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Becoming CreativeInsights from Musicians in a Diverse World$

Juniper Hill

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199365173

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199365173.001.0001

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Accessing the Opportunity, Permission, and Authority to Become Creative

Accessing the Opportunity, Permission, and Authority to Become Creative

(p.117) 4 Accessing the Opportunity, Permission, and Authority to Become Creative
Becoming Creative

Juniper Hill

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how and why individuals are granted or denied access to opportunities, permission, and authority to develop and to work as creative music makers. Musicians’ access to these enablers is affected by numerous power dynamics within their communities and societies. Learning opportunities are restricted by social inequalities at multiple levels. Systematic racial and economic oppression stemming from apartheid, colonialism, and neoliberalism leads to unequal access to resources. Gatekeepers, educators, and learners themselves can internalize prejudices and perceptions about limited potential. Professional opportunities are influenced by commercial pressures and by socialist and neoliberal governmental policies. Musical communities further allow or prohibit certain styles and practices according to their moral values, ethnocultural identities, and political agendas. Communities may also grant or deny degrees of creative authority to individuals according to their social status. The chapter discusses strategies for addressing internalized mores, the policing of idiomatic boundaries, and prejudice in assessment and curriculum.

Keywords:   creativity, racism, sexism, classism, apartheid, moral values, curriculum, education, state funding, music industry

In addition to developing the skills and mindsets discussed in the previous two chapters, a third crucial set of criteria for enabling creativity includes accessing the opportunity, permission, and authority to develop and work as a creative music maker. This chapter scrutinizes how musicians’ access to these enablers has been affected by multiple power dynamics within their communities and societies. I focus first on how social inequalities restrict learning opportunities, second on how economic pressures restrict professional opportunities, and finally on how value systems and group identity restrict what types of people are granted the permission and authority to be creative.

Opportunities and Barriers in Creative Development: Social Inequalities

In general creativity studies, research has consistently shown that there are no innate differences in creative abilities attributable to sex, race, or social class (see, e.g., Baer and Kaufman 2008; Moreno and Hogan 1976). Inequalities in one’s social environment, however, can play a large role in enabling or restricting opportunities for creative development. Musicians in this study have faced a broad spectrum of (p.118) social inequalities. Numerous interviewees narrated the impacts of unequal access to education; lack of resources; economic pressures; poverty; sexism; homophobia; racism; xenophobia; segregation; and the legacies of apartheid, colonialism, and slavery, as well as social trauma related to violence, gangs, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. In many cases such social inequalities are interwoven; lack of access to formal music education is often related to class inequalities, which are exacerbated by ethnic hierarchy structures—a “matrix of domination” in the words of black feminist Patricia Hill Collins (1990). In other cases a musician may be privileged in regard to educational opportunities and ethnicity but disadvantaged in other social factors, such as gender identity or status as an outsider to a tradition.

Despite the diversity of experiences of social injustice, I found the mechanisms through which these social problems affected individual creativity to be similar. Inequalities related to ethnicity, class, and gender restrict creativity in two primary ways. On the psychological level, the internalization of negative stereotypes and social messages can lead to unwarrantedly low perceptions of one’s potential and decreased self-confidence, motivation, and agency. This can inhibit individuals from seeking out and pursuing opportunities to develop creative skills and practice creative activities. On the material level, systematic oppression can limit access to resources and opportunities, especially for learning and developing. This is most pronounced when racialized disparities in distribution of wealth lead to unequal access to formal education and other institutional resources.

Prejudice and Internalized Perceptions of Limited Potential

“You are coloured” was the message. “You are a whole range of terrible adjectives because you are.” (Adriaan Brand)

It is still embedded in some other peoples’ minds that black people can’t really do university and all of that. (Sibusiso Njeza)

Negative stereotypes and prejudices are often internalized, leading to a negative perception of self—a process referred to as false consciousness by cultural theorists and as implicit social cognition by psychologists (Hill Collins 1990; Jost and Banaji 1994; Nosek et al. 2012). The narratives below reveal how this internalization can lead to a limited sense of potential, lowered self-esteem, decreased motivation, lack of agency, and self-censorship, all of which can hinder creative development.

Many of the music educators and program directors quoted in this section grew up in the same communities as the learners with whom they work, so their insights represent not only their observations of their students but also their shared personal experiences in systematically disadvantaged communities. John Davids teaches (p.119) learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in the music foundation program at the University of Cape Town (UCT) as well as in ComArts, the music and culture program that he and his wife founded in their community, the township of Elsies River. He has found that lack of confidence and motivation

is a huge, huge problem, particularly amongst the younger males. They feel that they’re not good enough. It’s this cycle that you find. It’s almost as if they go on the periphery of society. They become peripheral. . . . So our biggest challenge working in communities is that we need to build confidence in people, making them believe in themselves. [Because of] apartheid and the whole years and years of neglect and being disadvantaged through the colonial times . . . for years people of colour in this country and in colonized countries have lost their confidence, their self-image, their belief of self. . . . You’re never good enough to be there. Always pushed [to the periphery]. And it’s still [like that] in South Africa. . . . We still have to deal with this on a daily basis, that you always have to prove yourself to be good enough. . . . It affects the kids a lot because they’re always on the sidelines and they know . . . it’s very, very, very unequal. Now that makes them feel.

Lack of self-belief and its corresponding adverse effects on motivation are a strongly felt legacy of systematic racial oppression. They also arise from gender inequality. The following narrative of a female musician from Helsinki reveals how lack of role models with whom individuals can personally identify can lead to a sense of limited future potential, even in one of the most gender egalitarian countries in the world. Lotta is a white classical musician, and although she is well-established in her performing career and teaches at a prestigious conservatory, she reflects sadly:

Lotta: One thing that I regret is that I didn’t start to compose. That was something that I never thought that I could do. And now when I look back I think I might have.


  • Why did you think you couldn’t compose, or why didn’t you compose?
  • L:

  • Because I’m a girl, probably. Didn’t enter my mind.
  • J:

  • You didn’t know anyone who composed?
  • L:

  • Yes, I did, but they were all men . . . .
  • J:

  • You couldn’t relate to them?
  • L:

  • No, no. Maybe I thought composing is something that some people do and the rest of us just don’t. It’s not something that you could learn.
  • J:

  • It’s just a talent that you’re born with?
  • L:

  • Maybe. I might have been born with it.
  • (p.120) The prominence of role models belonging to a certain social identity and demographic, combined with implicit social messages, can lead individuals to conclude that certain types of people have the potential and the permission to be creative while others do not. It is not a coincidence that the example provided in chapter 3 of the positive influence of role models was drawn from the narrative of a white European male. In many cases a lack of exposure to diverse creative, educational, and career pathways exacerbates a lack of awareness of possibilities and opportunities. It never occurred to some of the female musicians with whom I spoke that they could compose; it also never occurred to some of the lower class township youths in my study that they could pursue advanced training in music at a university. These self-limiting perceptions can adversely affect motivation to develop creativity-enabling skills and to engage in creative activities.

    Perceptions of limited potential are often compounded by a sense of not belonging in certain cultural spaces. In South Africa, although the legal barriers of apartheid no longer exist, many of the social barriers remain embedded. Marlene Le Roux, the director of the outreach program of the Artscape Theatre Centre, which houses Cape Town’s symphony, opera, and ballet, explains how she experienced explicit barriers when she was growing up:

    Because we come from the harsh background of apartheid, this particular building [Artscape Theatre Centre] was only for white people. . . . I come from a [coloured] community where I grew up where music was vital, because I come from the coon carnivals, the Christmas bands, so we grew up with music but apartheid didn’t give us access to the stages. . . . [I] was a music student, but I needed to have a permit to come here. And because I was a political activist, I fought this place bitterly. Now how do you bring people together in the space that has been seen in particular as for white people?

    These social boundaries continue to be transmitted to the younger generation. Henrietta Weber is the director of the music program at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the university that was officially designated for coloured students under apartheid. She has been involved in extensive work with township youth, trying to encourage teenage musicians to surmount these barriers:

    These kids live in the township and there’s nothing that tells them there’s more than this little township I live in. So even starting with the field band [I directed] . . . I could see that the [students] needed instrumental tuition which the field band doesn’t give but that they could have at the CPO [Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, located at Artscape]. . . . I said to these guys, (p.121) “listen . . . there’s the driver, there’s the car, get in, come to Artscape.” The first Saturday went by; there was this excuse and that excuse. I said “okay, fine. Here’s the car, here’s the driver. I’ll see you next week.” Nothing. So the following week I took the car, I drove through to Stellenbosch, and I said “get in” and I basically took them by the hand. Because even in their mindset, they grew up after apartheid, not actually knowing what this whole thing was about, but it’s a word that they know. And Nico Malan [which was renamed Artscape in the new South Africa] was this apartheid that we could never go in to. When I was matric [in high school], I had to go with somebody else because coloureds were not allowed in the Nico Malan. And somehow, that is still stuck. Because the parents told them “maar djy kan nie,” “you can’t go to that place” . . . and that would stick in the kids’ head[s].

    In addition to feeling that they do not belong in the city’s central arts spaces, Weber explains,

    Township kids don’t believe [in themselves]. They’re always spoken down to, told that “you’re not good enough.” . . . Everybody knows that UWC is here. How many of those kids believe that “I can be a UWC student”? . . . That “I can do more than just finish matric [high school] and go be a street sweeper or work in a factory, that there’re other opportunities”? Just self-belief. It starts there. Confidence that “I can do this.”

    The internalization of both historical social barriers and contemporary negative images thus discourages young musicians from pursuing valuable learning opportunities.

    Also linked to the history of systematic oppression under colonialism and apartheid is a lack of sense of agency, or an individual’s perception of her ability to act and realize her own choices. The following narratives from the Music van de Caab program at the Solms-Delta wine farm outside of Cape Town illustrate the farmworkers’ limited sense of agency. Mark Solms, who is the music program sponsor, farm owner, and also a professor of psychology at UCT, relates his perspective:

    When I returned to South Africa [after apartheid], I literally inherited a farm with people that live on it. It’s as if the people come with the farm, as if they’re part of the property. And with the history of slavery and everything, that has a very particular resonance. And I don’t just mean in an intellectual way. This is what I very quickly discovered when I sat down with the farm workers and tried to work out how can we transform this place. I just sort (p.122) of said to them naively, “despite appearances—and I’m not your usual boer [white Afrikaans farmer]—I want us to do this, to farm this place differently. You tell me how you think we might go about doing it.” It was just impossible. It was impossible to have such a conversation because of that history that I’m talking about. People are scared of the farm owner. People don’t trust the farm owner. People are in awe of the farm owner. People don’t believe that they have a right to express an opinion. They also don’t believe that they have any influence over the future. And in fact, as we learned as we delved into the history [of this farm], it’s understandable that if you’re a slave—and you must remember that the people working on this farm are the direct descendants of those slaves, and that’s nearly 200 years of slavery—it develops a kind of family culture, a community culture which centrally includes the idea that it’s dangerous to think that you plan your future. Because the only future that you might be planning is one that doesn’t fit with what your owner has in mind for you. So the mindset is that “future happens to us. We suffer the future. You decide our future. What are you talking about, ‘what do we think?’ ”. . . With that is skepticism as to “what’s this guy really on about? We know your type. We’ve suffered your lot for 350 years.” But also I think things that go under the heading of depression and despondency and despair, a lack of belief for any kind of better future. . . . I really felt stymied by it. It was like, here collapses my naïve dream of coming back to South Africa and contributing to its reconstruction and development; I can’t even talk to the farm workers on my own farm about a little project to transform one farm.

    It is revealing that Solms, as a psychologist, recognizes symptoms of depression related to a sense of having little or no agency in one’s life plans and work that have been caused by the social, cultural, and ideological legacies of slavery and apartheid.1

    Self-images of limited ability and confidence carry over from life into music making, as evidenced in some of the interviews with participants in the Music van de Caab program at Solms-Delta. For example, singer Susanna Malgas describes how in the beginning of the music program one of the instructors, Nick Turner, asked them:

    “Why don’t you start making up your own songs?”

    So we said, “look, we can’t.”

    So [Nick] said, “yes, you can make your songs.”

    So we said, “but from where must we start and where must we begin to write the song?”. . . You know sometimes we are a bit shy. You want to write but you are shy . . . What will the people say?

    (p.123) When Malgas says “we” she is referring to members of her ensemble in the farm’s music program. Many of these adults have substantial vernacular music performance experience and opportunities to be creative in group settings, such as collectively improvising harmonies when singing hymns in church. This narrative reveals that at least some of them have a desire to express their individual creativity through composition but perceive themselves as lacking the ability or knowledge to do so, and that there is a sense of insecurity regarding how others might judge them and their ideas. Later in the interview, Malgas observed that through the program “you become a better person” and moreover “people see you as a better person” (see chapter 5). This increased self-image reveals a previous perception of self that was significantly less favorable. There was also a perception that others viewed her and her colleagues as somehow Other or less than human. I ended the interview by asking, “What are some of the things that you want people in other countries to know about you?” Malgas responded, “just to say that we are normal people.”

    The legacies of racially and economically oppressive regimes such as apartheid and colonialism can also stifle creativity in less direct ways. Therapists from MusicWorks (formerly the Music Therapy Community Clinic) in Cape Town often work with clients who have been traumatized by social conditions in some of the poorest townships, which include pandemic unemployment, overcrowding, substance abuse, gang violence, illness (particularly HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis), imprisonment, and broken homes. As Le Roux reflects, “our country has moved a lot. We have achieved a lot. But we didn’t achieve a lot in our township[s]. . . . You only experience the new South Africa if you have money.” Music therapist Karyn Stuart explains how the poverty and social trauma experienced by many in the townships can sometimes inhibit creative expression:

    A lot of kids who’ve undergone some trauma . . . are inhibited in a way. . . . They’re not vocal, they feel like they can’t be heard. No one’s there to listen. . . . Creativity is squelched. Playfulness is squelched. . . . There’s a fear, there’s a distrust that what I say or express will not be heard and not be met and not be validated and be laughed at, or will be shut down, and will not be accepted.

