Dialogical Musical Spaces

What are dialogical musical spaces?

Dialogical musical spaces raise critical consciousness through co-creating and musicking (Small, 1995) as a form of experiential learning and praxis (Freire, 1970), actively hearing and being heard, exploring self-expression, and developing empathy and resilience. Complementing this process is learning competences in values-based education, the expressive arts, peacebuilding and human rights education, agency, nonviolent communication, and conflict transformation.

Dialogical musical spaces can manifest in a multitude of ways from songwriting and rehearsing to educational dialogue and group building activities that utilize the expressive arts, imagination, and creativity. These spaces can be co-created in private music lessons, in formal and nonformal educational spaces, in ensembles of all genres, in short and long term contexts, in locations of conflict, systemic injustice, and post-conflict, in uninational, binational, and multicultural contexts, in open and closed encounters, and in general, with individuals of all backgrounds and ages, and levels of musical and critical understanding. Depending on the educational goal and the context of the program, there can be a greater focus on musicking over dialogue, or perhaps through dialogue about current or past realities, new ideas are explored musically. In every context though, regardless of the focus, explorations are dialogical in nature, enabling (e)quality of experiences that enable participants to “live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences” (Dewey, 2007, p.28), in addition to experiencing and learning for and about values, such as fairness, responsibility, equality, justice, rights, dignity, power, and freedoms.

Why dialogical musical spaces?

What is the significance of dialogical musical spaces at this moment in time? Research about the psychosocial benefits of music, from listening to learning to performing, is increasing and well accepted amongst individuals and communities. This contributes to the creation of education programs which utilize music and the expressive arts throughout the world. These programs seek to provide a space in which youth and communities have the space to hear and be heard, to author and re-author, to learn and relearn, to “enable individuals to choose intelligently and authentically for themselves” (Greene, 1973, p.273), to as bell hooks says, manifest “locations of possibility” (hooks, 1994). In addition music has historically been used in various forms of social activism, such as protest music and collective singing, for social justice, civil rights, solidarity, and human rights, with the recognition that music can build a sense of belonging to something larger, and gains strength when communicated with and through music. The advent of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, and YouTube, has amplified in particular the potency and space for individuals across the world to spread their messages through music, at times inspiring millions in a “call to action” to join in fostering social change and equity.

Music is not simply a platform that can only enable messages for transformative change. Music has also been used to unite communities in pursuit of goals completely opposite from creating a “positive peace” (Barash, 2000), which suggests not only a lack of physical violence and war, but also a society without systemic injustice. This brings us to the realization that it is our responsibility to determine how we utilize the transformative power of music.

For this reason, I advocate for the philosophical idea of musical spaces as locations of critical thinking, empathy, liberation, resilience, and love. I believe that if we can foster musical spaces which can unite individuals for a common cause, enable self and collective agency, create evolving learning environments, and foster belonging and meaning-making, then individuals and communities can utilize music to build more inclusive and equalizing communities that has the potential to co-create a just peace.


“The educational task, in the moral domain as well as in others, is to find out how to enable individuals to choose intelligently and authentically for themselves.” (Greene, p.273, 1973)

“It is because I believe the encounters with the arts can awaken us to alternative possibilities of existing, of being human, of relating to others, of being other, that I argue for their centrality in curriculum. I believe they can open new perspectives on what is assumed to be ‘reality,’ that they can defamiliarize what has become so familiar it has stopped us from asking questions or protesting or taking action to repair.” (Maxine Greene) 

“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Work Cited/References:

Barash, D. (2000). Building “positive” peace. In D. Barash (Ed.), Approaches to peace: A Reader in peace studies, 1­4 (pp. 146–187). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brooks, J. R. (2010). ” Peace, Salaam, Shalom”: Functions of Collective Singing in US Peace Activism. Music and Arts in Action, 2(2), 56-71.

Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. M. B. Ramos (trans). New York: Continuum.

Greene, M. (1973). Teacher as stranger: Educational philosophy for the modern age. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Greene, M. (1977). The artistic-aesthetic and curriculum. Curriculum inquiry,6 (4), 283-296.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Vol. 4. New York: Routledge.

Small, C. (1995). Musicking: A ritual in social space. A lecture at the University of Melbourne June 6.

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