In her essay published by Aedam Musicae, Reinventing music in its institutions, its policies, its narratives, Sylvie Pébrier, musicologist and professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, takes stock of French cultural policies and notes that the narratives promoted by the institutions are running out of steam. The result of long-term experience in contact with music players, this work is distinguished by its strong and courageous positions, which sometimes invite debate and which we echo.
Sylvie Pébrier has a personal relationship with cultural otherness, probably inherited from her research on Jesuits in Latin America during the colonial period. This indescribable feeling of incompleteness and intimate transformation, in the experience of the encounter (cultures, languages, works of art, people...), can explain the author's deep attachment to mediation as "sharing a sensitive experience as a corollary of the common elaboration of meaning".
Cultural policy, a mixed record
The book invites us to "scrum", to "leaf through the eyes" and to search for an "overall vision" in a compartmentalised world, testimony to the division of labour. It is addressed to actors in the musical world as well as to artists-teachers, directors of institutions and students wishing to understand the evolution of French cultural policy and the creation of the institutions of our present day, always magnificently contextualised.
The last Survey on the cultural practices of the French is indicative of a decline in classical concerts as a cultural practice (only 6% of the population went to a classical concert in 2018, slightly more for jazz, namely 11%), which can be read as a mixed assessment of the two main currents of French cultural policy since the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 1959. Sylvie Pébrier could have been content to use the metaphor of "it was better before", but she gives us to see cultural rights, enshrined in French law since 2015, as a "major element of a possible renewal of public policies on culture", a form of articulation between André Malraux's cultural democratisation(access) and Jack Lang's cultural democracy(participation) highlighting the fertile potential of people's contribution to cultural life and possibly to works of art* (let's cite here the works of David Hudry, Loïc Guénin or Alexandros Markeas).
Cultural Rights in Action
In its final chapter, Moving Forward Together in Uncertain Times, the essay places education, early childhood and youth at the centre of the issues at stake by mentioning the need for a "significant concentrated effort in training, action and evaluation".
While the State's action during the pandemic to support artists and performing arts organisations is to be commended, as are the inspiring reflections carried out by professional organisations on societal and environmental issues, it is regrettable that there is no overall vision for music, and above all that aspiring musicians (as well as future amateurs and citizens) - the "base of the musical pyramid" - have not been the focus of attention. Indeed, the author reminds us that "a person's cultural life is determined from the very first years of his or her life and that the quality of relations and interactions with his or her environment is decisive".
Established in a territory, resource centres, conservatories could be put back at the centre of discussions, at a time when the profession is experiencing a loss of meaning. Taking into account cultural rights in artistic education establishments is an opportunity to move towards an anthropological definition of culture, a chance to see (and hear?) differently, to approach the questions of "creation" and "transmission" from the angle of "planetary citizenship", of "complex thought" evoked by the sociologist Edgar Morin**. This shift, she says, leads us to "question history, not to wipe the slate clean, but to become aware of the processes of construction". In other words, recognising that certain hierarchies are the result of constructions does not mean annihilating the past in the face of the idea that "everything is equal", but allows us to approach certain legitimate contemporary issues with humility, such as inclusion, ecology or gender equity. We can think in particular of the sometimes condescending distinctions that persist between "learned" and "popular" music, between so-called "concert" and "pedagogical" repertoires, between activities that would be noble (soloist, concert artist, conductor, teacher) and others that are less so (mediator, assistant, accompanist, dumist, etc.) and that it is necessary to question.
A policy of relationship
With the objective of placing amateurs at the centre of the concerns of conservatories, which are sometimes accused of "elitism", we can understand the concerns that musicians may have in the face of injunctions to open up, which could constitute a form of withdrawal or even disappearance for them. But openness to other traditions, other repertoires, other gestures that is not accompanied by a 'policy of relationship', favouring tuning, translation and hybridisation, often leads to misunderstanding, through the juxtaposition of actors within the institution, without the possibility of encounter. In the same way that languages are probably our most precious heritage, we could reaffirm the transmission of repertoires, gestures and techniques in the service of a form ofaisthanomai (I feel that I feel), a way of perceiving and thinking about musical creation as a gateway to the vibrations of the world, to empathy and thus to citizenship, a reflection that some composers have sometimes carried out.
Opera as a witness of our time
Sylvie Pébrier reminds us of the need to articulate the three missions of conservatories, namely the pathways to higher education, the training of amateurs and the missions in the city, one not going without the others. The AIMS programme developed by the Paris Conservatory in cooperation with other art schools is a wonderful example of this. It is therefore an opportunity to reinvest the political space - in its etymological sense - despite the historical temptation of a certain autonomy of music, which the visual arts have understood well. Contemporary opera is perhaps the most suitable place to tell the stories of our world, as shown by the very recent works by Philippe Manoury(Kein Licht, 2017) on the issues of nuclear dangers after Fukushima, Kaija Saariaho (Innocence2021), a multilingual work on mass killings, and Sivan Eldar (Like Flesh, 2022) on ecology and artificial intelligence. Needless to say, there are many more topics to be explored!
Quality is a matter of debate
Among the proposals in this book, the method of shared evaluation, implemented since 2013 in the Cultural Centres of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, is particularly noteworthy. Putting the actors of a project around a table to 'extract value' allows each one to feel like an actor in the project, because, as Luc Carton reminded us, 'quality is a matter of discussion'. Having personally initiated a process of shared evaluation on an experimental basis since September 2021 within the accordion class of the ESMD in Lille, as well as projects linked to the territory at the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional in Boulogne-Billancourt, strongly inspired by my experiences as a musician in contact with other artists, The results are extremely promising because they nourish the relationship of excellence with the instrument, the deepening of the most demanding repertoires taught, as well as the spirit of co-construction, a way of weaving the experience of art into life.
The essay closes with a shift in scale: the role of music in the service of peace, which is reminiscent of the concerns of the annual international seminar on music and social transformation organised in Bogotá by the Batuta Foundation (Colombia): Sylvie Pébrier reminds us that the dialogue of the world's cultures is essential for maintaining peace.
This remarkable essay, supported by inspiring bibliographical references, invites us to experiment, to practice difference, cooperation and to "engage in the construction of a world where life is at the centre", with equality as a political horizon.