    Thus far I have discussed how systems of oppression and social inequalities can lead to psychological inhibitors of creative development. However, a few interviewees reported being motivated to work harder to prove themselves:

    I lived on the street. That is reality. I might look like high-to-do; I’m not, you know. It’s your determination and your fear of being down there, being knocked down and you stay down. No, you have the power within you to get up and walk tall and think positive. (Pat) (p.124)

    You got guts. You have no fear going on that stage. You got passion because you can’t believe you’re going on that stage and going to compete. . . . [You] know against all odds, “I must prove myself here.” Tremendous determination. (Marlene Le Roux)

    Despite these examples of positive side effects, my research indicates that the popular myth that suffering and hardship foster creativity is false. In some cases, intense emotion and experience may stimulate or inspire creative expressions (see Hill 2012), and oppressive conditions may lead to the innovation of new styles (such as gumboots dancing in South African mines and isicathamiya in migrant hostels; see Muller [2008] and Erlmann [1995], respectively). However, none of the musicians in this study reported the experience of social inequalities and injustice as enhancing their personal creativity; rather, the psychological costs and limiting of material opportunities posed hurdles, often significant ones, which they had to struggle to overcome.

    Economic Inequalities in Music Learning

    Not having an instrument. That’s poverty. Not having a space to practice. You must take your instrument into a shack. That I see every single day. Living on top of each other. You won’t—you can’t practice. . . . You can’t be creative if you don’t have a space. (Marlene Le Roux)

    Several educators and outreach program directors described how lack of physical resources such as instruments, music books, and space limited learners’ ability to develop creativity-enabling skills. However, the most deeply felt inequality expressed by interviewees was having had an inferior or inadequate music education. Sipho, a Capetonian musician, reflected bitterly:

    I never had formal music training. . . . I really loved music, but unfortunately in our schools in South Africa, especially in those rural areas where I grew up, there is no use for music as a subject. We only sing in school choirs, just to go to competitions and then from there there’s nothing else to do. . . . Because it wasn’t there in our schools, nobody really cared for it [i.e., valued it]—which is still the case. . . . Nobody [in my community] really thinks music is a career. . . . I met along the way things that really pulled me down. . . . I decided, because I really fell in love with music, to do music at university. . . . I met with [a music professor] and she said to me (p.125) I qualify but the problem is that everything at university is in staff notation and I couldn’t read staff notation.

    In South Africa the government does not provide funding for specialist music teachers in public schools (with the exception of a few arts “focus” schools).2 School music programs are often funded by the individual school’s governing body or by the parents. The situation that I observed in the Cape Town area is that formal music programs are available for pupils attending schools in wealthy neighborhoods, while many schools in the townships and rural areas may have no music program other than an after-school choir. Several interviewees pointed out that choirs were often the only option for schools that had no resources for purchasing instruments.

    Access to formal music education is thus a class issue, and because wealth is unequally distributed among ethnic groups, both locally and globally, it is also a race issue and a postcolonial issue. As a secondary school choral conductor from the township of Gugulethu observes, “it then retains the ugly thing of the past where black students generally do not gain access in terms of furthering their studies in music” (Phumi Tsewu). The racialized economic inequalities of postapartheid South Africa—which the new government’s neoliberal policies have failed to alleviate—perpetuate many of the racial inequalities of the apartheid and colonial eras (see table 4.1). Reflecting on her experience growing up during apartheid, a jazz musician bitterly states, “I wasn’t trained at school, okay. . . . Just because of who I was, I didn’t qualify to pursue my music” (Pat). Musicology professor Christine Lucia expresses frustration regarding the continuing limitation of opportunities:

    All the ills of access to apartheid South African music education are still here in post-apartheid South Africa. . . . The irony of South Africa’s enormous lip service to music and our culture is just not matched by delivery from most of the institutions and people in power who are able—but not willing or capable—of matching it with good funding and good programs. Another shocking failure of service delivery in post-apartheid South Africa.3 (personal communication to author, 2013)

    Table 4.1 Indicators of Racialized Economic Inequality in Cape Town

    Ethnic category


    Education: Adults completed grade 12 or above


    Monthly household income below zar 1601 (Usd 102)

    Housed in informal dwelling/shack

    No piped water inside dwelling

    Black African



































    Total Population







    Source: 2011 Census—Cape Town Profile (December 2012). Compiled by Strategic Development Information and GIS Department, City of Cape Town, using 2011 Census data supplied by Statistics South Africa. http://www.capetown.gov.za/Family%20and%20home/education-and-research-materials/data-statistics-and-research/cape-town-census (accessed February 25, 2016). Exchange rate from xe.com (accessed February 25, 2016).

    Unequal access to formal music education at the primary and secondary school levels can have a number of tangible consequences. As Sipho experienced, it can make entry into a university music program difficult or unattainable. Some university/conservatory admissions policies allow greater access to informally educated applicants by not requiring formal certificates, knowledge of music theory, or staff (p.126) notation skills. However, even in these special cases, not having a background in formal music education can lead to difficulties during one’s studies. A music educator from a black township reflects that even in programs that accept prospective students with informal learning backgrounds, “along the way the handicap that you have would still be permeating through and show its ugly face, because you would still be lagging behind everybody else” (Mbulelo).

    The University of Cape Town provides a bridge or foundation year in all subjects, including music, to help incoming students from disadvantaged educational backgrounds. Nevertheless, many students still struggle after completing the foundation year—a system-wide challenge with which the university community is contending. John Davids, who teaches the foundation program in music, laments that the unequal situation is being perpetuated. He explains:

    Our students of colour who finish here, they cannot go and teach [in their own communities]. Then who’s going to pay them? There’s no money for it, because the government does not have a music post at those schools. So you can see it’s a vicious circle. Where they go is actually to the privileged schools. Sad, but that’s what we’re training kids for, to go to privileged schools, and the cycle doesn’t stop. So we extract from the poor but we never give back.

    (p.127) Formal training in music is of course not the only route to becoming a highly skilled and creative musician. Indeed, several interviewees doubted whether it was the best route at all, with one Angeleno jazz musician and university professor going so far as to say that formal education programs in jazz are “detrimental” (Daniel). The canons of jazz, folk, and even classical music are filled with legendary musicians who never attended conservatory, including those who created their music long before the establishment of conservatory programs. Nevertheless, formal education can provide many tangible and intangible benefits, including professional networks, legitimization, and validation, in addition to knowledge and skill development. Legitimation can be invaluable for receiving the social permission and support to pursue creative endeavors. As one Helsinkian musician observed, “It’s really really hard to establish a career in composing classical music in Finland unless you have graduated from or at least studied at the Sibelius Academy” (Markku Luolajan-Mikkola). Furthermore, the validation of having had university-level training in music can be extremely important for an individual musician’s sense of self-worth, at least in the context of these contemporary societies.

    Access to informal learning opportunities is also unequal, though less dependent on class status and more on one’s family background and community resources. I asked Nceba Gongxeka, a specialist in Xhosa traditional music and pan-African neotraditional music: “If somebody like your son wants to learn traditional music, what are the opportunities he has for learning if he doesn’t have a father who is a traditional musician?” He responded:

    Chances will be, I would say, 50-50 or 40-60, because sometimes you find in an area where you live there are no people that you know or the resources center, the cultural center, they are not very close to you. So if you’ve got people who are very close or there is a cultural center very close to you, we can make use of it. But if not, chances are very slim for him. Even though you sometimes see a group on TV and you say, wow, you have to do that one day, without the knowledge and the right channel to go about it, it’s going to be impossible.

    Children from the townships are not the only ones to suffer from lack of access to informal learning opportunities. Many musicians who were from families, communities, or societies wealthy enough to have had access to formal music education struggled with significantly underdeveloped creativity-enabling skill sets—particularly aural skills, memory facility and vocabulary, and ability to apply music theory in practice (as detailed in chapter 2)—because they did not have ready access to the types of informal learning that occur in orally transmitted and participatory (p.128) family and community music making. Despite their having economic wealth, this may be seen as cultural poverty.

    To continue with the story of Sipho, a black musician from the Eastern Cape who wanted to study music at university but did not know how to read staff notation, he was very lucky. He found a professor who was willing to tutor him privately and voluntarily in notation and theory, which enabled him to do well in a university music program. Despite Sipho’s eventual success as a conductor and composer, I was impressed in our interview by the strong sense of resentment and bitterness he still felt at having missed out on formal training in his school days. He was not the only one. A number of the musicians I spoke with felt a sense of inferiority or inadequacy for not having received what they considered to be adequate formal training. This perception of inadequacy is the consequence not of absolute poverty, but rather of relative poverty, in which certain members of society are denied access to privileges that others in the same society enjoy (see Harrison 2013).

    Lowered self-esteem related to lack of formal training was not only an issue in Cape Town. In Los Angeles I contacted a well-respected and successful professional musician to ask for an interview, and he said he was happy to speak to me about his creative experiences, but he didn’t know if he qualified because he had never studied music at school (Martin). Many public schools in California have limited or no funding for music programs, and some conservatory programs can be prohibitively expensive. In Finland, however, where general music classes are part of the comprehensive school curriculum, the state subsidizes a system of public extracurricular music schools, and tertiary education programs are free for degree-seeking students, I heard no complaints about not having access to formal training from those living in urban areas (access can however be more difficult for learners in rural Finland).

    Numerous Helsinkian musicians nevertheless complained about the formal education they received (as detailed in chapter 2). Indeed, it was almost ironic to hear so many musicians from all three countries complaining about all the ways that formal music education inhibited their creativity and then to hear other musicians expressing inadequacy or inferiority for not having been through those same programs. I wanted to exclaim to those informally educated musicians, “You don’t realize the tremendous worth of the community-based and self-directed learning experiences you’ve had. You don’t realize that in many ways these are more valuable than the dry theory classes you missed, that the musicians who pretend to be or whom you imagine to be better off than you might be struggling even more for having missed what you take for granted.” This is not to say that formal education is not important or useful. In an ideal situation, a learner would have access (p.129) to both formal and informal learning opportunities. Nevertheless, many musicians who expressed a sense of inferiority because of their learning experiences were often overrating what they had missed.

    Unequal access to education is psychologically inhibiting precisely because of the state of inequality and the sense of inferiority it inculcates. A sense of inadequacy and the accompanying feelings of low self-esteem and limited future potential can make it much more difficult for individuals to take risks in their creative work and to set long-term creative goals. These feelings of inadequacy came across most strongly in South Africa and least strongly in Finland, because South Africa has the greatest inequalities in both wealth and access to education, while Finland has significantly fewer disparities (see table 4.2).

    Table 4.2 Relative Distribution of Wealth in Finland, the United States, and South Africa

    Income Distribution Measurement


    United States

    South Africa

    Quintile Income Ratio




    Income Gini Coefficient




    The quintile income ratio compares the incomes of the wealthiest 20% of the nation with the poorest 20% of the nation. In Finland the top quintile earned 3.8 times as much as the lowest quintile, while in South Africa the wealthiest 20% earned 25.3 times more than the poorest 20%. The income Gini coefficient is based on the statistical dispersion of income in the nation. 0% represents complete equality and 100% complete inequality.

    Source: United Nations Development Programme, 2013, Human Development Report, 152–54. http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2013GlobalHDR/English/HDR2013%20Report%20English.pdf (accessed March 17, 2016).

    Another factor contributing to a sense of inadequacy is the undervaluation of communal, oral, and informal learning experiences and the concurrent overvaluation of Western staff notation. The following interview excerpt exemplifies how such attitudes may be unconsciously maintained by those in positions of authority, in this case a formally trained music educator who is involved in a music outreach program in an underprivileged area:


  • What kind of musical backgrounds do program participants come in with?
  • Jasper:

  • Nothing . . . .
  • Juniper:

  • But they must have some musical experiences, informal ones?
  • Jasper:

  • Singing always, yeah. There have been people playing guitar. . . . They are very musical, musically talented. But when I say nothing, I apologize. (p.130) I need to take that back. That is a sort of old-school assessment of musical technical training. . . . They have no music theory and no instrumental experience. . . . [But they have a strong sense of melody] and rhythm and also an indigenous way of harmonizing, a way of moving in parallel harmonies, and with a certain way of glissando. It’s very, very traditional, very beautiful.
  • Such an automatic lack of respect or proper valuation of indigenous musical experience and intuitive musical knowledge is connected to the still pervasive attitudes that European classical music is superior to both vernacular and non-European approaches to music making. These attitudes then become internalized by learners and can be held throughout their professional careers. For example, a Capetonian musician in his fifties who performs and teaches primarily in the idiom of jazz confessed, “I wouldn’t call myself a jazz musician . . . because I didn’t study jazz. I’m self taught in jazz” (Eduard). Another Capetonian musician who composes in the vernacular goema style told me “getting those songs, I was not composing but just playing and writing out some harmonies and melodies” (Marlo).

    Revival movements have been important for increasing the status and value of vernacular forms of music making in many parts of the world. In the American old-time music community, not having any formal training or theoretical knowledge can be a marker of authenticity and a point of pride. In the middle of a studio recording session, when old-time banjoist Steve Lewis admitted that he did not know what a minor third was, he was told with enthusiasm “man, you’re the real thing!” (Lewis, personal communication to author, 2005). In Finland successive waves of revival movements have improved the status of folk music from something considered “boring, naïve, and stupid” to a respected art form (see Hill 2009a, 2009b, 2014).

