• ICCM and Sound Sense community music student symposium
News & Views
Tensions, power, activism
Date posted: 19 December 2022
Rory Wells shares his round up of the 7th International Centre for Community Music (ICCM) Student Symposium, Boundaries of Practices

This year’s community music student research symposium took place last month in York at York St John University’s Creative Centre. Delegates joined the ICCM and Sound Sense from all over the UK as well as from Greece, USA, Belgium and South Africa to share and discuss current global research in the field of community music.

Our symposium theme Boundaries of Practices sought to initiate conversations around various borders and boundaries that inform and affect community music research and practice. Conversations were incredibly rich, owing deeply to the wealth of experience and expertise of delegates’ own research and practices. In this short blog we attempt to summarize some of the key themes of Tensions, Power and Activism that arose in discussions:


Tensions in research and practice arose frequently as a theme of discussion. Discussed were ideas that the work of community music happens within these tensions, be they tensions between different fields, tensions between practitioner and researcher identity or tensions that arise with other stakeholders such as funders expected outcomes etc. The idea that these tensions function as a productive space, a space where new ideas or modes of working can arise that challenge existing paradigms of research and practice is a powerful notion that calls for future research and discussion.


Power also arose as a significant theme during the symposium. Discussed were questions around how we negotiate boundaries of power in community music research and practice as well as notions of seeking to investigate our power more critically as practitioners and researchers. Key questions to consider included: What power do we hold as a community music facilitator working with others and what is our responsibility in holding this power?; What power do we inherit from the academy as community music researchers and how do we negotiate using this power positively for change?; How can we redistribute the power that we hold to bring others into the community music movement? These questions are important in acknowledging our power as community musicians/researchers who are most commonly simultaneously both practitioners and researchers in community music, and also in understanding that any power we hold can be used positively if we strive consciously to do so.


Community music as activism was a further significant theme during our conversations. Discussed were questions around how community music operates as a specific form of activism; how activism needn’t be ‘loud’ but can take different forms born form an ethic of care, love and compassion; as well as discussing the need for more specific critical research around understanding how community music seeks to enact it’s activist impetus. From these discussions there arose an understanding that community music as activism is a core aspect of the practice that needs further critical attempts to understand this aspect of the field in research and in practice to help in navigating the danger of community music becoming further depoliticized or unwittingly advocating for systems and agendas we strive to oppose.

Whilst these summaries are unable to capture the full extent of the richness of conversation from the symposium, we hope they go some way to summarizing key areas of discussion for those that were unable to join us. As we look towards next year’s 8th ICCM Student Symposium and the next issue of the ICCM’s emerging scholar’s journal Transform we invite those who resonate with these areas of discussion to join the conversation!

Rory Wells is a community musician and PhD researcher of community music and social justice at the International Centre for Community Music and the Institute for Social Justice at York St John University. Rory heads up Touchstone Loves the Arts, developing community-led music and arts projects that support people's mental health and communities' development across West Yorkshire for award-winning mental health charity, Touchstone.