Changing the World Begins Locally

As I write this it is nearly midnight. The sun has just set, but the day will probably last well into the night on Wednesday when it is the summer solstice. I am in Gothenburg, Sweden’s “second city,” for the first-ever joint conference of the International Association of Music Information Centers (IAMIC), the International Association of Music Librarians (IAML), and the International Musicological Society (IMS). It is an inspirational coming together of people with a vested interest in music from all over the world. Who would have thought that international politics could be this pleasant?

Being here and reconnecting with my international colleagues, many of whom have become close friends over the years, has made me focus a lot of my thoughts on the whole question of national versus international. This is something that surfaces on NewMusicBox from time to time and continues to spark heated commentary.

The reality is that true internationalism begins with an enlightened nationalism. An enlightened nationalism is not prejudicial and so is therefore quite distinct from xenophobia and jingoistic patriotism. An enlightened nationalism is what fuels the various music information centers around the world. They are charged with being the repositories of information for their respective countries and disseminating that information to the people in their own country as well as to the rest of the world. It is ultimately the hope that through this dissemination, which by its sheer volume must be focused and specific, that we will come toward a greater understanding of one another through one of the few things that all countries share: music.

But the struggle to make people aware of the musical treasures of any country is an uphill battle just about anywhere.

During the keynote address to this conference, Roland Sandberg, who in addition to running the Swedish Music Information Centre is also currently the president of IAMIC, discussed a recently completed survey with far reaching international implications. Rolf Davidsson compiled extensive data on repertoire performed by Swedish orchestras between 1920 and 1990. His findings sound all too familiar: music performed by living composers (Swedish, Nordic, or otherwise) has been steadily declining, as has any music composed by Swedish or Nordic composers of the past. What are they playing? Surprise! Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms. While no one here is denying the value of the BMB trinity, shouldn’t room also be made for Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Allan Pettersson, Lars-Erik Larsson, and Ture Rangström, as well as some living composers like Karin Rehnqvist, Bo Nilsson, and Marie Samuelsson, to name just a handful of important Swedish composers I have been lucky enough to become familiar with (albeit not through live performances here or elsewhere). The advocacy for these composers must begin here in Sweden. Pettersson has become something of a national hero but mostly through recordings and only after his death. What about all the others? Can’t we miss the 300th performance of the Eroica for one of them once in a while? And if this advocacy doesn’t begin at home, where there is a tangible connection to these composers for the audience, where would it ever begin?

Roland persuasively argued that if orchestras don’t rethink their repertoire, they will lose their raison d’etre. He also somewhat cheekily suggested that one way to get them to change their tune would be to threaten them with a decrease in public funding. Such a strategy could work in Sweden where the arts are still heavily subsidized by the government, but that is changing too. Everyone here is worried those cultural subsidies will diminish if not disappear entirely and that things will be as they are in America.

Which brings us back home. How can we affect these kinds of changes in our own community where all culture has become fragmented and marginalized? I still believe our energies must begin at the local level and once we are able to make that work then we can really be international. In the meanwhile, there is a remarkable network of like-minded people at similar organizations all over the world already making sure the rest of the world is covered and thanks to the Internet, they’re all closer than our own backyards.

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