    While in Europe and North America negative attitudes toward local folk and traditional music are predominantly a class issue, in Africa they are part of the continuing legacy of colonialism and Western/African power imbalances. The production and distribution of African traditional music under the apartheid state was designed to promote an image of rural primitiveness, from which many black South Africans prefer to distance themselves (Meintjes 2003). There has not been a parallel revival movement to raise the status of traditional music in South Africa, and many thriving vernacular musics in Cape Town continue to be looked down upon. As Keith Tabisher, the music curriculum adviser of the Western Cape Education Department, reflects:

    We’re still trying to get people to buy into appreciation of their own cultures, of indigenous cultures. That didn’t just automatically happen [after apartheid]. All that happened was more people had access to higher culture, to dominant (p.131) culture experiences, and assimilated into that. . . . There is still a sense that working class music is frowned upon . . . that some music is superior to other music and some music is inferior.

    Many of the voices privileged above are South African. This reflects in part the greater disparities of wealth and stratification of South African society in relation to the other case studies, but it also reflects a greater conscientiousness, desire to effect change, and engagement in activist activities. Though less explicitly articulated, inequalities of gender, class, and race were also apparent as limiting factors in the United States and Finland. In all three countries, social inequalities lead to both material and psychological restrictions on the ability of musicians to develop their creative potential.

    Opportunities and Barriers in Creative Work: Economic Pressures

    What most shaped opportunities and barriers in musicians’ professional creative practice? Musicians in all three field sites detailed a variety of economic pressures that usually restricted but occasionally incentivized creative opportunities in their work as performers, composers, directors, and teachers. My interview data confirm the commonly held view that the more conformative the music, the greater the potential for profit and income stability in capitalist and neoliberalist systems. However, the varying economic realities of the three cities in this study shed light on the nuanced influences of varying state policy and business approaches. I found that Capetonian musicians frequently highlighted the effects of private sponsorship and government neoliberalist policies. Angeleno musicians emphasized the predominance of the capitalist music, television, and film industries. Helsinkian musicians focused on the pros and cons of public funding in their democratic socialist state. Their narratives illustrate cultural differences in how creativity is valued and cultural similarities in how economic factors influence personal motivation and educational goals.

    Private Gigs, Corporate Sponsorship, and Neoliberal Policies in Cape Town

    If I had time and a piano and nothing else, man, I would be composing a lot more! A lot more. It’s just one of those things that, like all the things you want to do in life, you kind of put aside to put bread on the table. . . . [JH: So how do musicians get by in Cape Town?] Performing. Performing. We’re very blessed in Cape Town (p.132) to have a good performance scene. There’re a lot of venues that like having jazz, whether they love jazz or whether it’s like the idea of having a jazz band. . . . We have amazing venues for, say, conferences and for weddings and so forth. I mean the Western Cape is really quite stunning, you’ve got ocean type things, you got the wine lands, so there are a lot of events. It’s a very event based society we have. Companies are always throwing this function and that function, this gala dinner and you name it, and they’re always wanting entertainment. . . . It’s become the staple thing to have which keeps a lot of us employed. You get yourself out there and we generally get to play the music we want to play. Obviously you have to play to the occasion. You can’t go in there and do all your free stuff. (Jason Reolon)

    Corporate sponsorship plays a significant role in supporting musical activities in Cape Town. Some hired entertainers, like jazz composer and pianist Reolon, feel that they enjoy a certain amount of creative freedom, as long as it is not disruptive and does not draw too much attention. Other composers and performers feel more creatively stifled by the situation:

    It’s difficult to make a living out of just writing your own music. So you choose to do the tribute shows or the weddings and things like that and then you don’t get so much time and energy to put into your own music. . . . The people that come to watch my concerts usually are expecting [standards]. . . . So if you play all of your own music it’s quite a risk. . . . When I finished studying [jazz at UCT], I started doing a lot of tribute shows, like pop, that kind of thing, and that was really good steady work. . . . In South Africa it became this thing, this tribute show thing that everyone was doing. . . . So you’re covering exactly. I’ve done a million of them. The creativity in those was in how you frame them and how you present them. . . . After a while it gets boring because you’re not giving of your own music and you’re not creating your own. . . . At one point I had four different teaching jobs and that was an economic choice to pay the bills. The tribute shows were financial choices as well to continue with them, and doing weddings and functions. (Amanda Tiffin)

    In addition to events and functions, some corporations provide support for professional musicians to run a variety of community music programs for disadvantaged youth and workers. The business owners who sponsor such programs whom I interviewed expressed altruistic values about aiding transformation in postapartheid South Africa. I believe these claims to be heartfelt, though there is of course the additional motivation—often left unarticulated but nevertheless visible—of the valuable publicity businesses gain through sponsorship. The programs I observed have had great success in increasing the creative agency of participants, for example, (p.133) by enabling improvisation in jazz or composition in local vernacular styles (see chapter 5). Nevertheless, program facilitators still feel the limitations of needing to prepare material that will be suitable for media displays to ensure continued sponsorship. One program director admitted:

    [The program participants] bring a lot of deep content. . . . A lot needs to be said. My question is, is everyone ready for what’s going to be said? . . . It adds a huge challenge to a project which is process centered, yes, but it needs to also provide outcomes, product—to reflect on the host system so the host system can keep affording this very expensive project. (Jasper)

    Thus there is concern about—and in some cases censorship of—material that expresses participants’ experiences in a way that might disrupt messages of contemporary social cohesion or challenge power dynamics.

    Several program directors and educators expressed frustration about the need to seek out corporate sponsorship due to the lack of funding from the government. In 1996 the new Republic of South Africa adopted a neoliberal orientation; its arts and culture policies focused on presenting music as a commodity for tourism and culture industries, prioritized the preservation of heritage over contemporary creation, and provided minuscule financial support (Martin 2013: 373–75). My interviewees and other scholars have criticized South Africa for becoming a “marquee society” and the Ministry of Arts and Culture for becoming a “department of marquee events” (Coplan 2008: 403), in reference to the government’s tendency to direct the small amount of funding allocated for the arts to showy spectacles instead of sustainable programs. The lack of state funds and the irregularity of private sponsorship have created significant challenges, which are most profoundly felt by musicians working to support the creative development of those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, whether through outreach and community music programs or formal education. In many cases, dedicated professional musicians volunteer their own resources and time to maintaining programs after state funding has run out. Even those salaried musicians working in institutions may suffer from insufficient infrastructural, institutional, and emotional support and resources, as is the case for this school music teacher:

    I suffered a mild stroke like four weeks ago. Then I realized it’s too much. I’m trying to do the impossible. I’m pushing too hard. . . . These past five years were a roller coaster for me. I don’t know what possessed me. When I look back now, I’m like, did I really work Monday to Sunday? I don’t take a day off at work. Because if I’m not at work, where are they going to hang out? They hang (p.134) out in the music room. What are they going to eat if I’m not there? Somebody said, “you’re too much of a mother to these people.” But when I saw what it brings out in them, there was no way that I could not. (Pat)

    Such dedicated professionals do extremely valuable work in enabling and enhancing the creativity of developing musicians. Several of the students who have gone through this teacher’s program are starting promising careers as jazz musicians, not only with well-developed improvisational skills, but also with the positive self-esteem and motivation necessary for seeking out opportunities and embarking on creative risks. Unfortunately, with such poor support, this work is not sustainable in the long term, and one has to wonder if the outcomes are worth it if they come at the expense of the health and well-being of the program directors.

    Working for the Music, Television, and Film Industries in Los Angeles

    Narratives of Angeleno performers and composers illustrate in particular the pressures of the music and film industries. Like their Capetonian counterparts, Angeleno performers feel pressured to stick to the safe and familiar. Even when they are big enough names to be desired for their own work, they are encouraged to constantly replicate their earlier work instead of continuing to explore new directions and develop new material. Composer and guitarist G. E. Stinson (figure 4.1) shares his experience:


  • Do you think that somehow it’s more difficult to be creative if you’re following that commercial success route of having audiences that know your repertoire and getting Grammys and big gigs?
  • GS:

  • It’s almost impossible to be creative in that setting. Because everything in this culture gives you feedback that creativity is not necessary.
  • JH:

  • What kind of feedback tells you that?
  • GS:

  • Money, fame . . .
  • JH:

  • But how does money tell you that you don’t need to be creative?
  • GS:

  • Because it usually comes after you’ve done something repeatedly the same over and over and over again. You have redundantly repeated a formula until it finally broke through the marketplace and established you and the audience went, “Oh wow, check this out.” You may have been doing it for ten years, you know, and in our case we were doing it for many years before anyone realized, “oh, these guys are kind of good, we should buy (p.135) their records.” . . . [Popularity] is actually a prison. It chokes creativity, as far as I’m concerned, for most people and I’ll tell you my band was a perfect example. The band that I was in that became successful, which was Shadowfax, we started out as a very creative band in the ’70s, doing wildly creative music that embraced improvisational jazz, classical music, world music, rock and sort of put it together in this creative mish mosh, and these were composed and improvised pieces. And we did that for years and years and years, and the more creative we were, the less popular we got, and at a certain point in our history, we had to actually disband because we couldn’t even get a record contract. And then in the early ’80s, our horn player got a deal with a label here in California and he said, “do you want to come out and do a record?” And I said, “sure.” And we came out, but we had to sort of gear the music to that label. It was mostly an acoustic label and we were not an acoustic band. So we just had to do it all sort of pretty. Well, we had to rein it in and make it more acceptable to this kind of area of music, and the longer we did that, the more successful we got, and as we went on in that path—and believe me, the early years were a struggle, we toured and toured and toured and didn’t really make any money—but around 1985, we began to see money coming in and almost immediately it began to have an effect on the creative process. . . . I was the primary songwriter in the band, I wrote most of the pieces, and I had a role as quality control. Many of the other people who were not as prolific as I was would come to me and ask me, “What do you think of this song?” And after I’d heard the song three times—you know what I’m saying? They’d written it once, they’d written it twice, they’d written it a third time. Same song, different version of the same song—I would begin to say, “You’ve written this already, and it was better the first time.” What I began to see was a pattern of degradation of the quality of the music. The quality of the creative process was dying because the money and the success and the acclaim were telling them, “do this. Do this again. Do it again, do it again, do it again, and the more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.” . . . In our band it literally had this totally detrimental effect where people were chasing the money, chasing the success, writing the same song over and over again, and I kept saying, “This pond is getting smaller and smaller and more and more stagnant.” And I became more and more dissatisfied with it. I saw that as the absolute death of creativity for that band, and you saw people less interested in being creative. They didn’t even want to get together and jam, for instance, or just improvise. They were like, “well here’s my song, let’s do my song,” and I’m like, (p.136) “we already did this song five times, you know, how about we just play and see what happens and see if we can stimulate [something new].” Basically, we had started out as a band that jammed together a lot and got that creative thing going and that was gone. That was totally gone. No one had any interest in it except for me and the drummer. . . . So I saw that as a total degradation of this creative process . . . .
  • JH:

  • So is there a way then to be financially successful and have a certain amount of recognition and still maintain creativity?
  • GS:

  • Financially successful and creative—I think it’s extremely difficult in the United States. . . . In this culture, those who can be famous or successful and get monetary reward and maintain creativity are basically exceptions. . . . Usually the people who are being truly creative have other things going on, they’re teaching, they’re writing grants. Like for me, I write music for TV and film. That’s how I support myself because basically you cannot make a living doing truly creative music. It’s almost impossible in this country.
  • JH:

  • So the writing that you do for film and TV is not creative?
  • GS:

  • It is creative, but it’s creative in a different way. It’s creative geared toward that demand. It’s not purely creative. It’s not what I want to do as an expression of myself. . . . I think of every job as somewhat creative, like you bring what you can to it, you use your mind to work on it, and then you get it done. A plumber can be creative and I think of writing music for TV as being a plumber. Somebody calls me and says, “I need Balkan techno music, do you have anything like that?” And I’m like, “No, but I can make it up.” Now that’s a creative process. It’s sort of limited because the guidelines are narrow. When I start to create for myself, I don’t really have any guidelines, I just do whatever I want.
  • Figure 4.1 G. E. Stinson

    Accessing the Opportunity, Permission, and Authority to Become Creative

    G. E. Stinson performs at the Guelph Jazz Festival, Canada.

    Photo by Gordon J. Bowbrick, 2007.

    Television, advertising, and film studios, motivated in part by copyright laws and the desire to own the rights to musical works, commission composers to write a great deal of new original work, but these commissions often come with significant restrictions. Matthew describes the creative and restrictive aspects of film scoring:

    You get a cut of the film and you sit down with the director and you spot it. So these scenes have music and you talk about what he’s looking for and what some of the solutions might be. Starting out I pick like a key scene or something that’s important that will probably carry the tone of the film—it’s like (p.137) the major moment that’s going to define the rest of the music in the film. I start out there. I score that scene and then pitch it to the director. That’s the most creative part because you’re coming up with something that’s going to paint the whole film basically. So at that point there’s a lot of creativity because you’re trying to figure out what the sound’s going to be and you’re coming up with themes and the palette you’re going to use, what instruments. So once you’ve established that, you pitch it to the director and they’ll have notes and you kind of go back and forth until you are [both] happy with that scene. . . . Then over time, once you’ve established what the film is going to be, it’s sort of just taking what you’ve already established and plugging it into the rest of the film. So in that sense it goes from being creative down to being more technical . . . .

    A huge problem in film scoring is, before you [the composer] get a cut of the film, there’s always what’s called a temp score in there. A temp score is basically music that a music editor or an editor has placed in the film as filler until the composer comes in, and it gives like sort of an idea of where they want the film to go. So for a long time the director has been living with this temp score and this cut of the film and they end up falling in love with the temp. So by the time that you’re brought on as a composer they’re like, “Well, can you (p.138) just make it sound like this?” So that is a huge problem and it does definitely stifle creativity because then they’re just asking you to rip off somebody else. It’s disappointing when you get to that point because you can’t really come with a fresh idea and give your personal input. You’re narrowed down to this one little piece of music that you have to imitate. It happens all the time, from like the smallest films to the biggest studio films, happens everywhere. I mean even the biggest composers deal with it, the people I work for deal with it all the time. . . . [To avoid copyright infringement] you kind of just ask, “Ok, what do you think? Is this too close to the temp? Can I get away with this?” And most of the time people do but every once in a while you hear stories where people get sued and then basically all the royalties that were going to one composer that ripped off this music now go to the original composer. . . . I think the best approach, at least for a composer, is to start questioning the director, like, “Ok, why does this piece work for you? What is it doing for you? What isn’t working about it?”—that’s also a really important question because maybe in that you can bring something new that this piece of music isn’t doing for the picture. Then try to make something that does the same thing for the director but sounds a little different. But a lot of times ultimately they just want the temp and then you just have to take your palette and do something very similar, and that is pretty creatively inhibiting. It’s not creativity anymore, it’s just copying somebody else’s work.

