Yes we can – fix it

Society is falling apart, the world is broken; actually, we have all the answers, if we‘re really honest


In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre I hope that anyone who considers themselves a 5 or more on a happiness scale from 0 to 10 will not be able to fathom how someone can plan, carry out, and advertise a massacre as horrific as this in a country where, it would seem, not much is lacking.

Social and other media is full of thoughts, prayers, and wringing of hands regarding how something like this can even be possible, and yet trans-disciplinary reading reveals that 1) yes, we know that society is falling apart; 2) academics, think-tanks, even schoolchildren are all aware of this and are working on it, but it’s not very well coordinated yet. We even actually know why this has happened and, at a very “lowest common denominator” level, we also actually know how to fix it. Now it’s just a question of sharing and coordinating the knowledge and insights, and putting them into practice; luckily, some of that is beginning to happen too.

The other day I read an exciting article in the Boston Review by Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman, three top-notch economists, who have gathered a team of like-minded experts and suggested hands-on ways to make policy changes that will enhance what they call “inclusive prosperity”. Seen from the economist’s perspective, their policy recommendations should lead to a situation in which wealth is distributed far more evenly than it has been in the “neoliberal” age. Their manifesto reads: “We need to design policies and institutions that make inclusive prosperity possible and globalization sustainable—politically and economically.”

Neoliberalism (every man for himself) and capitalism (hoarding tangibles), the principle economic perspectives from the late twentieth century onwards, have taken a lot of the blame for the rise of the growing disparity in division of riches, the rise of right-wing popularity, and the climate crisis. Various writers have suggested that “capitalism” has failed and new economic models are required (Kate Rawson with “doughnut economics”; Eric Posner and Glen Wyle with a controversial new look at the power of auction).

Neoliberalism’s main character is Homo Economicus,  a shady chap who makes his decisions according to what he’s “going to get out of it”. Based on the assumption that generally, this is how humans make decisions, models are created to describe and possibly predict how a society depending on markets (trade of goods) will function. Caveat please – this is a very simplified black and white description for non-experts in economics.

This type of thinking has influenced policy-making in the Western world extensively, and how dissatisfaction with this perspective turned into rage and a full-blown economics revolution I have described elsewhere.

Actually, all the evidence suggests that humans do make decisions according to what they’re “going to get out of it”, but whereas the neoclassical economic view assumes that this refers to tangible goods, the picture is a good deal more complex. And then again, actually, it’s really simple. Tangibles are easy to talk about. We can see them. With intangibles, it’s a lot more difficult and requires a more imaginative effort on behalf of the thinker – after all, they’re not “really” there, are they, those intangibles?

The economist’s view, that is, the discipline of examining how humans trade in tangible goods, is missing half of the picture, and this is the narrative between the lines of The Econocracy, the Boston Review article, and others. I’ve written elsewhere about Self Determination Theory, and as a model it comes n really useful exactly here: extrinsic basic human needs, regardless of gender, age or race, boil down to food, clothing, shelter. All tangibles, and exactly what economics is all about – how humans try to get more of them, possibly in the belief that they will be happier in the long-term if they do. We need economists to think up contingency plans to re-imagine how this “market” can work and how these tangibles can be distributed in such a way that no one is lacking.

The other half of the picture is about the three basic intrinsic human needs, namely, autonomy, relatedness, and competence. That is, feeling that you are free to make decisions about your life (coffee, yes or no, with or without milk), feeling you belong to a social group with which you identify (family, football club, choir), feeling that people with whom you interact appreciate you for who you are and the qualities you possess as a human person. As opposed to Homo Economicus, this side of the picture is difficult to describe, hard to understand, and maybe impossible to predict. It’s the realm of sociologists and psychologists, and formerly an area considered important in the studies of economics and which is slowly regaining significance.

Social scientists of all persuasions observe, describe, suggest changes, and we need them to do this, and to work hand in hand with each other. Producers of tangibles are easy to spot, but who produces the intangibles that turn out to be half of what humans need to be happy in the long-term? Who are the people who can offer you “flow”? It turns out that the answer to this is “Arts People”, particularly those involved in collective performative art such as choir singing (viz), dancing, acting, orchestra or band playing. Collective sports are not bad at this either, but the arts have the added advantage of avoiding a situation in which there are winners and losers – on stage there are only winners, or should be.

If economists are aware of the need for change and the role they can play in achieving this, it is not part of arts people’s studies to examine how their professional focus can impact society at the kind of level I am writing about today. An experimental course in social and cultural entrepreneurship at the Robert Schumann Musikhochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany, designed in collaboration with my colleague Sara Hubrich, began in April 2018 and intended (among other things) to raise awareness of the correlation between artistic authenticity and potential social impact (articles and website forthcoming).

