Music For Social Change

Music changes our community life, our cities and our society. The Reeperbahn Festival provides a stage for people who drive this change forward – and discusses what artists and the music industry can contribute. With Shain Shapiro and Amadeus Templeton, who see music as crucial social bonding for communities. Or with Linnéa Svensson, who brought us a few tips about sustainable live events.

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Society as an orchestra

Text: Ariana Zustra, Photos: Roeler

Working with his company “Sound Diplomacy”, Shain Shapiro convinces cities that music is as vital as agriculture or health care. Amadeus Templeton, creator of the TONALi project, uses classical music to help school pupils help themselves. Both men are certain that music holds answers to the questions of our time. We met them at the Reeperbahn Festival.

Music is like water. It’s everywhere, it’s readily available – and if you believe Shain Shapiro, it’s vital to our survival. The founder of consultancy firm Sound Diplomacy likes to compare a place’s music culture to its power supply, schools or agriculture. Fundamental infrastructure for a society that protects jobs and solidarity, wellbeing and political stability.So far, his company has developed concepts to provide a stronger music culture to more than 60 cities and communities all over the world. At the Reeperbahn Festival, together with representatives of the United Nations and the music industry, he explored ways in which music can realise the goals of the UN’s sustainability strategy. “Music strategy” is his general term for what he does.

Sounds complicated – and it is: “Music isn’t just about the musicians who make it. It is linked to many jobs: lighting and audio engineering, labels, promotion and booking agencies, the hotel industry and catering, as well as the bus drivers who bring people to a concert,” says Shapiro. Add rehearsal rooms and concert halls, meeting places for musicians, audiences and people who look after this ecosystem.

A concert hall against the Mafia

This infrastructure is rarely visible, a little akin to the water pipes in the wall. However, says Shapiro, it has to be protected – like clean drinking water – so that a place’s music culture can develop. Because the philosophy PhD from Canada is concerned with more than jobs. Embedded in a city’s music culture is another resource desperately needed by today’s societies: meaning. Shapiro quotes statistics that show crime rates in urban districts starting to drop from the exact date when a concert hall opened. There are also prominent examples, such as that of Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, who went up against Mafia criminality in his city by building cultural centres.

The importance of this “social infrastructure” is also described by Harvard professor Erik Klinenberg in his book “Palaces for the People”. The sociologist argues that a society doesn’t maintain cohesion through shared values alone, but also through shared spaces. According to Shapiro’s thinking, rehearsal rooms or concert halls could be the places where social bonding takes place.

But what characteristics specifically predestine music for this role? And does music truly have the potential to solve the problems of our time – such as rising nationalism and social inequality?

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Shain Shapiro is a Canadian, a philosophy PhD – and a champion of musical infrastructure.
Sacred, deluxe or profane: music opens up spaces in the city. This time it’s the St. Pauli Church, the Heiligengeistfeld, the St. Michaelis Church, shipping containers and the cinema in the East Hotel.

For Amadeus Templeton, the answer is unequivocal: “Yes! After all, music is the only universal language that every person in this world understands”. The Hamburg cellist is the founder of TONALi, a non-profit sponsorship programme which introduces around 40,000 school pupils to classical music every year, with the help of young musicians. Not only throughout Germany, but in China, Russia and Greece as well.

Find your inner instrument

TONALi goes to places that are too hard for political and social welfare institutions to deal with: “educationally deprived social classes”, development institutions and alleged “problem schools” in cities like Berlin and Frankfurt and in the rural districts of Mecklenburg. “We particularly like to be at places where society has already given up, because despite all the clichés we find them extremely receptive,” says Templeton. After this educational programme, children who previously didn’t even know what a violin was become confident event organisers running concerts or entire festivals.

Adapting from Joseph Beuys’ motto of the “social sculpture”, Templeton refers to the “social symphony” as the supporting foundation for our society’s development. “In an orchestra, 100 people play together, and every individual has to know their instrument and draw music from it to make that work. You can also think of our society as an orchestra: if everyone finds and plays their inner instrument, they can help to shape society. We want to help adolescents to awaken this kind of capacity for initiative”. In this sense – Beuys again – to him, every human being is a musician.

While TONALi’s work tackles the grass roots, Shapiro’s organisation Sound Diplomacy operates more at the level of government and public administration. “We try to create an understanding of the value of music. To do that, we collect as much data as possible so that we can define and explain the value of music across economic development, tourism and society as a whole”.

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Amadeus Templeton is actually a cellist – in 2009, he founded the TONALi cultural project together with Boris Matchin.

“Music makes a city worth living in”

Take Huntsville in Alabama, for example. A city with a population close to 200,000, it’s better known for its NASA development centre than a flourishing music scene. And the last time Alabama showed up in the media, it was because of its strict laws prohibiting abortion. Yet these are exactly the kind of places that Shapiro wants to make into “Music Cities” – and in his opinion, every city is a Music City, “it just doesn’t know it yet”.