    There is thus intense pressure in the film industry to closely conform to previous composers’ work. Another Los Angeles–based film composer laments:

    I want [my film compositions] to sound distinct and memorable, but also effective. . . . I worry about being pigeonholed into a niche like action or horror or comedy. Those would be the worst probably [laughs]. Action I’m ok with, but I have been [branded somewhat]. Like my thesis score kind of modeled Spiderman, and then I got hired to do something very similar, and then got hired to do something very similar based on that, and it’s like, “How many times am I ripping off Spiderman?” (Erica)

    Branding is a challenging issue for commercial composers. The goal of developing an individual sound encourages individual creativity, but there is a potential restriction of creativity when a composer is asked to repeat the same style in future work. Matthew describes how he has conscientiously worked to develop a sound unique to him:


    I listen to my own music and try to pick out those moments that I think sound the most like me and analyze, like, “well, why does that sound like me?” So whenever I create a new piece of music I try to keep that in mind. Like, “Ok, if I do these sorts of things, I’m going to sound more like me.” Because in film scoring you are trying to have your own voice, so if you can objectively pick those things out to make yourself try and sound more like yourself it’s really good in the long run. It’s because you’re selling a product and you don’t want to be selling the same product as everybody else. You don’t want to sound like everybody else, so you really need to know your own product so that you can sell something that people want that’s different. [JH: Can you give me an example of some of the things that make up your signature sound?] Chord progressions, like all those things. The way I voice chords is a big one for me, like how I move lines and how I voice harmonies and how they move from one chord to the next and the palette I create. That’s been a really big help, because I did a short film recently and starting out my instinct was to find other pieces of music and sort of copy that because that’s what I had been doing for so long, but then I realized, no. I took a step back. I was like, “no, I’m going to actually try to sound like me and like take those ideas and really try and go for it,” because the director was very open and he picked my music because it was mine, so I don’t want to just start sounding like other people. So, that was a really big help to be able to step back and go, “no, these are the chord progressions or the way I voice things or whatever. I’m going to use these now and try to make something really unique that sounds like me.”

    Thus, commercial composers must often negotiate directors’ desires for the familiar, copyright protections, and their own desire for creativity, and as they do so they may be forced to tread a careful path between extreme recycling—nearly plagiarizing both the work of others as well as their own work—and originality.

    State Support for the Arts in Helsinki

    The situation for composers in Helsinki is rather different, as Jarmo Saari explains:

    Some of the finest musicians are totally without trademark and brand and the big public is not aware of them at all. . . . So there is a lot of music that’s very alive, that’s extremely un-commercial, but still happening. There is so much energy underneath. . . . It’s necessary to mention all these scholarships and grants that are part of what makes it possible in Finland.

    (p.140) Finland’s democratic socialist arts policies have noticeably different effects on creative musicianship than the neoliberalist and capitalist systems that shape the economic structures of the music scenes of Cape Town and Los Angeles. This exchange with Hannu Saha, who, at the time of the interview was chairman of the National Arts Council, illuminates some of the ideology driving arts funding in Finland:


  • People here are free to make their own music. Contemporary folk music is a good example of a scene that has a lot of artistic freedom and creativity. But it’s also very marginal music and difficult to make a living with it. How is it possible that this exists? What type of support is there that makes it easier for musicians to make their own music?
  • HS:

  • Finnish society supports art and culture fairly well. Because this is such a small population, a little over 5 million people, it’s a necessity in order to preserve this unique culture, to develop the foundational and marginal areas of the arts. . . . In Finland the marginal cannot live from a small audience, that is clear. . . . One of the central elements of how the Arts Council system channels state support is that all of the people who make decisions come from the arts. . . . A little over €25 million passes through us each year to support the arts and we consider how it should be spent, how much to give to individual artists and to which fields. My favorite of course are the marginalized, and in my [five-year] term I have wanted to support them in particular, because in music, for example, Finland has extremely strong support for music through the educational and orchestra systems. Finland operates 26 symphony and chamber orchestras around the country. “Light music” [i.e., nonclassical music] is represented only by the UMO big band jazz orchestra, the Tallari folk ensemble, the Loiskis ensemble for children’s music, and the Vantaa entertainment orchestra, but the others are all art music ensembles. [The musicians in all 30 of these state-supported ensembles receive regular salaries.] In this manner we support institutional art with an extremely large sum of money. For that reason, it’s important that a large part of the [grant] support for music, for example, goes towards marginalized forms, artists, and ensembles . . . .
  • JH:

  • How do you decide who receives money?
  • HS:

  • Artists decide to apply and then the criterion is quality, which is determined by peer group evaluation. We have 10 to 11 experts from different music areas. They decide what is good art, why this is better than the other . . . .
  • JH:

  • And is art music valued more than experimental music or light music?
  • HS:

  • (p.141) No. We definitely aim to maintain a balance. So right now in music, popular music, rhythm music, and all areas besides art music are receiving the same or a little more than art music. Art music does not need as much support anymore since musicians earn a large part of their bread by working in orchestras and teaching. What we really support in particular are Finnish composers, art music composers, who do very well at receiving grants.
  • JH:

  • So there is the idea that music genres that do not receive a lot of support elsewhere should be supported more?
  • HS:

  • That’s how it comes about, the balance so that all [art forms] are maintained . . . .
  • JH:

  • What are the goals for how musicians use the money?
  • HS:

  • Productions. Make new productions. One can apply for a grant to make a concert tour around the world, to create a new program or an album or something else. It’s a rather multifaceted and large package . . . .
  • JH:

  • How many musicians receive this support?
  • HS:

  • It’s a little hard to say. Annually we receive about 10,000 grant applications and about 30% are successful. And if one doesn’t get a grant this year, one can apply next year and so forth, and in this way also we strive to maintain a balance. But if there is a really successful artist, say Kimmo Pohjonen, he has received two five-year grants and one three-year grant, so the state has supported him for 13 years. . . . That is an artist working grant. . . . Then there are project grants which can be used for recording or touring or something.
  • JH:

  • Is there a certain musical style for which it is easier to receive support or is it completely open?
  • HS:

  • It is completely open. We wish it to be original, to create something new . . . to do something personal.
  • The vast majority of folk musicians, jazz musicians, and art music composers whom I interviewed in Helsinki had received grants at some stage in their careers, and several lived on grant money for many years. Not surprisingly, they reported that these grants enabled them to undertake creative work that would not otherwise have been possible. In particular, I noticed that the most creative and innovative work in Helsinki was often the output of artistic doctoral students at the Sibelius Academy. Many of these artists were so-called mature students; with highly sophisticated skill sets and many years of professional musical experience, they had chosen to return to the academy to focus intensively on their own artistic development and creative work. The academy provided institutional support, a community of advanced peers to give constructive feedback and social support, and external motivators such as a degree, the latter of which (p.142) also serves in part to justify the expenditure of time and resources. Kristiina Ilmonen, alumna and head of the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, elaborates:

    It’s a relief that in your doctoral studies you really can concentrate. And that’s fantastic. Nowadays, in Finland at least, it seems that if you have a doctoral student position you are much more able to get grants for your artistic work, because it’s labelled artistic research. You know scientists have always been able to get grants to research, but now when the arts have this side label of artistic research . . . it’s gaining position also in these funding institutions. The current mode in the government says that you have to have a lot of doctors [i.e., people with doctoral degrees in any field]. It’s a political decision, and they give money to people to become doctors. The arts world and Sibelius Academy have been wise to listen to this message from the politicians and to take it on, because the results of the doctoral studies and the doctoral research we are doing in the classical side and the folk music side have been fantastic. . . . Most of [the doctoral students] have quite many years of professional [experience] already, so . . . it allows them to be able to focus now even more. . . . This is a brain center of folk music so it inspires everybody, because you hear so much from your colleagues and your teachers and you are totally emerged in this creative process.

    While grants and institutional support provide an important creative haven for many artists, not everyone receives grants, and even those lucky enough to receive a lengthy five-year grant must eventually find other means of supporting themselves. Ilmonen continues:

    The reality after people graduate is of course the facts you face with life. Do you have the funds to continue making music or do you not have the funds? That’s the real problem because not very many people can concentrate on making music. The ones who can, whenever they can, produce fantastic results. But quite many people have to rely on day jobs to get by. Yesterday we had a meeting of these graduates . . . to hear what everybody’s doing and two of the most established Finnish folk musicians, who are very famous abroad also—one said that, “yeah, I have been cleaning floors” and the other one was working in the construction field building houses. So she said “yeah, that’s a little bit surprising, but you have to get your bread somewhere.” . . . Their gigs are abroad, they teach a little bit, and they do odd jobs and workshops every now and then, but it barely gives you your living. So you have to do something else. And I think there are lots of these people. It’s a pity because they are fantastic musicians and they could give so much to the communities. This is a (p.143) question about how much money the communities and the cities and towns and villages have to put into culture and it’s not so much nowadays.

    Faced with limited, and in recent years diminishing, state support, Helsinkian musicians confront economic pressures similar to those of their Angeleno and Capetonian counterparts. Vocalist Päivi Järviö elaborates on the effects of increased commercialization:

    The possibilities for being creative as an early music performer are getting fewer at the moment. Because in the beginning early music was a playground outside the real world and people were experimenting quite a lot and trying to find out what you can do with this music. . . . But in the past years early music has entered the center court of the music world, so money and recordings and tours and concerts and festivals are happening. . . . That has an effect on how creative you can be . . . you don’t have the time. . . . Aiming for being able to live on it means being economical with your time and with your efforts. . . . If you have only two three-hour rehearsals for St Matthew Passion, which is two and half hours of music, what can you do there? . . . The danger for creativity is that you learn these templates, and you repeat the same thing. . . . It saves time, not to think about things too much. . . . It’s not a crossword puzzle where you have just one right answer, but in early music the crossword puzzle model is beginning to be there. Fans of early music go to the concert and see if it’s filled in correctly. . . . I don’t want to perform anymore if I don’t have that space [to experiment within the tradition]. I don’t see any point in going to a gig to do something “correctly.” . . . I feel like a prostitute. . . . I feel like I’m selling something that is not the real thing, that I’m cheating the audience—they believe that we are doing art. . . . For me music is something more than just paying for your ticket, listening to nice sounds, being calmed down, and doing things right.

    Policies, Markets, Motivation, and Education

    The research reported here confirms what is common knowledge among musicians: that the so-called creative industries, capitalist markets, private/corporate sponsorship, and neoliberal policies incentivize creative work to be more conformative, when it is supported at all, and that the most innovative and transformative creative work tends to be funded by grants and institutions (if their policies prioritize new creativity) or by individual artists themselves.

    The public arts policy of Finland is clearly more effective than that of South Africa in supporting the development of creative artists and creative works of art. This is (p.144) due in no small part to a greater allocation of resources; Finland is a wealthier society whose politicians place greater value on the arts and culture. But it is also due to the fact that Finland’s policy emphasizes long-term projects, the production of new work, and artist education, whereas South Africa’s policy emphasizes the arts as a product to be displayed at events and commodified in markets. Based on public discourse about and official lip service paid to creativity, innovation, and progress (as well as the relative ease with which I have been able to acquire major grants to research the enhancement of creativity), I believe that creativity—at least as an abstract concept—is highly valued in Western Europe, North America, and South Africa. If this is the case, the lack of commercial economic incentives for creative work is an indication of market failure.

    Where do the economic pressures for musical conformity come from? Is it primarily from those with an interest in maintaining profit levels—such as venue owners, booking agents, and record labels—who choose to avoid taking financial risks on something new and different? Or do the restrictive practices of these gatekeepers reflect an actual listener preference for conformative music? If so, perhaps this is another mechanism through which individuals unconsciously preserve the cultural and hence the social status quo (discussed in chapter 1).

    Research on musical preference has yielded mixed results. Some psychological theories and studies indicate a fair amount of listener preference for familiar and prototypical music, while others indicate some listener desire or need for small to moderate degrees of novelty in music. (See North and Hargreaves [2008] for a good overview.) Psychologist Daniel Berlyne asserts that music with moderate degrees of arousal potential—with novelty and complexity being key arousal factors—causes maximal activity in pleasure centers but also begins to activate displeasure centers (North and Hargreaves 2008: 78). This would support the hypothesis that music businesses favor products with less arousal potential in order to avoid the financial risk of producing music that may begin to activate displeasure centers. Audience research also indicates that the more expensive concert tickets are perceived to be, the more listeners are averse to taking the risk of spending money on music that they do not know ahead of time that they will like.4 These findings, however, primarily relate to listeners’ first exposure to unfamiliar music; how listeners are introduced and over time gradually familiarized to innovative musical works significantly affects reception. Studies have demonstrated that simple pieces of music that adhere to familiar prototypes can experience sudden popularity but then fade quickly when listeners become overly familiar and bored with them, but that as new and complex pieces of music—which may initially be challenging and even repulsive—become more familiar to listeners, liking of those pieces increases and may last for decades or centuries (North and Hargreaves 2008: 83–84). In this sense, music industry practices that favor more familiar music for its higher proceeds in the short term can (p.145) actively restrict the production of more creative music that may have the potential for greater long-term listener appeal.

