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How can our music sector lead cultural change?
Diana Marsh

Having recently returned from the annual International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC) conference in Tallinn, Estonia, of which SOUNZ is a member, I find myself reconsidering my thoughts and positions on the New Zealand music environment. This includes where and how we fit as a country in what appears to be a fast-changing global landscape. How can our music sector lead cultural change and adequately express our cultural identity? 

Tallinn, Estonia

I was taken aback at how quickly New Zealand has become current in the wider perspective of the world. We have a place and seem relevant - no longer a small country from the end of the world that remains a mystery to many. The partial myth of the utopia continues however; instead of the usual ‘clean and green’ image, I found that people were talking about our values, our Prime Minister, and our leadership of social issues which were often topics that were front and centre of informal conversations. This view of New Zealand felt exaggerated against the reality but there is some truth to it and many of us strive for this utopian society which we often like to identify with. Of course, the Christchurch mosque tragedy was still foremost on many people’s minds, including my own.

The conference was timed to coincide with the annual World Music Days Festival, presented by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and hosted each year in a different country. This experience was coupled with New Zealand’s up and coming role as the host country for the 2020 World Music Days Festival, and New Zealand member Glenda Keam’s appointment as President of the ISCM. 

Diana Marsh with Chris Gendall, Glenda Keam, Simon Eastwood and Tristan Carter Diana Marsh with Chris Gendall, Glenda Keam, Simon Eastwood and Tristan Carter

I discovered what a vibrant new music scene really looks and feels like, but found myself challenged about my view of our music sector. New music seems so much a part of the Estonian cultural fabric; they seem proud of, identify with, and embrace the works of their composers. During the Soviet regime, composers preserved Estonian culture through the use of their folk and traditional music that contributed to a rich and vibrant choral scene, which Estonia is well-known for and is part of their cultural identity. Estonian performers play with commitment and resolve, and the standard of performance is very high. Consider this with a total population of just over one million.

Composers Simon Eastwood, Alex Taylor, Tristan Carter and Nick Snowball represented New Zealand at the festival and Simon, Alex and Tristan were present in Tallinn. Often running into them in the street and at concerts and events, in the old town of Tallinn, I felt we could all be proud of their contribution. Through their works, they demonstrated the huge creative talent that we have in this country, and I felt that our sector could do so much more for our composers. This observation is certainly not a rejection of all the opportunities that currently exist for some of our composers, but a comment on how much more we could achieve with a greater expression of our cultural identity through the music of Aotearoa and its diversity and distinctiveness.

Credit: Tōnu Tunnel | Arvo Pärt Centre

One of the highlights of the conference was the visit to the new Arvo Pärt Centre 45 minutes outside of Tallinn. It was an unexpected and extraordinary venue. As someone commented it is reminiscent of a scene from a James Bond movie, where in the middle of some isolated northern European landscape a spectacular modern building is placed. We were treated to a concert with works for Japanese koto and Estonian chromatic kannel (a plucked box zither).

I arrived later than many and was not aware that Arvo Pärt was, in fact, present in the audience. Not knowing what he looked like until checking that evening, I was delighted to discover that I had inadvertently taken a few photos of the composer, who appeared with the ISCM delegates.

The ISCM delegates with Arvo Pärt in the middle of the front standing row (in black with a cap and beard) between new President Glenda Keam and outgoing President Peter Swinnen at the Arvo Pärt Centre.

IAMIC is becoming more globally focused and engaged. There was a great discussion and presentation from members outlining the issues their countries face within their music sectors. SOUNZ has its own particular way of contributing to New Zealand music as well as having a lot of cross-over with our international colleagues. For example, the issue of music genres merging and becoming less distinct is not just a topic in New Zealand, it is a topic that many of us are grappling with. 

The formal IAMIC meeting ended with a vote on the new board, and I am now Vice President of IAMIC for a two-year term. I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring a New Zealand and a Southern Hemisphere perspective to the metaphorical board table.

IAMIC Board 

IAMIC Board (from left to right): Michalis Karakatsanis (President), Jonathan Grimes (Secretary), Stef Coninx (treasurer), Diana Marsh (Vice President), Deborah Keyser, Frank J. Oteri, Valgerður Halldórsdóttir, Peter Baroš. Photo credit: IAMIC

The sense of cultural identity through music cannot be underestimated and in New Zealand, we have a very long way to go in embracing our traditional music and new compositions. Creating the space and place for New Zealand music to reflect and develop the values that we are being recognised for is one way that we could build on the reputation and goodwill that has been generated. This could also be an opportunity to develop a greater connection with our broader community.

Our values are inherent in and expressed through our music. Artists have always been at the front line in upholding these so I encourage our music sector to demonstrate more leadership in nurturing the cultural landscape of Aotearoa.