Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.

On Music, Relationships, and Making Music Spaces Safer for Everyone
Part IV: Restorative approaches to musical-relational conflict (continued)

For the final part of this series, I wanted to provide a personal example of working through the three steps of restorative response to conflict:

  1. What happened? And what is important to understand about what happened?
  2. Who was impacted and how?
  3. What needs to be done to repair the harms and make things right? 

This is an instance where a potential conflict arose in a recording project I was working on with a colleague who is also a friend (an example of how music relationships are often both personal and professional). Though I wasn’t consciously applying this model in this case, in retrospect I realized that I addressed the situation through the three restorative steps, perhaps because I had been practicing these principles for some time already.

My colleague-friend let me know in a message that he had contacted the mixing engineer and arranged dates for a mixing session. Since I wasn’t involved in the communication (and wasn’t sure if I was free on those dates), doubts started to creep in about whether he didn’t want me involved in this part of the project, or if I had done something unintentionally to disrupt the relationship in the context of the project. Or maybe he had just forgotten to copy me on the email? 

I wasn’t sure what had happened. But I knew that even though this person and I have developed significant trust working together over the years, the doubt about the relationship (and the music) had potential to grow in my mind. So I decided to ask him a form of “What happened?” in a way that communicated that, for me, what had happened had created some doubt. I wrote this: 

Just to check are you and I cool? Seems like I’ve been looped out of some parts of the process but not sure if that was intentional – I’m down to follow your lead and cool with whatever direction you’re going, but just wanted to check if there was anything we needed to clear the air about.

Because of the trust in the relationship, this was a low-risk question appropriate for a message rather than a call or in-person conversation. In the message I also answered “Who was impacted and how?” by implying I wasn’t sure if our relationship had been disrupted in some way. In his response, he let me know that everything was fine between us and that he had just been busy and didn’t intentionally leave me out. He also was clear that he did want me to be part of the mix. I felt happy and relieved; we both understood that both of us being present (the relationship) was an important element of the way the recording sounded.

Our messaging conversation continued, and we addressed “What needs to be done to repair the harms and make things right?” by agreeing together that I would be copied on future emails with the mixing engineer in order to keep everyone in the loop, and to also prevent me from having to check in with him about logistical details and take up more time and energy for both of us. Then we moved on to other topics.

This might seem like a rather benign example of conflict, not even getting close to what might be considered harmful. But let’s imagine if the same events had occurred, and I hadn’t taken that first step. I would have likely continued to wonder why I had been looped out. I may have even verbally processed it with some musician friends, since they would understand the musical particularities of the situation. Those friends would probably also know my colleague-friend, and it could cause them to form a negative opinion of him based on any number of generalisations that could come from the story. This, in turn, would impact their relationship with him in some way, and his reputation. The impact spreads through the community and compounds, and the interactions between he and I for the remainder of the project (and perhaps future projects) may have some strained element, which we know is intertwined with the musical experience.

In another scenario, I could have sent the initial message, and his reply could have been different, indicating he preferred to complete the mix without me. If that had happened, I may have progressed to steps two and three in a different way, because I’m motivated to repair harm. But if it had remained unresolved, or if I had been unable to take the risk to take step one, to move forward I may have had to focus on my own internal state towards my colleague-friend to prevent bitterness and alienation from building up inside me. One way to move forward in this way is through forgiveness, an internal process of self-liberation separate from the process of rebuilding trust in a relationship (and which I have discussed more in depth in this interview). 

From low-risk restorative conversations like this one to highly facilitated restorative processes related to crimes, restorative processes in music communities build on a set of assumptions that I have been making throughout this series: that we want to experience music in communities, that we have a drive to connect, and that we as humans have a vast desire and potential to be in good relationships, even and especially when we don’t agree. 

It may feel risky to tap into our desires to connect, to share power, and to attend to the needs of others. When we don’t, we may think we’re keeping ourselves safe, but ultimately it prevents us from attending to the needs of each individual in a community (including our own needs), and to the needs of the community as a whole. 

We all make mistakes, and we all harm others in the course of our lives to one extent or another. Bringing our own faults or the faults of others into the light of day may seem unthinkable, because in punitive, permissive, and neglectful environments, doing so always results in more harm being done to someone. If we can embrace our conflicts as an element of being together, and create restorative environments to bring them to light, we can build music communities full of individuals that are not in competition with one another, but that celebrate one another’s success and conspire together to make music spaces safe for everyone. In light of the powerful forces working to divide us today, shifting our perspectives in this direction is as urgent as it has ever been.


Read part I here 

Read part II here 

Read part III here


Dave Wilson is an interdisciplinary scholar, saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. He is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.


Ideas related to restorative processes in this post come from the work of Haley Farrar, a restorative practices specialist based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, and from her book The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools (with Lindsey Pointer and Kathleen McGoey). 

The title of this series is an adaptation of the title of the 2023 book On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyoneby Philip Ewell, which examines race-based exclusion and white supremacy in the field of music theory, one of the countless structural manifestations of the musical-relational problems highlighted in this series. Clifton Boyd and Jade Conlee provide a review of the book at Music Theory Online that also resonates with the themes of this series.

#BBD0E0 »