    To what extent do these economic systems affect professional musicians’ motivation and ability to make creative music? Returning to the motivation continuum in Deci and Ryan’s (2002) theory of self-determination (discussed in chapter 1), economic pressures are an example of an external motivator and as such should have less influence on individuals’ behavior. My research findings indicate that when musicians, out of economic necessity, choose to take conformative musical work, that limits how much time they have to work on more creative projects but does not appear to significantly diminish individuals’ intrinsic desire to be creative. This is a consequential restriction, since creative work frequently demands considerable time and resources. I argue, however, that insufficient time and material resources are less formidable inhibitors of creativity than the psychological limits resulting from the internalization of economic pressures as values. This process can be clearly observed in formal educational environments.

    The impacts of commercial economic pressures on curricular goals can be seen in tertiary level musician training programs across all the case studies. A jazz professor in Cape Town pragmatically explains:

    It’s our job to give a tangible outcome to students . . . to be able to function in a professional way. . . . It’s an industrial way of looking at playing—based on very practical conditions—in making sure that they can be successful by playing music that will appeal to people on a wider front and therefore get booked again. (Michael Campbell)

    I asked the director of the jazz program at UCT, “How would you design your curriculum differently if you weren’t so worried about employability?” He responded:

    Well, I haven’t really thought about that because we don’t live in a state system that supports that. That’s a pipe dream. Maybe if you live in Sweden, I don’t know. . . . So it’s like, forget about it, that’s fairy tale stuff. (Michael Rossi)

    Even in Finland, a classical horn instructor at the Sibelius Academy states with resignation; “My job is to train them so that they win the auditions” (Erja Joukamo-Ampuja).

    In alignment with international neoliberal trends in tertiary education, many university and conservatory music programs strive to contribute to the future vocational and economic success of their graduates. Considering that professional economic incentives more often restrict than encourage creativity, this can lead (p.146) to underdevelopment of creative potential in both educational and professional settings. Instructors may feel compelled to dedicate fewer resources to creative development, emphasizing instead the development of skills and performance practices that conform to the expectations of future employers and audiences. This emphasis begins to have a psychological impact when assessment criteria reward conformity to the types of music making with the most economic potential, sending implicit messages that more creative work is not valued (see the discussions of feedback in chapter 3 and below). Such curricular emphases and assessment practices can lead to the internalization of economic incentives as a value system, which can give economic factors a much greater power of motivation.

    The next section illustrates how a variety of social values become internalized.

    Authority, Permissions, and Prohibitions: Who Is Allowed to Create What Music?

    Musical communities place a variety of restrictions on which types of musical styles, outputs, and practices are permitted and encouraged and which are disdained or punished. Communities also restrict which types of persons may engage in certain musical activities.

    Establishing and maintaining conventions for a musical idiom serve several musical and social purposes. Musically, shared conventions provide inspiration; a common vocabulary; and frameworks that facilitate improvisation, composition, collaboration, and collective participation. They also provide expressive codes that aid communication and stimulate meaning and aesthetic pleasure for listeners; as old-time fiddler David Bragger asserts, “I love hearing someone essentially be able to speak free-form musically, while not jumping outside of the beautiful, lovely, wondrous constraints of tradition.” Socially, musical conventions may become imbued with extramusical associations and symbolism that provide a means of asserting ethnic identity and socioeconomic status, invoking religious or spiritual power, and capitalizing on commercial potentials.

    However, when idiomatic conventions become rigidly enforced as boundaries, they can preclude a vast amount of creative possibilities, prevent the development of new styles, and inhibit the expression of musicians’ personal experiences and identities. Creative expressions that challenge musical conventions may be perceived as threats to group identity, social status, religious efficacy, and/or profit—which may motivate a policing of idiomatic boundaries. Efforts to restrict musical creativity in support of societal power structures are in some cases explicit. For example, South Africa’s apartheid-era Radio Bantu policies required musicians to perform styles that promoted the state’s strategic divisions of race (Ansell 2004). More (p.147) often, however, the preservation of social position through the policing of idiomatic conventions is effected less overtly. Sociopolitical motivations are often disguised as purely aesthetic values, making them less likely to be challenged. Certain individuals, such as instructors, directors, critics, and publicly lauded artists, hold greater authority to determine, enforce, and sometimes defy such boundaries. While the background motives of idiomatic authority figures vary, the means by which musicians are pressured to conform bear similarities across idioms and cultures.

    Codifying Rules for Newcomers and Restricting Outsiders

    When newcomers or outsiders become active in a musical idiom, their potential to introduce stylistic changes or different values may be viewed as a threat. In some cases, previously implicit mores may be explicitly articulated as guidelines to help newcomers who wish to understand how to improvise, compose, or interpret scores within a specific idiom. Such guidelines eventually become encoded as rules, leading to a more rigid sense of what constitutes “correct” music. In other cases, individuals perceived to be outsiders are prohibited altogether from engaging in certain creative activities.

    Sibusiso Njeza grew up in a rural Xhosa environment in the Eastern Cape and now conducts a university choir in Cape Town comprised of singers from multiple black South African cultural groups. Here he reveals the process of how moving from a traditional village setting to a multicultural urban setting necessitates bringing in conscious restrictions on singing style:


  • Improvisation is in almost all the [black South African] cultures. . . . For instance, this song is Tswana and within that specific kind of singing the Tswanas are able to do whatever they want . . . .
  • JH:

  • So there’s an acceptable range of what you’re allowed to do?
  • SN:

  • I wouldn’t say allowed or accepted to do. It’s like you can’t do what you don’t know. So that’s why it’s something that becomes acceptable. It’s just because everybody understands it, knows it. It’s not a question of you can’t or you can. It’s just that you grew up listening to this, so you’re confined by the knowledge that you have. It’s not as though there are people who make rules. There are no rules. . . . People just know what to do.
  • JH:

  • So that works within a traditional society, and you all sing songs in a certain way. But what happens when you start learning a different style of music and you’re exposed to different ideas and different musical practices? Can I do these things that they do in other styles of music when I’m singing this song, or do I want to make sure that this song still sounds like a Zulu song?
  • SN:

  • (p.148) Yeah, that’s where you must have rules then. Because if you are doing a Zulu traditional song, then all of a sudden one of the students, say, from the Tswana background starts doing something which is obviously Tswana, you can then say, “no, no, you can’t do this one because it’s Tswana and we’re doing Zulu,” or “you can’t do this because it’s Xhosa so you can’t mix it with Zulu.”
  • JH:

  • So you try to keep them separate.
  • SN:

  • Yes, in the choirs like this. But if you go to the villages where the songs come from, you don’t get such confusions because everybody is exposed to the same thing. So that’s the only time in the choirs where you’d say “no, you can’t; yes, you can.”
  • JH:

  • But if you’re singing a traditional Zulu song, it would be part of the tradition that everybody would do their part in their own way?
  • SN:

  • Yes.
  • JH:

  • So do you try to teach the people that are not Zulu how they can do that type of variation and sing it in their own way in such a way that it sounds Zulu?
  • SN:

  • Yes, we do. Most especially if you’ve got Zulu-speaking singers within the group then they can tell you what men in Zulu do and what women in Zulu do and how they dress and how they dance. . . . Even a single culture is so diverse. You get so many different songs for different occasions. So the people who are first-language speakers of that particular song that you’re doing will be helping the others . . . .
  • JH:

  • Then when you get to the European repertoire—?
  • SN:

  • Yeah, that’s where you get so many rules.
  • JH:

  • And your singers wouldn’t be used to those rules before they joined your choir?
  • SN:

  • No, no.
  • JH:

  • They’re used to having more freedom?
  • SN:

  • Yeah, and really in fact to most of the singers it becomes so confusing.
  • This is an excellent example of how norms of practice begin to be codified as rules when repertoire spreads outside of its original community and musicians with diverse backgrounds interact.

    Such guidelines often become formalized as theory and taught in academic settings. For example, in the Swedish folk music revival, when urban enthusiasts with little background in the tradition became excited about improvising Swedish polskas (a triple-metered folk dance), a leading folk music pedagogue at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm developed a system of Swedish folk music theory to help the new generation of folk musicians be able to improvise in an idiomatically appropriate manner (Sven Ahlbäck).

    (p.149) These stylistic guidelines become restrictive of creativity when they become ossified into unchallenged or unchallengeable rules, especially in art music. Speaking here as a composer, Njeza observes:

    What is written in [theory] books really restricts your creativity. You become a slave to the past because there’s nothing of the future you find in these books. It is something that has been there—Beethoven did this, Wagner did that—why should I do it now? Otherwise we’re doing the same thing over and over and over. (Sibusiso Njeza)

    Jazz educators in all three continents critiqued an overemphasis on theoretical rules in academic teaching. An Angeleno jazz professor expostulates:

    It’s this idea that it needs to have these kinds of chords and it needs to use these kinds of scales and these kinds of instruments. [It’s] black and white: this is jazz; this is not jazz. This is the note you can play in jazz; this is the note you play not in jazz. This is the way the cymbal needs to go. Well, you just taught someone to be a plumber. . . . Jazz musicians all the time, the basic way people teach them is, “Ok, you want to play bebop, here’s your scale, when you see C7 you play this scale. If you don’t do that, you’re wrong.” So that’s teaching them not to rely on their taste, but to rely on a mechanical rule that tells them what’s right or wrong and the mechanical rule supplants, replaces, eclipses their own judgments. . . . Talking about how you feel is not primary on that list of things you do. . . . I see it in my own students, I see it in other jazz musicians I know. A huge portion of college trained jazz musicians . . . have this sort of cut and dry, classical mentality about it—and I mean classical in a sense that there’s a specific, historically bound rule to follow and if it doesn’t follow it, it’s not jazz, therefore it’s not good, as opposed to relying on their own taste. So that is why they would cut out huge swathes of what everyone else has ever called jazz or forget to think about it as a living tradition. . . . That’s just the message [in formal jazz programs] and it makes a little bit of sense if you don’t think about it. “We want people to play jazz. Well, what’s jazz? Well, here’s how you do it, you play this note, you play that note, you play this note.” I would almost say that that kind of technical stuff doesn’t help much, and I think what happened before [the spread of formal jazz education] is that people learned more about music generally. . . . You learn by ear. You learn across different styles. . . . You need to learn about how to be an artist. To me that’s way more important for being creative, is not to think about yourself being in a genre but to be an artist, and being an artist means to try to make big statements and try to make people (p.150) think about big things. . . . You want them to figure it out for themselves, because they’re going to come up with their own idea and they’re not going to be concerned about how to make it, what Bobby Bradford says, “vernotem” [the musical equivalent of verbatim] because that isn’t creative. (Charles Sharp)

    This issue of overly mechanical playing can apply to any musical idiom. What begin as guidelines to help newcomers be creative within a given style can become rigid boundaries, entrenched in indisputable dictums of correct ways of playing, correct ways of composing, and correct theory. Placing too much emphasis on technical rules and on notions of right and wrong can detract from the development of artistic agency and lead to less emotional engagement and a narrowing of artistic vision. Taken far enough, this process exemplifies what Jouko Kyhälä refers to as an idiom “choking its own cell walls.”

    In more extreme cases, instead of being taught guidelines for how to be creative within a community’s aesthetic norms, newcomers are simply prohibited from engaging in certain creative activities. This is more likely to occur when the newcomers are perceived to be outsiders from a different ethnic, regional, or class background. For example, renowned fiddler Bruce Molsky was taught to believe that he was not allowed to compose or arrange American old-time music because, with his origins in the Bronx instead of Appalachia, he was not considered to be authentic:

    I’m not one hundred percent sure what a revivalist is. I know I am one. I never tried to make that differentiation. That’s a box that other people have put me in and I don’t like it very much. . . . I want to respect that really deep well [of traditional music] that I discovered in the beginning, and I never play a concert without attributing my sources, but I want to play it my own way. It sounds like no big deal, but it took a long time to get there, and that was kind of a liberating thing that happened. Part of that involves leaving certain notions behind, and I mentioned to you the other day that I’ve been kind of slammed by one or two people out there who don’t like people like me from the outside taking something and using it my own way. But it’s not out of disrespect, it’s just the opposite. It’s that there’s this incredibly beautiful language that I just happened to be lucky enough to discover works for me, and so I speak in it and it’s like, what’s wrong with that? . . . This one article . . . blamed people like Bruce Molsky for taking the music from people like [Kentucky traditional fiddler] Roger Cooper and using it for their own betterment. . . . Reading that article was the moment that I just kind of said, “well, screw all of you, you don’t get it. You’ve done great work and you don’t even know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.” You can tell I’m still angry about it, but it allowed me to walk away from some things . . . to walk (p.151) away from being concerned about not trying to offend anybody, because when you’re talking about the creative process, you can’t be worried about that. . . . I do really believe that you can’t constrain yourself with that kind of stuff and I wonder what it accomplishes to tell somebody that “you’re traditional, you’re authentic.” All that does is to lock out other people who aren’t traditional or authentic and degrade them in some way that really doesn’t exist . . . .

