A tech-supported ‘music for development’ proposal

It could be proposed forming a culturally diverse and decentralized orchestra drawn from several refugee institutions and a variety of European societies (e.g., Germany as well as Austria). The project shall nurture common values between refugee’ and European countries; a fusion of classical music with the sounds, rhythms, and instruments typical to the participating countries.

It shall seek to utilize tools provided by online educational platforms, allowing a participatory approach to mastery learning and exchange. Further, videoconferencing, social media, and virtual one-to-one mentoring shall be facilitated, bridging geographical distances and allowing for reciprocal tutoring.

It could be suggested to explore various alternative solutions for an online platform; always in close collaboration with the ‘user’ and in consideration of the implementation environment. Learning Management Systems (LMS), which are common in online learning appear inappropriate. They lack interactivity as they do not support content creation.

We believe a mixture of an educational social networking application and two-way audio/video is most appropriate. Edmodo, for instance, is free of charge and supports low-bandwidth communications. Thus, mentors and mentees can carry on synchronous (real-time or live) and asynchronous (delayed) conversations without the need for a strong connection.

Additionally, the Edmodo app allows the use of smartphones (which are more common in the refugee population than computers) and/or access the course via their phones. Finally, it is easy to use, due to its familiarity to Facebook, and can serve as an online classroom.

It shall be argued that celebrating diversity is a pathway to peace: understanding that cultural variety is a building block of strong societies. The arts are a pivotal part to cultivate the human behaviour of celebration, where differences are overcome and conflict (mostly) appears extinguished.

Rationale and theory of change for utilizing technology

According to Benjamin Bloom’s research finding, dating back to 1984, students that receive a combination of both, one-to-one mentorship and mastery learning, perform two standard deviations (i.e. sigma) better than students within a conventional classroom setting. Mastering one task before moving on to the next appears particularly important when it comes to musical education, as it is a tutoring process. However, physical distance between mentors and mentees as well as constraints of time makes offering both difficult. Something, that is specifically true in a setting where cultural diversity shall be promoted.

We believe that technological advancements in online mentorship and distance learning can overcome such teething troubles. Remote videoconferencing creates liquidity in a mentor-mentee environment. Constrains of the geographical location are lifted and matching the right person from a pool of mentors, to the appropriate task and mentee much easier. Even further, progress can be monitored in real-time as every aspect of the educational experience is quantitative by default in an online program. Various tools, ranging from scheduling, over messaging, to tracking, can be added as well.

The project is more about intercultural education than music. It stretches, hence, much beyond curricula and teaching standards. It shall be a holistic approach and technology can offer the backbone to an innovative and participatory learning environment.

Each participant shall be encouraged and enabled to leave her/his footprint on the final musical product. Though diversity also means that language could become an issue, technology can overcome such barriers and as music is a form of communication in itself, we do not see this as a major deal breaker.

Finally, we would like to note that the project seeks to provide the equipment needed: most importantly, instruments, which can be rented or sponsored, and a video camera with a high quality microphone and smartphones.

Analogies to existing concepts

Social cohesion and communal pride is based on a common identity. However, a group’s values are not solely based on heritage; they are formed over time in a complex web of and through the emergence of subcultures.

Reflecting on, for instance, other integrative movements, it can be argued that there seem to have developed an identity crisis among members of such ‘social movements’, oftentimes prevailing due to a missing set of common values that hinder the formation of powerful coalitions to advocate for a common cause.

In search of a support ‘tool’, to facilitate the formation of a common and mutually beneficial identity, we might came across the sport for development paradigm. In Germany sport is part of culture, so are the arts, both, rightfully so, as they can and should be utilized to mitigate the negative impacts of the so called ‘identity politics’; the definition of one’s individuality by attaching socially derived variables (e.g., skin colour).

The current refugee influx has put Europe in the spotlight to showcase what integration means. We believe that the performing arts can serve as an even better platform to promote that we are all united in one concept: we are all human beings – than sports. Such concept in itself and the mere fact that the arts have mass as well as media appeal, will ease the process of linking up to ongoing processes and existing stakeholders.

Stakeholder interaction and integration

The main stakeholders are the refugees themselves as well as the participating European societies at large. All of which might partake in the initiative in any form – as mentees, mentors, or just listeners. Consequently, we need to establish governmental, corporate, and civic society support to be financially sustainable and gain legitimacy from design throughout implementation.

Therefore, we propose a social entrepreneurial business model that allows for cross-sector partnerships. We seek to utilize resources and capabilities of for-profit entities for this non-profit cause. For instance, we could engage music instrument dealerships, such as Thomann, who might have a vested interest to sponsor instruments and likewise set an example for good corporate citizenship. Similarly, technology companies could provide network access and communication devices.

