Rethinking Social Action Through Music

Rethinking Social Action through Music: The Search for Coexistence and Citizenship in Medellín’s Music Schools was published in 2021 by Open Book Publishers and may be downloaded for free in PDF format.

How can we better understand the past, present and future of Social Action through Music (SATM)?

This book examines the development of the Red de Escuelas de Música de Medellín (the Network of Music Schools of Medellín), a network of 27 schools founded in Colombia’s second city in 1996 as a response to its reputation as the most dangerous city on Earth. Inspired by El Sistema, the foundational Venezuelan music education program, the Red is nonetheless markedly different: its history is one of multiple reinventions and a continual search to improve its educational offering and better realise its social goals. Its internal reflections and attempts at transformation shed valuable light on the past, present, and future of SATM.

Based on a year of intensive fieldwork in Colombia, this volume offers fresh insights on SATM and its evolution both in scholarship and in practice. It will be of interest to a very varied readership: employees and leaders of SATM programs; music educators; funders and policy-makers; and students and scholars of SATM, music education, ethnomusicology, and other related fields.

For more on the book and its central ideas, see this blog post.

Social action through music is inescapably complex, and Baker successfully unravels critical intricacies with a rare combination of detail and clarity… The inquiry is ruthlessly honest, but not needlessly so: the text is an objective but appropriately appreciative account of the work in Medellín, bolstered by a highly-informed exploration that gives it international relevance…, offering guidance, insight and even inspiration.

Jonathan Govias, The Strad

“Following on from his groundbreaking study of Venezuela’s El Sistema, Baker offers a courageous and unsettling exploration of Social Action Through Music, based mainly on a case study of the Red de Escuelas de Música in Medellín, Colombia. It is a profound and lively examination of this important as well as complex issue. Wide-ranging in its analysis, honest, and wise, it is indispensable reading for all those interested in the discussion around the social impact of making music.”

Dr Graça Mota, Research Centre in Psychology of Music and Music Education, Porto Polytechnic. Former chair of the El Sistema Special Interest Group at the International Society for Music Education

“Geoff Baker’s 2015 book on El Sistema was a ground-breaking and meticulously researched critique of the world’s most celebrated programme claiming social action through music, based on intensive fieldwork and magisterial command of the literature. He has now applied the same informed critical lens to another large-scale orchestral social programme, the Red de Escuelas de Música in Medellín, Colombia. In the Red’s case, however, the leadership has deliberately fostered the kind of self-examination and internal reform signally absent from El Sistema. Baker deftly unravels the complex and sometimes contradictory strands in the 25-year history of this flagship project, with its successes and self-admitted limitations. He then uses his analysis as a springboard for grounded reflection on what truly socially effective music programmes could look like. He convincingly argues that big classical orchestral projects have much to learn from smaller more democratic and grassroots-led projects, which more naturally reflect and incorporate the emancipatory prerogatives that organisations like the Red strive for, but whose very structures and processes hold back. This book will be an important resource for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike.”

Professor John Sloboda, OBE, FBA, Guildhall School of Music & Drama and former President of SIMM (Social Impact of Making Music)

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