Sunday, 20 February 2011 09:30

Musica franca?

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„The Role of Music in Building the EU“ is a title that promises a lot.

Erna Hennicot-Schoepges’ lecture „The language of art and music“ doesn’t keep it. In fact the 69 year old pianist, educated in Brussels, Paris, Salzburg and Luxembourg, knows both sides: from 1999–2004 she was minister of culture, higher education, research and public works in Luxembourg, and then worked as a member of the European Parliament (2004-9). But in her speech the good and noble ideals suffer from insufficient and biased argumentation.

Yes! – music is a wonderful thing. Yes! - there is scientific proof that music, more directly than other forms of arts or communication, affects the brain’s emotional centre. Yes! - there have been studies in Berlin elementary schools suggesting a positive correlation between instrumental music education, intelligence and social competence. And of course one cannot appreciate enough a highly decorated (retired) politician vouching not only for better music education in general, but also for the delicate imparting of contemporary classical music. But does that really suffice to emphatically declare music is a language that all mankind understands, all mankind is unified by and that it is the language that a multilingual and fragmented EU can be built on?

It does not. First of all, music is not a language. Inherently it contains nothing to be understood in terms of a distinct message to be deciphered. It doesn’t make you smarter, as it teaches no information. Dealing with music may sensibilise your logic and senses and eventually even your personality a lot, which is probably one of its finest achievements. But even the best musical education or practice will not make possible to communicate statements through music such as: „it is raining today“, „would you be so kind as to please give me your mobile number“, or „do be a nice European and spread tolerance and peace in the world“.

That is not to say that music has no effect on people. It does, and Hennicot-Schoepges is right; but this effect depends not only on whether you listen to music or actively participate in it, whether one experiences a disco or in the philharmonics, in a lonely practising cell or within a multinational youth group partying every night after professionally rehearsing. Far more: even Hennicot-Schoepges admits that music has proven its ability to play an equally effective role in separating people, or unifying them in hatred and aggression.

However, Hennicot-Schoepges does have a good example of at least a part of Europe built actually through a musical project. Once a year the European Youth Orchestra (EUYO) brings together young musicians from all over Europe to rehearse and concert under world class conductors. Unquestioned that within this highly disciplined corpus a hundred-strong team of very different young people is passionately unified in the endeavour for a common artistic goal – partly literally without even speaking the same (linguistic) language. And unquestioned as well that within this equip thorough friendships and loves throughout Europe are tied.

To be in, every year thousands of young musicians from all over Europe travel to EUYO auditions in their respective countries, compete in the extreme, dog eat dog. Only a percentage of them is selected. The Role of Music in Building the EU – it really depends.


Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, courtesy of Jose Jimenez / smooth-photophraphy.com

Christian Diemer is reporting for E&M as one of about 60 selected international participants attending the academy "Arts as Cultural Diplomacy" at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in Berlin.

Last modified on Sunday, 20 February 2011 19:45
Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer, 28, is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine. 

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