    [I started composing my own pieces] just a couple years ago. That was because I made a band with the banjo player Tony Trischka and we got together to rehearse, to work up our repertoire, and he threw a few tunes out there and he turned to me and he said, “so let’s do one of your tunes.” I said, “well, I don’t have [any]. I don’t write.” And he looked at me . . . with this big smile on his face, he said, “you have one week to compose a tune, and I’m calling you every day.” And he did. He called me every day. I guess deep down in my heart I’d always wanted to do it anyway. I wrote a tune and he liked it, and so I wrote another one and discovered that it’s kind of fun to write tunes.5 I never thought I was allowed to do that. I didn’t think anybody was allowed to do that. There was the barbed wire fence between me and the traditionalists. So if I’m a revivalist, maybe that was where I didn’t allow myself to be a traditionalist. I could never be Ed Haley and write a second part to “Man of Constant Sorrow,” because I don’t qualify, because I’m not a traditional musician. I play traditional music, and I’m not even sure I do that anymore. . . . Now I just can’t wait to write more stuff. I wake up in the middle of the night with tunes in my head. I don’t know if they’re any good or not, but it’s just another vehicle for expression, and I don’t see anything at all wrong with it now . . . [but] I used to. That’s what I’m trying to say, this waking up one morning and realizing I had my own voice was a really big thing because I never allowed myself to think about stuff like that before. (Bruce Molsky)

    Molsky inherited an ideology in which so-called traditional musicians were juxtaposed against supposedly untraditional revivalists, and he initially accepted the attitude that the former had a right to be creative and the latter did not. Molsky consciously adheres to deeply held values, such as wanting to respect and preserve the tradition. The link, however, between valuing and respecting the historical tradition and determining what types of people have the authority to be creative within it is a socially constructed one. In Western folk music, considerable energy has been devoted to establishing the credibility of traditional source musicians to serve a variety of agendas, including romantic nationalist, socialist, and even xenophobic agendas (Wilson 1973; Reuss and Reuss 2000; Blaustein 2014). Both folklore scholars and traditional music promoters carefully constructed romanticized and highly selective images of credible traditional musicians, and folklorists such as Alan Dundes went (p.152) to great lengths to demonstrate what and who should be considered inauthentic and not credible (Dundes 1985; Filene 2000; Linn 1994). Musicians like Molsky, as well as several scholar performers, have been left to contend with this ideological inheritance (Titon 1993; Rosenberg 2014; Jabbour 2014).

    The more different a newcomer’s musical and cultural background, the more stringent the restrictions may become. Director Matlakala Bopape informed me that when she works with her own community choir in South Africa, the choristers are given many opportunities to improvise their own vocal parts and contribute creatively to the group’s arrangements. However, when she teaches South African choral music to enthusiastic newcomers from the United States and Europe, she now teaches fixed lines for each section, because in her previous experience the foreign singers were not able to improvise in a stylistically appropriate or, in her opinion, aesthetically pleasing manner (personal communication to author, August 2013).

    Similar restrictions may have occurred along class lines in the history of European classical music. Robin Moore (1992) argues that the decline of improvisation in classical music was caused in part by a proscriptive reaction of an elite class of musicians who disapproved of the differing aesthetics held by a growing group of performers from the middle class.

    When musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds do incorporate their various musical experiences into their creative expressions, they must often contend with disapproving authority figures, as detailed below.

    Stylistic Boundaries and the Politics of Race, Class, and Cultural Imperialism

    That music is coming from such a place deep within that it’s not even referencing any particular thing besides who he is. . . . You won’t be able to say, “ah, there’s bebop and there’s a bit of mbaqanga there and there’s a bit of marabi there. There’s township and there’s goema there.”. . . They just kind of whirl inside him and come out. . . . This comes out because this is who they are. It’s like a tree being a tree. It doesn’t think about being that particular thing. It’s just the impact of environment. (Keith Tabisher)

    Tabisher is referring to how the youth in the Belhar Music Collective incorporate African jazz-pop and coloured vernacular styles into their jazz playing. This exemplifies how artists who grow up in cosmopolitan environments are naturally influenced by a multiplicity of musical styles. Given that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas (United Nations 2014), it is a reasonable conjecture that the majority of professional musicians around the world make their living in (p.153) urban environments where they are exposed to a variety of idioms. Furthermore, rural musicians who have been romanticized for their supposed cultural purity have likely been exposed to greater cultural and musical diversity than ethnomusicologists and folklorists have led us to believe. A generational shift is occurring as well; as younger generations gain exponentially easier access to an innumerable diversity of styles—and as personal authenticity becomes of increasingly greater value (Hill 2014; Weisethaunet and Lindberg 2010)—these young musicians ask why they can’t play music that is meaningful to them, that reflects the diversity of their own experiences.

    The idea expressed by Sibusiso Njeza above that creativity will naturally stay within stylistic conventions because people “can’t do what they don’t know” no longer applies to the millions of music makers around the world who do not live in cultural isolation. Stylistic boundaries, then, are not so much maintained naturally, in the sense that musicians are only nurtured in music from their one home idiom; rather, stylistic boundaries must be consciously enforced if they are to be maintained. Numerous musicians from Cape Town, Los Angeles, and Helsinki presented moving arguments for playing across and beyond idiomatic boundaries: to bring diverse social groups together, to support political struggles, and to express their personal experiences and identities. And many told stories revealing racist, classist, and imperialist foundations of prohibitions on musical style.

    Adriaan Brand illustrates how performing mixed musical heritage can be an effective strategy for bridging social barriers:

    I am an Afrikaans first-language speaker. Most people would view me looking like I do, speaking like I do . . . and would think I represent white people, white Afrikaans speakers, the oppressor. But that’s not even [dark ironic laughter] the beginning of the story. I come from a family with a deeply traumatic history. Very much tied into the apartheid years. . . . The woman I grew up with as my grandmother was my dad’s step-mother, the woman who raised him. . . . She was from a mixed family. Managed herself to do the very devaluing thing of trying for white then succeeding while half of her brothers and sisters did the same and did not, quote, succeed. So we had a secret family life, nightly visits. Really, really very heartbreaking sad story. People falling in love across what was then quite a tangible colour line in terms of the law. And hiding their love, needing to hide it, abortions, pain, trauma, bitterness, forgiveness, love. . . . But in the music, in the dancing there was no boundary. And I grew up as a musician in that context. I played with uncles and aunties, white and coloured mixed. The music that we appreciate here [in the Music van de Caab program] is the music that I grew up with. . . . Whenever we perform to an ethnically mixed audience of South Africans of various language speaking groups—even though the music is [white (p.154) and coloured] Afrikaans, the beat is South African, it’s pan-South African, and the . . . melodic narrative, psalmodic harmonic and melodic progression . . . [is] indigenous at its center, open, major 1, 4, 5 chords . . . an open and transcendent harmony—that’s where I see South Africans can experience a oneness that is real, as a nation, in our music, because we have internalized that so deeply. It’s part of our soul. A so-called black gospel choir sings and I burst into tears and sing with them. Sometimes I can sing and sometimes I can’t. It hits me too deeply, you know. So what is it that happens there? It’s social healing, a sort of healing of the wounds created by that axe of segregation, the devaluing of it. And that devaluing is something I saw from a young age. I felt it with my family.

    Kyle Shepherd (figure 4.2) describes how his compositions, in transcending stylistic boundaries, deeply reflect his personal development, identity, and values:

    We had a piano at home and I thought why don’t I try? . . . I just started composing and I wasn’t thinking that I’m composing in a style—that wasn’t the thought process. It was just compositions. . . . It was natural and it was personal. . . . The music I was composing was heavily influenced by the music from Cape Town. . . . I grew up playing violin with some of the [coloured] klopse [carnival troupes] and the [Muslim] Malay choirs. . . . It’s strong cultural music and so my contact with that obviously stays. . . . Then with the African traditional music, I had many Xhosa friends and Zulu friends in the area that I grew up in, in the Cape Flats [townships] . . . and so when I hear that music it just never seems foreign. When I play other styles of music, like bebop, it takes more effort to play in the style . . . but when I play this traditional music or goema, I don’t have to think about it. It’s just natural. . . . [People are] influenced as much as they allow themselves to be. In South Africa we still have the complexity of racism. . . . People might like certain things from another culture but they probably won’t be open, they won’t openly admit it often. . . . Like at parties there will be white people there and then they will play some music made by a black artist like Brenda Fassi . . . and they’ll just get down with it, and that’s what it should be. It’s great music. Some of them won’t because it’s just this black music. . . . Somebody made a big mistake once by asking me why I play with white musicians and I took total offense to that because we don’t think about it like that. I think that time in South Africa is now over and we’re trying to create this transformation within ourselves. And that’s difficult because of our socio-political climate. We’re making efforts. . . . I think from my generation we don’t really think about white musicians, black musicians, and coloured musicians. We’re all making music together. . . . As a modern contemporary (p.155) musician who is living now, we have all these influences and there are all these things that we listen to. It’s not only jazz, it’s not only classical music, it’s not only traditional music, it’s also contemporary music. And so I think the only way you ever are going to come out with that context we are taking about—the individual context—is if you take in all of that. . . . Five or six years ago, I was very much caught up in the South African identity within music, which was a necessary step. That’s why I made a very conscientious effort to assimilate all of these traditional things that I grew up with.6 Where I am right now, I think that I’m playing more universal music. . . . When I’m composing I don’t really think, “oh, I want to put this element now.” It just starts coming out because I listen to quite a lot of music. . . . [JH: Do you identify primarily as a jazz musician?] No, no. People do [label me]. I allow media and things to do what they do because that’s what they do. But I know the music I’m dealing with on a daily basis with myself—no, to call it jazz would also be limiting because I try to allow myself to go into any kind of space. And it’s not really free music either by definition. So what is it, somebody might ask? I don’t really know. For me it’s again just a personal music. (Kyle Shepherd)

    Figure 4.2 Kyle Shepherd

    Accessing the Opportunity, Permission, and Authority to Become Creative

    Kyle Shepherd performs at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

    Photo by Ference Isaacs, 2013.

    For Shepherd and many other musicians, working across idiomatic boundaries is a deeply personal creative process that confirms the multicultural reality of their heritage and daily lives. The enforcement and transgression of idiomatic boundaries (p.156) is political because of the deep association between musical style and identity (as innumerable ethnomusicologists and music sociologists have demonstrated; see Stokes [1994] and MacDonald et al. [2017]). This is particularly true of folk and traditional musics, as we continue to live with the legacy of the romantic nationalist ideology, initiated by eighteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder, that folk music represents the soul of the folk (Wilson 1973). Folk musics became and remain deeply linked with ethnic, cultural, and national identities. Classical music also has its associations with identity (Small 1998). In Western societies these have more to do with class; preserving classical music conventions may be a way of maintaining an elitist upper-class lifestyle or part of a strategy for those who do not enjoy such lifestyle or status to strive for it. In postcolonial societies, Western classical music remains implicated in imperialist notions of cultural superiority. Jazz, a symbol of African American identity and the US civil rights movement, also has strong associations in South Africa with the freedom and anti-apartheid movements (Ansell 2004; Ballantine 2005; Kelley 2012; Muller 2013).

    Taking these ethnic, national, class, and colonial/imperialist connotations into account, maintaining stylistic boundaries may take on unintended (or at times intended) sinister implications related to racism, xenophobia, neocolonialism, or fascism. Attempts to maintain musical purity may be misinterpreted (or correctly interpreted) as attempts to maintain racial or ethnic purity. In contrast, embracing musical stylistic hybridity may express and celebrate ethnic hybridity and cultural diversity—an important social and political step to make not only in a still economically and culturally segregated post-apartheid South Africa, but also in a class and socially polarized United States and in a Europe marred by increasing xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments.

    Stylistic boundaries are enforced at institutional, interpersonal, and internal levels. This is most profoundly exemplified by the experiences of many of the young musicians I interviewed who struggled with negative feedback from instructors for trying to incorporate musical elements that were not considered “honored,” valued, worthy, or “real” according to their instructors’ aesthetic value systems (see also chapter 3). Kyle Shepherd continues his story:

    I’m very aware of the avenues in music that may not be creative. . . . Without any offence to anyone, I think, unfortunately, teaching can often be counter-creative. . . . When I came to this university, I was hearing other things in my head than what they were teaching. . . . I was into [South African free jazz musician] Abdullah Ibrahim, into traditional music, into all these things and (p.157) it was not endorsed here. So as a young 17 year old or something, that leaves you in an incredibly vulnerable unsure kind of place. You just left school and you’re entering this world, this life of some kind of independence, and then to have your ideas totally shot down is a disheartening thing . . . not in a sense that they drove a stake right through it but I was receptive enough to know that firstly they weren’t encouraging it and subtly they were discouraging. It would be simple things, like when you sit down and play that way [the instructor] would say “yes, that’s fine, but it’s not really jazz.” And so it becomes that argument again, that Wynton Marsalis-like very militarian type way of arguing what jazz is, and nationalizing it as . . . a purely American art form, which I think is presumptuous. . . . Always this power struggle and that’s why I eventually had to leave.

    As a young student, Shepherd did not have the authority to pursue an artistic vision that did not align with that of his instructors. He took an alternative pathway to achieving legitimization and recognition (described in chapter 5), and his work is now lauded by professors in the same institution where, according to Shepherd, he was discouraged from pursuing it. Despite the current recognition of Shepherd’s work, similar conflicts continue in jazz education in Cape Town. Likewise in Helsinki, academically trained jazz musicians, such as Mia Simanainen, report that instructors admonished them with critiques such as “that wasn’t real jazz” when they incorporated vernacular elements into their music.

    This experience of subtly delivered but powerfully felt idiomatic policing from well-meaning instructors is not uncommon. It results from a conflict of values and social positions. On the surface, the conflict appears to be between, on the one side, a young musician’s desire to develop personally meaningful and sociopolitically relevant artistry and, on the other side, an instructor’s aim for learners to develop proficiency within a specific idiom and the means of being professionally successful. The jazz instructors whom I interviewed in Cape Town were conscious of the great economic disparities and difficulties the majority of South Africans face and thus were concerned about ensuring the future employability of their students. A deeper and somewhat less explicit conflict is the struggle for legitimacy of an oppressed culture against a threat to the racially and economically unequal status quo.

