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Special Feature 3/2018 Editorial: Unisons and adventurous harmonies

In this Special Feature FMQ takes a look at the fascinating network of relationships between music, community and identity. We discuss the role of music in building communities on the one hand and specialised, music-based communities on the other.

Through the ages, music has served as a means for raising the spirits of communities of all kinds of shapes and sizes. A carefully selected and limited musical repertoire can foster and bolster a sense of belonging among a group of people, enshrining their goals or ideology, and transforming individuals into community members. As examples of how music strengthens and shapes collective identities, we introduce the musical traditions of the Swedish-speaking Finns and the musical activities of Finnish immigrants in the USA.

‘Music meets community’ is also the subtext in numerous modern art-based community projects created with the input of local residents and institutions. In February 2018, The Guardian explored the question of why Finland, a tiny country in the far north, tops nearly every global social ranking. The newspaper pointed among other things to the concept of talkoot, a volunteer effort with friends and neighbours pitching in, “working together, collectively, for a specific good”. This concept can be applied to any kind of activity; in Finland today, even operas are being produced in collective volunteer projects.

In modern society, a specific musical style or scene may foster a community all its own. Membership in such a community is always by the individual’s own choice, the determination to define part of one’s identity collectively, in the company of like-minded enthusiasts. Music-based communities today are both local and global, functioning face to face or over the Internet.

And we cannot have a discussion on communal music-making in Finland without mentioning Näppärit. The Näppäri movement is a method and a music education forum that enables everyone to participate and experiment as well as experience the joy of making music in a group. So in this community of folk musicians of all ages and from all backgrounds, everyone is a performer!


In our increasingly multicultural age, music has a special potential and power for bringing people together. But the flip side of this is that certain kinds of ‘communal’ music choices, while bonding a certain group of people, may decisively or even hostilely exclude certain other people or segregate communities from one another. This is not merely an issue of clashes between cultures but also of diversity within communities: not all African-American boys necessarily identify with hip-hop culture, and not all European composers of art music swear by the canon of the history of Western music.

Therefore, within each community there should be a creative space, where representatives of different musical cultures can meet, and freely and safely negotiate the musical traditions and explore them. (See also the research projects on music and multiculturalism of Nathan Riki Thomson, Katja Thomson, and Vesa Kurkela and Antti-Ville Kärjä.) In such a creative space, all traditions are treated equal and can be equally subjected to new influences, interpretations and queries. In the best case – indeed, in most cases – this leads to unisons being augmented with exciting harmonies, giving birth to something completely new.

Special Feature 3/2018: Music, community and identity

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: World in Motion Now! workshop at the Cultural Centre Caisa, Helsinki, organised by the Global Music program of the Sibelius Academy. Photo: Cultural Centre Caisa