The question of authenticity and its impact has reached the business world, but cutting music and other arts subjects from school curricula suggests that policy-makers have not realised who the “authenticity experts” are, and where this road is leading. Vivek Wadwha writes a pladoyer for the importance of the humanities (creators and curators of intangibles) in the world of tangibles: “The key to good design is a combination of empathy and knowledge of the arts and humanities. Musicians and artists inherently have the greatest sense of creativity. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools; turning engineers into artists is hard.” and “Tackling today’s biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do.”. He has identified the kind of cross-disciplinary dialogue that is currently lacking and that would benefit society across the board. Celebrated artist Olafur Eliasson writes about the “inauthentic” use of culture as a superficial promotional device, warning that doing this, policy “has failed to acknowledge that the cultural sector is the one that drives civic trust and social self-confidence. It is the culture that we have that gives us our shared identity.”

Empathy, human content, shared identity – these are all intangibles that fall in to Self Determination Theory’s basic intrinsic human needs. The correlation between a deficit of autonomy, relatedness and competence, and the rise of nationalism, xenophobia and terrorism has been variously documented by authors such as Noam Chomsky, Nabeela Jaffer, in an extensive study by Oliver Decker and Elmar Brähler of Leipzig University, and even noticed at a political level.


In the debate surrounding the necessity for economic growth, Alana Semuels reports economists saying that “it makes more sense to focus on measures of well-being other than growth”. As I see it, “growth” and “measures of well-being” do not need to be seen as contradictory. Until the economics world has a united stand on whether economic growth, or the growth of economic value, is necessary or not, I would like to suggest that the growth of value, as such, is a good idea. However, the growth of value includes not only economic value, but also non-economic value, doing justice to the “other half of the picture” that is frequently omitted at the level of policy-making.

In order to create policies that might achieve this, experts in economic value and non-economic value need to work together, and experts of non-economic value need to realise that they are exactly that. Maybe, if this dialogue can be initiated somewhere at some point, we can collectively use our knowledge and creative potential to pool the answers we variously have and, yes, actually fix society for future generations.


Why we need an English word for “Musikvermittlung”

Musikvermittlung is a concept enjoying high popularity in German music education today.

Translating the idea into English is a real challenge, as a quick internet search shows: “the communication of music to young people; music communication; conveying music through general education; making music accessible; music conveyance; getting music across; music mediation; music appreciation; the way music reaches out; music education.”

I was recently asked in which way my music education projects are any different to anybody else’s, given that similarly to others I place importance on peer-to-peer discourse between the educators and their students – by this I mean that I believe there are advantages when the age gap between the teachers and their pupils is not very large, or that they belong approximately to the same generation.

I believe that my projects stem from an understanding of what Musikvermittlung is and where it comes from that is different to others’, and that I view the act of “musicking” (Small 1998), that is, music as an activity involving music performance, as a means to an end which aims to promote social cohesion.

My own research into cultural value has led me to believe that the act of musicking in the context of Musikvermittlung may play a more important role in establishing a healthy society than current perception imagines.

My PhD thesis intends to establish a vocabulary that could enable discussion and debate in the arts, performing and otherwise, on the plane of the arts’ inherent – or cultural – value. If I ask my performer colleagues or students which value their professional activity has for them, or might have for others, they often find it difficult to express anything in concrete terms. It’s a tricky subject that begins to slip through one’s fingers the minute one tries to be more specific.

The surveys and interviews that were central to my research offered some surprising results. For example the impression gained that professional HIP musicians’ characters are strongly entrepreneurial, but that unlike “classic” entrepreneurs their main aim is not to accrue economic capital. Moreover, they seem quite happy about this situation, despite reporting that their financial situation is anything other than relaxed.

In the context of Bourdieu’s (1986) work on the different types of capital, the question arose as to which form of capital the musicians aimed to accumulate.

It would appear that the main type of capital that can be gained through the act of musicking is emotional capital as described by Gendron (2004). According to Gendron, emotional capital can be augmented in situations in which a high amount of emotional communication takes place. Koivunen (2011) describes how the act of making music together entails a high amount of emotional communication due to the kinaesthetic empathy that arises when body movements are coordinated. This promotes social cohesion – it satisfies the basic intrinsic need “relatedness” (Deci & Ryan 2000) – and this is the basis on which my education projects are designed. This means that my projects aim to integrate and unite musicians and non-musicians via a musical activity, regardless of the musical level (or lack thereof) enjoyed by the non-musicians in the group.

On the part of the musicians this requires careful thought and scrutiny of what it means to do what we do and how we can communicate this with non-musicians in the group in such a way that they feel they belong to what we are doing. Essentially, this is what the German word Musikvermittlung means – one word in German, a whole sentence in English!