    The leading tertiary level jazz program in Cape Town (whose director and highest-ranking instructors are white) has been criticized for valuing American jazz over South African jazz. When I asked a senior white jazz professor about this apparent emphasis in their curriculum, he expressed the opinion that


    it’s nice to be able to play South African style and appreciate that, enjoy it. It’s great fun, but that’s just one part of jazz. I think people here actually try to make it more than it really is. . . . It’s nice but it’s—what it is, you know, I mean it’s—you know, a lot of the so called “great players” were really not that great. I mean, they couldn’t read, they couldn’t play their instruments in tune, they were playing on bad equipment, they were uneducated. And it’s not their fault, it was part of the state system, apartheid kept them down. They had to develop on their own and learn what they could in bits and pieces from wherever they could get it. I can say this very frankly, our students actually play a lot better than a lot of the so-called “greats.” (Colin)

    These criticisms reveal a number of underlying prejudices. For an academic musician to call an idiom nice, enjoyable, and fun is to dismiss it as not serious music. To criticize instrument quality and lack of education is classist—a type of classism that carries racist connotations (since economic inequality is racialized and racial stereotypes are often inferred from economic disadvantage [Jost and Banaji 1994: 12]). To value notation reading over aural skills and the Western hegemonic intonation system over the pitch sensibilities of other cultures is ethnocentric. As a black South African jazz guitarist explains:

    Some people believe that South Africans—or Africans in general—play jazz differently: slightly ‘out of tune’. But take it as the South African style. Pushing the notes is the way we sing.” (Selaelo Selota cited in Ansell 2004: 119)

    Colin’s mention that musicians were “uneducated” is likely a reference to music theory training, and as such could be a veiled manifestation of the Western elite prioritization of harmonic complexity over other forms of musical sophistication. These Western ethnocentric musical attitudes have a long history dating back to colonial times (see Wallaschek [1893] for early examples). Colin’s dismissive attitude also reveals his ignorance or ignoring of many aspects of South African jazz, including the educational opportunities in black township art centers (such as Dorkier House and Fuba), the ethnic diversity of the musicians who developed it, and its rich variety of styles (as documented, for example, by Ansell [2004]; Ballantine [2012]; Coplan [2008]; and Muller and Benjamin [2011]). It also reveals an American centrism. The majority of canonical American jazz musicians came from similar economically disadvantaged and informally trained backgrounds but are romantically considered geniuses who rose above the systemic racism they (p.159) faced. It would seem that South African musicians, legends though they may be, do not qualify for genius status.

    Most of the white jazz music educators whom I interviewed in Cape Town do not appear to be explicitly racist. Many dedicate a great deal of time and energy to educating nonwhite musicians, collaborate regularly with artists of multiple backgrounds, pride themselves on their previous anti-apartheid activities, and go to great lengths to distance themselves from the image of the racist white South African. Attitudes and prejudices vary from individual to individual, and it is likely that some students have had the misfortune to work with instructors who are more prejudiced. However, it is also likely that instructors who consciously desire not to be prejudiced and intend to be egalitarian in their teaching have unconsciously and even against their will imbibed implicit ethnocentric, racist, and classist associations and attitudes. Indeed, given the prevalence of stereotyping in public discourse and the reality of social inequalities—in South Africa as well as in the United States and Finland—it would be virtually impossible not to do so. In research on implicit social cognition, social psychologists have demonstrated that individuals ordinarily and unconsciously absorb stereotyping associations and attitudes from the culture around them that may contradict the individuals’ explicit values (Jost and Banaji 1994; Nosek et al. 2012).

    The first challenge facing instructors, critics, and musicians, then, is to become aware of and address how implicit biases influence our musical values and judgments. Blatantly prejudiced criticisms may be easier for students to dismiss. However, when musical assessments and curricular priorities founded in ethnocentrism, racism, and classism are disguised in an apparently neutral language of musical aesthetics, they become even more powerful, insidious, and oppressive. The ultimate challenge is to generate curricula and assessment practices that actively resist ethnocentrism, racism, and classism.

    Keep in mind that these issues are relevant globally, even if they remain implicit or under the radar in some cultural settings. I have chosen examples from South Africa because of their articulateness; sensitive issues of race, class, and social and political oppression tend to be more explicitly addressed in public discourse in South Africa than in North America or Europe. Since Cape Town’s jazz scene is the most ethnically diverse and integrated of the nine case studies in this research project, its stylistic boundaries and their social significance are the most contested, yet it is the very contestation of these boundaries that has fostered a great flourishing of creativity.

    In other scenes, the racial and class hierarchies underlying musical values are much less explicit.7 For example, American old-time musician Bruce Molsky reflects:


    I used to be really rigid about [not mixing styles]. Like any young person who falls in love with a style of music or falls in love with anything that they want for themselves, you immediately shut out everything else. You don’t want to poison your own well. If I’m trying to be like Tommy Jarrell, I’m not going to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, even though I really love her. I’m trying to guide myself. And it’s bull, you know? For the first many years that I played I developed this list of things that I could associate with and things I should stay away from because I wanted my music to be a certain thing and of course your music is what it is. . . . [Now] I play a version of old-time music that is a result of my own experiences, I mean, everybody that I’ve heard and listened to and my own crazy ideas—and that doesn’t just include old-time musicians. I listened to a lot of rock and roll and folk music when I was growing up and it all gets in there. I think that’s a mistake that a lot of people make, which is to say that one thing has nothing to do with the other. It’s all the same, it all goes into the same brain and it all gets processed and comes out somehow.

    Molsky’s narrative appears to revolve around concepts of style and personal authenticity, but in fact it reveals that he felt pressured to listen to Anglo-American musicians such as Jarrell and not African American musicians such as Fitzgerald. This is especially significant considering the tradition’s historical racial transformations: old-time music originally was developed by both black and white musicians, but its African American roots were later obscured when the tradition was reappropriated as a symbol of white rural American culture (Linn 1994). The ideals of racial and cultural purity—which were once espoused more obviously by figures such as Henry Ford (Blaustein 2014)—were disguised in a rhetoric of stylistic purity, which has been inherited by future generations of musicians as an aesthetic value. Once internalized, such values have substantial power to compel musicians to censor their own behavior, as I discuss below.

    Internalizing Musical Attitudes and Practices as Moral Values

    When attitudes and practices become entrenched as mores, they gain immense power to influence our behavior. The Oxford English Dictionary defines mores as “the shared habits, manners, and customs of a community or social group; specifically, the normative conventions and attitudes embodying the fundamental moral values of a particular society, the contravention or rejection of which by individuals or subgroups is liable to be perceived as a threat to stability.” It is this (p.161) internalized association of conventions and ideals with moral values that effectively motivates musicians to deny themselves permission to engage in many creative activities.

    In many Western classical music communities, the most profound example is the moral imperative to faithfully adhere to the composer’s intentions. The following interview excerpt with an Angeleno orchestral musician reveals several beliefs and attitudes underlying the conventions that determine what types of creative activities are and are not permissible:

    I wanted to be historically correct . . . be properly informed and do it right . . . make sure it was well-intended. . . . Because if you’re not, then you’re giving the listener a different piece of musical information than they should have, and I think that that’s actually wrong. . . . They should hear it like it was done in the day. . . . It changes the listener’s inner being actually. . . . When I was really into early music I thought I would do a little improvising occasionally when I was playing classical things, but that actually isn’t right. Because the classical composers put down what they wanted and they didn’t want anybody to—you know, the Mozarts, the Beethovens, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, what they wrote was what they wanted you to play. You can play within those realms and don’t add or take away notes. [JH: So you were playing around with adding embellishments?] Yeah, and that was wrong. And I would only do that occasionally in rehearsals and then I never did it ever in a performance . . . .

    When I would work on pieces that I would then have to perform . . . I wanted to study it on the written page, the notation first, try to divine the composer’s intent and then push that intent forth. . . . It is giving a challenge to the performer to re-create that which the composer maybe wanted . . . you wouldn’t exactly know their emotions, but you would know the emotions that they desired to express through the lines that they wrote, and then you would want to be truthful to those emotions. . . . You feel inside that message in music must be given . . . to the audience through you. . . . The message is from the composer. . . . I am an intermediary. . . . I do not think, ever, that I create. . . . Why in the world would I want to compose? It’s all I can do to re-create all that magnificent music that’s out there, and I’ll never be able to do it in my lifetime. (Elizabeth)

    Elizabeth’s narrative exemplifies common, though often unspoken, edicts of Western classical music: (1) it is wrong to improvise, change any note, or in any way deviate from the composer’s intentions as immortalized in his scores, and (p.162) (2) it is pointless for a contemporary performer to engage in composition. These edicts profoundly influence contemporary practice, even though they may be based on an inaccurate understanding of history (many classical composers, including Mozart, would have expected and even encouraged performers to creatively embellish their scores; see Brown [2002], Leech-Wilkinson [2009], and Levin [1992]). Driving these mores today are a romanticization and a nostalgia for the past as well as an almost mystical utopianism: scores and historical knowledge are believed to contain the key to revealing ideal and spiritually powerful sounds that well-meaning performers should convey to their listeners. Elizabeth’s use of phrases such as wanting to “do it right” and “make sure it was well-intended” invoke a sense of moral responsibility that a good and proper performer should feel, similar to Abu-Lughod’s (1986) theory of shame and honor, in which individuals are compelled to behave in a way that allows them to self-identify as good persons (see chapter 1). Another somewhat mystical component of this belief system is the idea that expert performers can sense the emotions the composer intended to convey through a score even when the composer’s intentions are unknown. Elizabeth’s scoffing at the suggestion that she might compose herself reveals an underlying belief—which I encountered in conservatories in Helsinki as well as Los Angeles—that (historical) composers’ creative works are far superior to anything that contemporary performers could possibly create (a belief closely related to notions of talent, discussed in chapter 3). These beliefs highly restrict, if not altogether prohibit, engagement in creative activities such as embellishing, arranging, improvising, and composing, and they significantly limit the range of permissible creative possibilities in the interpretation of scores.

    From her personal perspective, Elizabeth professed feeling satisfied with her creative opportunities, citing her delight in using her own intuition and talent to figure out a composer’s intentions, re-creating magnificent art from the past, and expressing herself through the small freedoms not dictated by a score. Following is an example she gave of such small opportunities for the performer’s creative input:

    So with Stravinsky’s works you are limited by what he has to say: “Ok, we’re going to put a quarter right next to the cymbal at two inches above and then you will drop it.” That is a very specific instruction by him, and so in that essence, you are limited in your expression, but within that limitation you can decide, “well, am I going to use the quarter with nickel in it or the quarter with less nickel in it or what?”

    (p.163) Other classical musicians who reported being satisfied with the range of creative expression and spontaneity permitted in classical music performance conventions also emphasized choice of timbre, articulation, accenting, and agogics.

    If each musician were allowed to determine and enact his own values, aesthetics, and practices, then these belief systems would not pose a problem to anyone. However, most musicians in the world must undergo their training and development and pursue their careers within a musical community, and many Western classical music communities in the early twenty-first century indoctrinate and police mores that numerous musicians find creatively frustrating if not stifling. Musicologist Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and pianist Mine Doğantan-Dack level a scathing critique of classical mores:

    Western art music is utopian in a rather . . . alarming sense. We’re brought up as musicians to believe that the Master composer—Master composer—has imagined an ideal musical world that functions as a source of emotional fulfillment, a world one should not attempt to alter in any way; and our job is to enact it so that we can all share in its perfection. The key to achieving it is to follow Master’s instructions, realize His intentions, recreate and share in His vision. . . . But as with any utopian system in which everybody follows one vision, this one is inherently fascistic. . . . Fear, as in any fascistic system, is a daily reality for many musicians. . . . Our complicity, through the delusion of creativity, is a classic example of a hegemony operating at its most efficient . . . a system supposedly geared towards professional, emotional and spiritual fulfillment of a particularly intense kind, that depends for its daily validation and for continuing employment on obeying the every collectively imagined whim of a man who, as often as not, has been dead for several hundred years. . . . [E]ach new generation is indoctrinated in an all-pervasive ideology of music as a utopian realm, with loyalty to the composer’s intentions the only route to it. . . . As the years of training go by, disciplined through examination, their repertoire becomes increasingly canonical, their representation of it increasingly conforms to the ideal norm. . . . [T]heir work is policed by a complex network of security services: agents, managers, producers, promoters, directors, and critics. At no point where their work can be heard in public or disseminated through recording is scrutiny absent. Western musical utopia is founded on indoctrination and enforced by a lifetime’s policing. The idea that it might be possible to think about a score in a substantially different way is inconceivable, even offensive. . . . [W]hat is claimed to be the most affecting and directly engaging of the arts is actually (p.164) produced through a highly prejudiced and even fascistic system in which only the norm is permitted. (2013: 2–5)

    Through this provocative framing Leech-Wilkinson and Doğantan-Dack hope to raise awareness of the systemic coercion toward conformity that classical musicians undergo. This hegemonic system is often taken for granted as natural and legitimized through a sense of ethical obligation.

    In contrast, in a few classical musical communities, there is no sense that creatively improvising with a composer’s work is unethical or immoral. Soprano Philisa Sibeko of the Cape Town Opera Company (figure 3.1) describes joyful improvisations of European classical and other choral repertoire:

    Let’s say I’ve got a tune or a melody or a chorus line. Then I start singing and maybe adding my cousin to vocalize and harmonize with me. Then it’s going to grow into something else from there. That is when it builds up. It’s an improvisation. . . . [We will sing different harmony lines] if we’re at home with family. Even at work with my colleagues [in the Opera Company] . . . we do a lot of things. We also take opera choruses and change them into traditional songs and everything when we’re having fun. My fellow choristers in my choir [make up our own harmony parts] . . . we can change the rhythm. . . . If the song is based on female voices, then sometimes you can add male voices in it. Then they will come up with some other harmonies that they can put in and then other rhythms then it becomes different. [You change the structure too] . . . so you take like a solo aria and make it into a chorus. . . . We do that a lot. We also take concertos or whatever instrumental music we love, then if we’re sitting there just having fun, one can sing their own line just using the instrument line and it becomes a vocalized thing now.

    In Helsinki a cohort of classical musicians is also engaged in improvising with scores, developing new pedagogical and performance approaches driven by practice-based research (see Hill 2017). Creative limitations on performers thus stem not from the music itself—Merker (2006) would argue that each musical system has infinite potential—and not even necessarily from historical practice, but rather from modern social values and conventions.