Though, corporate engagements might first and foremost solely be financially valuable, they can also be a resource for technical expertise and human resources, enabled through corporate voluntarism. Generally, appealing to local and international acting businesses would be a massive supportive factor for all stakeholders (e.g., a platform to employment for refugees, a volunteer pool for refugee centres, etc.).

Blue prints and role models

On the one side, Daniel Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra can be understood as role model for the suggested project. The Seville based youth orchestra consists of musicians from countries in the Middle East with various background. On the other side, Mr de Courson’s and Mr Maghrebyand’s album ‘Mozart in Egypt’ (1997), represents a fusion of Mozart’s work with the sounds typical of contemporary Egyptian music. As such, it is a blueprint for the project’s suggested methodology to integrate various cultural sounds into one symphony.

Additionally, the Berliner Philharmoniker, for instance, has launched an educational initiative that aims, ‘to give young people and students around the world access to Classical music – regardless of social background.’ Therewith, 500 schools and universities per year are provided with access to a virtual concert hall, featuring masterpieces of music history.

Another example can be found looking at Torsten Schreiber’s and Andreas Loesch’s initiative. They recently awarded Syrian refugee and pianist Aeham Ahmad with the newly created international prize in memories of Beethoven for human rights, peace, freedom, poverty reduction, and inclusion.

Main results

The main result is two-fold: firstly, a technical prototype that enables virtual, reciprocal musical mentorship and a social media educational platform for mastery distance learning; secondly, a piloting group of culturally diverse mentors as well as mentees, who begin utilizing the tool in a test environment. The project shall follow a Design Thinking approach, which is a human centred methodology for user-friendly implementations. We want to involve the ‘user’ from the very beginning and throughout.

A potential project should, however, start with building capacity. This means, reaching out to various refugee institutions in Europe to screen the pool of potential participants and evaluate the feasibility of the project itself. It could be suggested to at least have chosen three institutions and up to 20 refugees from at least two different countries within the first three months. Simultaneously various freeware applications shall be tested with support of music students to understand their perks and weaknesses, particularly performance related.

In collaboration with the then established pool of refugees, blogging their stories on social media would be useful. The aim is to attract further sponsorship from corporations, governmental institutions, and civil society. The latter group shall be engaged through crowdfunding, utilizing platforms like musik-bewegt.de, which will also be an opportunity to establish a renowned ambassador for the project.

Half way through the first year, equipping a room in each of the facilities chosen with video cameras and high end microphones. Also, delivering the smartphones and establishing the internet connection if not yet available at the locations. Throughout the remaining six months, live testing the mentoring tool and social media education platform directly with the users seems to be appropriate. Thus, also composing the first elements of the ‘to be’ established symphony.

The business case

Can cultural investments quantitatively and qualitatively be measured?

Firstly, I would like to suggest that the arts possess the power to ease the socialization process into a culture. Like it is the case with getting into sports – mainly through one’s peers and family members – do people get tuned into music through meaningful relationships and over time. Thus, we could argue that the quality of cultural investments can be measured by:

  • improvement of social ties,
  • integration of sub cultures,
  • diversity of relationships, and
  • quality of life.

Secondly, if we were to argue that cultural investments improve the ‘feel good factor’ of a city or region – as it appears to be evident from the example of Vienna being a cultural hub and having been ranked first for eight consecutive years by the Mercer Quality of Living Survey – we could consider the arts as a tool to improve social as well as human capital. Though debates about how to quantify those variables are ongoing, there is enough research that suggests it’s viable. Particularly, as it offers a more genuine guidance for policy makers than mere GDP growth rates. For instance,

  • innovative potential,
  • happiness indexes,
  • demographical changes,
  • integration of subcultures,
  • inclusion of marginalized groups, etc.

If we then assert that cultural investments have a significantly positive influence on those indicators, we can start a discussion addressing the benefits of an arts for development (and peace) paradigm, in parallel to the sport for development and peace (SDP) movement that the U.N. had kicked off in 2005. Since sports have been widely used in support of all previously stipulated Millennium as well as current Sustainable Development Goals. Though, it should be critically debated and assessed if such an ‘one size fits all assumption’ is utopian or not.

I would like to argue that particularly music is less biased and ambiguous, carrying fewer negative connotations (e.g., doping, max fixings, etc.), in comparison to sport. Also, taken in consideration the ethical dilemma of a ‘winner takes it all’ ideology most sports are based on. Though, some researchers have argued for a mutual quest for excellence (e.g., Simon 2004), meaning that being second does not have to imply losing it all, I believe music, and the arts more in general, are better equipped to develop such a moral compass.