The status of early music in Denmark

Foto: Art Music Denmark

On the 9th of March, Art Music Denmark facilitated a networking event for the Danish scene around early music. Read more hear about how we contributed to the initiative and which points were addressed at the meeting.

The Danish community around early music is surely unique in various ways, but are nonetheless facing challenges, which also have had an impact on many other areas of music throughout the years. A worrisome change in politics has over time resulted in savings, which sadly has had an impact on the educational opportunities related to early music – such as music from the Middle Ages, the Baroque and the Renaissance – which manifested in 2017, where the course “Early Music” was closed at The Royal Danish Music Academy, afterwards to be replaced by the course “Consort”, which was more narrowly focused and had fewer student places. In December 2022, it was announced that The Royal Danish Music Academy intended to shut down that course as well. However, the decision was postponed after various actors from the early music scene in Denmark appealed to reconsider the decision.

On the 9th of May, Art Music Denmark facilitated a networking event for the early music-scene. The aim of the meeting was to gather the musical scene, so it could become more resilient to the challenges that it faces today. Because how do we secure the future of the cultural heritage, which early music contains, if the preconditions for education and mediation are threatened to such an extent that its entire ecosystem is at risk of collapsing? How do we cope with the scarce conditions, which early music has existed under for many years in Denmark as well as in other Nordic countries? There’s already a shortage of educated musicians in Denmark, which means that it isn’t always possible to find all of the musicians necessary for performances of early music. This problem only intensifies if the educational opportunities within the field either degrades or disappears, not to mention that an essential part of Europe’s music history also risks becoming forgotten.

Following three presentations by Nikolaj de fine Licht (Concerto Copenhagen), Yngvild Haaland Ruud (freelance musician), Bo Holten (Musica Ficta) and an open discussion moderated by Regin Petersen, director at Art Music Denmark, the participants attempted to find answers to questions such as the above mentioned. The apparent answers were, however, not only relevant for the early music scene, but also other musicians from the art music scenes in Denmark, which experiences scarce conditions as a result of savings, that appears to lie outside of their power to change.

The presentations and discussions often led to questions about communication and visibility: How does one’s value become clear for relevant decision-makers?  The scene might want to strive to make their communication more intuitive for people outside of the scene, than what they’ve usually done so far. Because even though it’s obvious for musicians and actors from the new music scene that the music is valuable, it’s nonetheless necessary to make an exceptional argumentative effort to reach external actors, who haven’t necessarily engaged with early music or are related to the music scene in any way. In other words, one cannot explain too much.

One way in which it’s possible to explain the value of one’s field to political decision-makers is to create successes, which are based on a public audience. Tell and document the good concert experiences, where the audience is thrilled over the music! And test eventually how the music and the way it’s curated is received by people outside of it’s primary scene – if a music scene shall be capable of regenerating, it’s important to reach out to a bigger audience. Their first meeting with the music can be crucial, if they’re to recommend and seek out the music again and thus become ambassadors for the music and its value. For that reason, one needs to have inclusion in mind, when curating and mediating one’s music, if it should be accessible to a new audience: A concert program also needs to be accessible to new listeners and offer them an approach to the musical universe.

It can also be beneficial to position one’s music scene in the context of contemporary music and culture more broadly understood: Instead of insisting on being a particular niche, it can also be beneficial to create a relation to the broader culture life and stress how one’s scene makes up an essential part of it. It can be easier for people with no relation to the particular music scene to understand one’s contribution to contemporary culture and music in general than its value as a disclosed and particular scene in itself. Thus, if cultural politicians are working to strengthen cultural life, remember to explicate to them that it also involves you and your activities! One can, inter alia, explicate this by creating new collaborations with other music and art forms. So reach out to artists (such as painters for example) and musicians from other genres and show with your projects how exactly your musical work can inspire and enrich other parts of contemporary culture.

Another possibility is to examine the agenda of the relevant cultural politicians and position one’s music, events etc. in that context, so it relates to those (of course only insofar that it’s true). For example, if they have a particular focus on representation or sustainability, remember to stress that your projects also relates to these in one way or another.

It’s relevant to pass on these reflections since the issues and arguments also are worth considering for other music scenes in Denmark, including that of art music in general. It’s not a unique issue that the public support gets limited with consequences for the musical educational institutions, etc. It’s a challenge, which very well can have – and already has had – an impact on other of the areas of music in Denmark, which we’re working with. Under any circumstances, it’s our experiences as national music organisation, that it’s import to:

  • mobilize the music scene that one’s a part of and avoid unnecessary fragmentation
  • contextualise and reach out out to the broader music- and cultural life; position your work and value in a broader context
  • document successes and use them in your dialogues with cultural politicians and other decision makers; show the positive reviews and reactions of your audiences
  • insist on having a positive dialogue with politicians, media, educational institutions etc., rather than initiate a ‘fight’ with them
  • keep in mind that it can take an exceptional explanatory effect to communicate clearly the value of one’s music scene to people with no relation to or knowledge of it; Reflect on how you make your communication with them clearer and more effective

Are you a musician, associated with a music organisation or in any other way an actor working with art music, remember that you’re always more than welcome to contact us for counselling. We can always offer advice, but cannot promise to participate proactively in cases such as this one.

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