    The primary strategy for gaining the social permission to change existing practice is to identify a shared value, critique the conventional mode of striving for it, and (p.165) propose a new method that upholds the same value. A common example of this is in how historical authenticity is asserted. Values relating to authenticity operate as compelling moral systems in many communities that have undergone revivals, because assertions of authenticity help to justify the changes that occur when a historical musical practice is recontextualized in the present. Similar to classical music, many folk music ideals revolve around a utopian vision of a selectively imagined past. The assessment of authenticity is often based on a small set of criteria, which may focus on a type of person (e.g., master fiddler, illiterate bard, or genius composer), process (e.g., oral transmission, personal variation, or face-to-face playing), or product (e.g., historical scores, recordings, or sonic styles). The specific selection of these criteria is often initially driven by some sort of political or cultural agenda, which itself is often subsequently forgotten as the authenticity ideal takes on a life of its own (see Hill and Bithell 2014).

    In the late twentieth century Finnish folk music activists instituted a shift away from product-oriented authenticity criteria (i.e., the valuation of faithful renderings of archival song texts and melodies) toward process-oriented authenticity (i.e., attempting to re-create the creative processes of the past).8 Activists such as Heikki Laitinen were frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of creative opportunities in folk music practices of their time, such as stage presentations by civic fiddler organizations, and a constraining public image of folk music as a valued museum piece with no possibility for future development. Laitinen taught a revised history of folk music comprised of three eras: historical folk music, public enlightenment folk music, and contemporary folk music. The public enlightenment movement and its sister Romantic nationalist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries aimed to use folk music to educate and civilize the Finnish people and to inspire national pride and international respect in a golden and ancient Finnish heritage. In the process, urban intellectual activists transformed folk music by cleansing, beautifying, and reconstructing it according to their own aesthetics and values. Defining public enlightenment folk music as distinct from historical folk music and drawing attention to its invented and manipulated nature effectively challenged the historical authenticity and hence legitimacy of many modern folk music practices that were rooted in these nineteenth-century movements. Laitinen argued with fervor in numerous workshops and public lectures that contemporary folk musicians should instead assert their right to follow in the footsteps of historical folk musicians by actively engaging in folk creative processes. He and his cohorts, Hannu Saha, Rauno Nieminen, and others, focused on and popularized historical evidence of individual folk musicians who would improvise for their own pleasure for hours, epic singers who were masters of variation, and fiddlers who were (p.166) able to play for so many consecutive hours that they must have had the ability to generate new compositions on the spot. When the archives remained silent, as they often did, Laitinen encouraged musicians (and required his students) to engage in practice-based artistic research to try to discover and embody creative processes of the past (see Hill 2014 and 2012b for examples). A charismatic leader and role model, Laitinen’s work has had far-reaching effects, in part due to his positions of institutional authority, first as director of the Folk Music Institute in Kaustinen and then as head of the Folk Music Department at the Sibelius Academy. In the degree program, the policing tendency of exams has been moderated, and their product-oriented focus has been shifted to a more process-oriented one through an innovative approach to assessment. The department does not give any number or letter grades, and after exam recitals feedback is given in the form of a conversation in which jury and student discuss how well the student met his artistic goals and what his future directions might be (see chapter 3).

    This shift in authenticity ideal from faithfully performing archive transcriptions to exploring possible historical creative practices, combined with a lessening of policing activities, has led to an explosion of creative activities. Despite these radical changes, the same principle of valuing the historical essence of the tradition has continued to be upheld. These changes have resulted in the creation of a new nykykansanmusiikki, or “contemporary folk music,” scene, which now is a substantial subculture with its own mores and styles that have influenced music making across Finland and beyond (see Hill 2009a).

    Refocusing the lens and magnifying the importance of select historical practices over others has also been an effective means for encouraging and legitimizing increased creative opportunities for other idioms. A number of Western classical musicians whom I interviewed justified their engagement in improvisation by pointing out its historical practice and critiquing its decline in the twentieth century.9 American folk musicians whom I interviewed also engage in critiques of authenticity norms. Bruce Molsky, for example, challenges the person-based criterion of historical authenticity by demonstrating that the music of romanticized traditional musicians is not always as “pure” as it is sometimes made out to be:

    Listen to fiddlers like Ed Haley, who’s a great example. He loved [ragtime and jazz pianist] James P. Johnson and all the Tin Pan Alley stuff—and it’s all over his playing—and yet he’s considered to be one of the greatest traditional fiddlers that ever lived. . . . He wrote extra parts to traditional tunes, he jazzed them up. . . . He’s still a traditional fiddler. It’s taken me all these years to realize that people like him should be the model.

    (p.167) In the process of de-romanticizing traditional fiddlers like Haley, Molsky blurs the boundaries between so-called traditional and revivalist musicians and makes it easier for contemporary musicians to identify with traditional fiddlers as role models. Molsky also engages in rhetoric that legitimizes his using traditional materials in his own way. In concluding his explanation of his creative process in our interview, he asked me, “isn’t that the folk process?”

    Another contemporary old-time musician opines:

    A lot of the romanticizing of old-time music and blues music irritates the crap out of me. I mean, for instance, [traditional fiddler] Tommy Jarrell would not go and play music on the nights when Charlie’s Angels or Gunsmoke was on. That to me is cool. He’s a guy. He likes to stay home, he likes to watch boobs on TV and the Western. But people don’t want to hear that kind of detail. When people put on this old-time authentic schtick, it’s ridiculous. If you go back and look at the tradition, all of that hick stuff was manufactured even back then, and to me just shows people that you’re not learning much about the music you play. (Chris Berry)

    Underscoring how the idiom’s traditional heroes were real people makes it easier for contemporary players to identify with them. This banjoist also begins to bring into question the values themselves: Is it more important to strive for some imagined historical authenticity or to focus instead on becoming a knowledgeable player?

    Thus, challenging the ways in which values are put into practice is an important means of negotiating creative space within a musical community. Another popular strategy is to critique the moral foundation of conventional practices and perhaps suggest an alternative, compelling value to take its place. Many cases I encountered involved a shift from a valuation of historical fidelity to valuing the contemporary artistic experience and/or the personal authenticity of the contemporary musician—a trend that perhaps reflects the global influence of rock with its idealization of the sincere singer-songwriter, or simply a general (Western-influenced) trend in prioritizing the desires of the individual (see Weisethaunet and Lindberg 2010). Finnish contemporary folk musicians have argued that folk music should not be preserved in stasis as a museum piece but rather should be given the freedom to develop as an art form in the same manner that jazz and classical music have. In the Western art music world, a Helsinkian musician reflects, “I don’t actually think about the dead composers, who have been dead for three, four hundred years. I don’t know if it’s so important to (p.168) do what they wanted, because we are not there to ask” (Päivi Järviö). Leech-Wilkinson and Doğantan-Dack take this challenge further in their Radical Interpretation Project, questioning whether classical music performers should feel ethically obligated to adhere to a composer’s intentions and denouncing authoritarian practices that enforce such values. They conclude that there is only one ethical obligation musicians have when performing music: “not to cause serious harm, not to use music cruelly. Beyond that, it’s hard to see that musical performance involves ethics at all, aside from basic economic issues like paying fees and royalties” (2013: 4). Once the values of an idiom’s community begin to shift, there is potential for musical behavior, sound, and the boundaries of the idiom to shift. New creative possibilities become permissible.

    Summary of Societal Enablers and Inhibitors of Creativity

    Accessing the opportunity, permission, and authority to develop and work as a creative musician is a key social enabling condition of creativity. The extent to which individuals gain or are denied access to these enablers is determined in large part by broad societal structures and power dynamics, as well as local community belief systems and agendas. Social inequalities profoundly shape the accessibility of learning opportunities. Economic structures significantly influence the availability of remunerated creative work opportunities. A community’s values, cultural agenda, and identity largely determine what styles and techniques are permitted as well as what types of individuals are granted the authority to be creative.

    Many prejudices and negative stereotypes about race, cultural group, class, and gender are commonly internalized, often unconsciously and even against one’s will, by both oppressor and oppressed. At the individual psychological level, this may lead to unwarrantedly low self-perceptions of potential, low self-confidence, and a low sense of agency, which in turn may decrease the motivation to pursue learning opportunities, to engage in certain creative activities (especially composition), and to take risks or step outside of one’s comfort zone. At the institutional level, internalized and often unacknowledged prejudices against the expressive styles and knowledge base of certain cultures can influence curriculum and assessment, shaping which (and whose) musical expressions are valued and encouraged or disparaged and discouraged. At the broader societal and global levels, disparities in the distribution of wealth—which often occur along racialized and postcolonial axes—lead to extremely unequal access to material resources and formal education opportunities. Learners who struggle to access formal education may face restricted (p.169) opportunities to develop certain skills, to network, and to acquire institutional legitimacy or authority. Such unequal access, a manifestation of relative poverty, can have further psychological effects: lowered self-esteem and a sense of inadequacy for professionals as well as learners.

    At the professional level, economic structures and policies can incentivize or restrict creative work. Commercial commissions, especially in the film and television industries, tend to support marginally creative but predominantly conformative composing, employing a creative process that several musicians have likened to being a plumber. Corporate sponsorship supports both performers and nonformal education programs, but can restrict creativity that may challenge the status quo or threaten a company’s publicity and present problems of sustainability. The only economic support for highly creative and transformative work reported by musicians in this study was public funding that specifically prioritized innovative projects and long-term work. While the need to make more conformative music to fulfill economic needs does not seem to detract from musicians’ intrinsic motivation to be creative, it does significantly detract from their time and resources for engaging in more creative work. However, when economic pressures are incorporated into curricular designs and assessment criteria, then external economic structures may be internalized by musicians as values and personal limitations.

    Aesthetic judgment systems, moral values, and policing practices vary considerably according to musical community. Community-established conventions and idiomatic boundaries can sometimes be helpful in supporting creative work, but they become restrictive when ossified into unchallenged or unchallengeable rules. Since most musicians are exposed to multiple idioms, staying within idiomatic boundaries does not necessarily occur naturally but rather must be enforced. The enforcement of idiomatic boundaries can also potentially communicate negative social and political messages, especially when certain musical styles serve as markers of ethnic identity, class, and social status. Strategies for combating the internalization of social pressures to conform as moral values include increasing awareness that conventions and values are culturally specific and socially constructed, seeking or establishing alternative social groups or communities with different values, challenging the criteria by which values are assessed (e.g., what constitutes historical authenticity), and proposing alternative values (e.g., embracing cultural diversity as more important than stylistic purity and personal authenticity as more important than historical authenticity). Strategies for lessening the policing of idiomatic boundaries include alternative assessment mechanisms that emphasize the artist’s intent over judges’ criteria and curricula, venues, and social spaces that promote trans-idiomatic music making.

    (p.170) Across all countries and communities, individuals often must contend with social factors that can inhibit creativity, but not everyone is affected to the same degree. The extent to which individuals are able to cope with and overcome such hurdles varies greatly according to their personal and social resources. The inhibiting effects may be mitigated by both internal resources and social support. The next chapter details strategies for ameliorating and surmounting creativity inhibitors.


    (1) To address these problems, Solms and his employees at Solms-Delta wine estate underwent a long process of learning about one another’s histories and cultures, which included bringing in archaeologists, historians, and an ethnomusicologist as well as building a museum and starting a music program. Through these processes, Solms reports, they were able to develop greater mutual respect, trust, and communication skills. The economic solution they found was for Solms to put up his farm as collateral against a large loan from the bank for the workers, collectively operating as the Delta Trust, to purchase the neighboring farm. The success of Solms’s farm now depends on the success of the workers’ farm, and they work both together. According to both Solms and the farmworkers whom I interviewed, this has been a transformative experience for all of the parties involved (discussed further in chapter 5). The Solms-Delta farmworkers expressed only positive sentiments about the farm and its owner to me. They undoubtedly experience better working conditions than in the past and than many other contemporary farms. Yet power imbalances and attitudes regarding the relationship between the white farm owner and the coloured farmworkers remain hierarchical. When speaking with workers, I detected evidence of paternalistic attitudes, especially in stories about how “Professor Solms takes care of us.” Perhaps it is also telling that the worker-owned Delta farm is set up as a trust instead of as a cooperative. I hypothesize that such paternalistic relations, despite being supportive and well-meaning, may have the effect of continuing to limit the sense of agency of the workers. As an outsider it is also difficult to ascertain the impact of business interests; the story of transformation and the music program at Solms-Delta are highly publicized, and maintaining a positive public image may help sell more wine.

    (2) According to the music curriculum adviser of the Western Cape Department of Education, Keith Tabisher, music is meant to be included in the subject arts and culture in the primary school curriculum, but the subject is seldom taught by a music specialist and music may be left out altogether if the teacher is not comfortable teaching it. Music is an elective subject in the curriculum from grades ten to twelve, but schools are not obligated to offer it.

    (3) Lucia is referring to the public service delivery crisis. There has been an escalation of public dissatisfaction with and protests against the failure of the African National Congress government (p.226) and local authorities to deliver basic goods and services such as housing, water, sanitation, and electricity (see, e.g., Grant 2014).

    (4) Personal communication from Rebecca Ratzkin, senior consultant at WolfBrown, a California-based company that conducts audience market research commissioned by arts organizations (2015). See http://wolfbrown.com/42-books-and-reports/492-jazz-audiences-initiative and http://wolfbrown.com/insights/articles-and-essays/43-articles-a-essays/475-a-study-of-college-student-preferences-towards-music-and-the-performing-arts (accessed April 1, 2016).

    (5) Listen to “Brothers and Sisters” on Molsky’s album Poor Man’s Troubles (2011) for an example of one of the first songs he composed.

    (6) Listen to Shepherd’s 2012 album South African History !X.

    (7) See Hill (2007) for discussion of how Finnish folk musicians associate, disassociate, and assert hierarchies with multiple ethnocultural groups in the way they incorporate different musical elements.

    (8) See Hill (2014). See also Ronström (1996, 1998, 2014) for a discussion of similar shifts in Sweden.

    (9) See Levin (1992), Moore (1992), and Sancho-Velasquez (2001) for more on the practice and decline of improvisation in Western classical music.