from traditional folk artists to concert pianists to global pop stars.

Nevertheless, the Brisbane Declaration captures what music opinion-leaders believe are the most urgent concerns facing musicians today, from the grassroots to international levels. Freedom of expression, approaches to education, the rise of digital technologies, and intellectual property and copyright are all on the table.

In a panel discussion at WFM5, Jeremy Cox, CEO of the Association of European Conservatoires (AEC), and Frans de Ruiter, then-President of the IMC, reflected with delegates on the draft agenda. They shared their hope that the Declaration may inspire and encourage artists, educators, researchers, policy-makers, industry bodies and opinion-leaders to work together to ensure a sustainable and diverse global musical future.

With active dissemination and use, the Brisbane Declaration promises to help shape vibrant and viable music practices across the world. In July, AEC announced its intention to draw on the Declaration in developing a European Agenda for Music.

What does it mean for Australia?

As efforts are made to maintain and revitalise remaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performance traditions, the Declaration reminds us that culture is a pillar of sustainable development.

It prompts us to affirm the right to musical and cultural expression for all Australians, including Indigenous children in our schools. It calls on us to reflect critically on musical and cultural access and equality, which hold a mirror to wider societal issues and values.

If we take notice, the Brisbane Declaration promises to act as a useful compass, directing our vision towards a future in which, in a spirit of respect and equality, Australians and people around the world may build enriching, stimulating, and diverse musical lives.

Catherine Grant’s book Music Endangerment: How Language Maintenance Can Help was recently released by Oxford University Press.

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