“Music makes a city worth living in. To invest in music is never to invest in music alone. But in people. Music is society”. In Huntsville, this means that an amphitheatre and two concert halls are being built, a new conference created, a position for a municipal music officer established. Shapiro would love to give every city this kind of success story. To go even further: he dreams of a global music strategy.

For that, however, a change of perspective is needed – not only in politics, but also in the music industry. You not only need to work out how much a gig or stream is worth, you also you to ask the following question: what is the value of music to society? If you believe pioneering thinkers like Shapiro and Templeton, music always pays – though not always in terms of profit or loss. It pays as a fundamental element of social community.

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How to green up a festival

Interview: Anne Kleinfeld, Photos: Roeler

Live events are getting more sustainable – and Linnéa Svensson knows how. Ten years ago she played a key role in turning Norway’s Oya festival into an eco-friendly flagship project. Today she spreads her knowledge, including for the NGO ‘A Greener Festival’. A talk about good ideas and necessary compromises.

Organisers, artists, audience: who incurs the most responsibility for the ecological impact of live events?

All of the involved groups need to be mindful of their actions and take some measures. I think the main facilitators here are the organisers. They can kind of frame the artists’ focus and the experience of the audience. Festivals are a bit more flexible than other events because they always reshape themselves and do something new. They can more easily test new products and push the demand the find other solutions.

You spoke at the Reeperbahn festival’s first panels back in 2009. What has changed since then?

Today, the environmental topic is a more natural part of the whole way of conducting festivals. We also have sustainability reporting schemes for big companies that we didn’t have back then. And I see many amazing initiatives around Europe. On the more practical side: on stages there has been a tremendous change with LED lights. So yes, really a lot has changed in those ten years.

Can you name your biggest achievements with Oya?
Well, the best thing was to eliminate diesel generators and go fully onto renewable grid power. But also the organic food programme which we introduced as early as 2002. We were able to buy locally, buy seasonal food and work with chefs from Oslo’s restaurants to make sure that the experience would be even better than normal. Today, that’s really become part of the festival’s DNA – it’s something I am very proud of, even though I haven’t worked there for nine years now.

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Linnéa Svensson discovered sustainability partly through her own childhood: she grew up on a farm.

With up to 130,000 guests, Roskilde is among Europe’s biggest festivals – is it true that they made beer out of visitors’ pee?
Roskilde has done a lot. For instance they collected the visitors’ pee and then made fertiliser out of it. It was put on the fields where they grew the grain for the beer. It’s all about storytelling, isn’t it? It’s a way to explain to people how to think in a circular way. They also use vacuum toilets – it reduces the need for water in a big way. 96 percent of their food is organically sourced and they achieved that within the last five years or so.

What could be the next game-changing technology for live events?

Actually, flying is our biggest footprint. It would be lovely if we had better fuels on planes. There are electric planes already and I know that bigger companies are testing with biofuel mixes. But if we don’t push for it, it won’t happen. In Helsingborg in Sweden, one concert hall stopped flying people in. And it doesn’t mean that now only the same people ever come. They are still international, but now visitors have to travel by train.

So right now, artists have to focus more on taking the green ride.

Many are already aware of this topic, but they don’t plan all of the details themselves – so it’s more about other parts of the music industry that actually have to find their role in this. Booking of course is absolutely a big area: I recently worked with Oslo-based Diamond League athletics. The athletes travel around the world to places where they have events. They made sure that the next event, in Stockholm, was in the same week and they could get there by train instead of flying in twice. And I think that a lot of possibilities lie in planning like that.

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“The worst thing we can do is nothing”: Linnéa Svensson at the Reeperbahn Festival.

Are there specific tips for festivals that are struggling with the change?

I think festivals can challenge the audience more. Because it’s your own event and you can decide. Like this festival in Gothenborg, where they decided not to serve any meat. Nobody will get sick from not having meat for one day. You can make choices – like what kind of vendors you have, what kind of food you serve. Use washable cups instead of plastic. Also eliminate disposable things like plates if possible. Maybe have a reward system for all of that, some festivals do that. And find better ways to solve the mobility issues. There are many new solutions.

What can festival visitors change?
Well, people leaving their tents and all of the camping gear on the fields, that’s still a huge issue. That’s why I suggest having more city-based festivals. You have the logistics there, you have the travel solutions there. But that’s still a different experience. So it’s all about that fine balance of enhancing experiences but still being mindful of the footsteps that we leave.

Is there anything you’d like to say to people who engage in environmental topics?

None of us are perfect. But even if not everything works out: do what you can. This year, my ten-year-old son decided that we could not go on holiday by plane. He was very strict about that. For him it’s not even a question. I don’t think it’s something I actually taught him, it’s just something he really relates to on his own.

Which certainly can be related to Greta in some way, right?

Yes, definitely. I think Greta really has enabled a lot of people. She is very clear on this and she makes it all accessible through her updates on social media. It’s very impressive. She made it easy for people to get involved, she gave everybody a role in this. And I think sometimes, when we don’t have a role, it can make us apathetic. Then we just do nothing. And that’s the worst thing we can do, right?

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