If we, as musicians, wish to inspire non-musicians and people who are not fans of classical music, then it is our task to approach them and enable them to access our world.

This requires the definition of a lowest common denominator that we share with them, and the results of my research have convinced me that this common factor has nothing to do with the outward presentation (“packaging”) of the music and everything to do with emotional communication.

Of all the art forms, music is the only one that functions at the level of emotional communication without necessary recourse to images or words. Anyone who understands this language does not need anything more than the music itself, without recourse to “packaging”. For example, in the case of a staged performance of an opera, in the best of all cases the staging supports and underscores what is already present in the music, it can’t however replace this.

In order to attract and inspire an audience for classical music, the musicians need to be very clear about what they wish to communicate on an emotional level. In addition I believe the musicians need to think very carefully about how they wish to communicate these emotions, basing their strategy on the emotional content of the music, and I believe that they should be aware of what their action signifies at a societal level. As musicians, we do indeed need to educate our audiences, to teach them the language of emotions which is so self-evident for us, to enable them to take part in what we create on stage.

Musikvermittlung is an important subject in German music education today, and my research results suggest that it is central to creating a healthy society.


The social reality of free-lance musicians in Germany: should music colleges address this, and if so, how?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the debate surrounding the potential future closure of music colleges in Baden-Württemberg in Germany in 2013. The minister who suggested reducing the number of places offered on undergraduate and postgraduate music courses from 2500 to 2000 based this on reports that there was an over-supply of music graduates relative to employment possibilities. I argued that music colleges in their capacity to educate creators of cultural value potentially have an important part to play regarding social cohesion at a societal level, and therefore shouldn’t be shut down.

This is all well and good, but how does it sort out a potential issue with over-supply of music graduates on the market, if there is one at all?

Esther Bishop’s MA thesis examines the status quo of employment possibilities for performance graduates and questions whether the structure of music colleges in Germany is appropriate in the context of today’s employment opportunities.

Of the situation in 2014 compared to the past she writes: “Significantly more musicians work as free-lancers and there are more free-lancers than salaried musicians … most music performance graduates will work in other professions than that which they intended.” (2014:9).

Statistics on the Musikinformationszentrum website suggest that in 2014, free-lance orchestral musicians’ average earnings were below the poverty line.

A few months ago, I discussed this issue with a group of performance undergraduates I was working with. Placing themselves in the position of a government with the responsibility of solving a very real issue they argued back and forth about the impact closing a music college or reducing the student intake would have for the staff, the other students, the prestige of the college and of the town or city in which it was based, and also the issue of raising students’ expectations that they would find work on graduating whilst knowing how unlikely this would be. The students at first agreed that they could see no other way to solve the problem than to reduce the number of music graduates by reducing undergraduate intake (with the concomitant loss of teaching jobs and prestige) just as Ministerin Bauer had done in Baden-Württemberg.

I argued as above, that music colleges should stay open because of what they are worth to society in terms of cultural value. I suggested that there may be other ways to address this issue and asked them how much they were learning about entrepreneurship during their course of study – that is, the kind of entrepreneurship knowledge that they would need if they did not win an audition for a salaried position in a state-run orchestra after graduation, in Bishop’s words: “Other difficulties faced by performance graduates include the differences in skills necessary to be free-lance rather than in a salaried position. Self-organisation, communicative skills and creativity are competencies described as being far more important in a free-lance context than they are required by salaried orchestral musicians.” (2014:10).

The college they attended either doesn’t offer such a course, or they didn’t know about it, certainly their current studies didn’t address acquisition of the particular skill-set required by free-lancers.

My research project with HIP orchestral musicians – all of them free-lance because that is the only option in HIP in Germany – gave me insight into the day-to-day working of the skill-set required by a cultural entrepreneur as defined by Swedberg “the carrying out of a novel combination that results in something new and appreciated in the cultural sphere.” (2006:260). HIP musicians seem to be particularly good at being cultural entrepreneurs, perhaps because the mind-set that informs HIP requires a calling-into-question of received performance parameters.

Based on my insights I proposed to my student interlocutors a study module intending to simulate a free-lance context within the safe space of the music college in which teaching consists of a hands-on approach to solving free-lance issues such as fund-raising, project management, and concert dramaturgy. I argued that introducing such courses would open up new employment options for students on graduation, also in other areas than music, since they would have gained transferrable skills that could be implemented in other contexts.

In the best of all worlds this might mean that music colleges, by rethinking how they can address the issue of over-supply and appropriate qualification, by nurturing students’ entrepreneurial potential and engagement with cultural value through their instrumental studies, might educate citizens who can navigate both the world of economic value as well as that of cultural value.

I will be presenting this module in April at the “First international conference on entrepreneurship in music” in Oslo, Norway.

Peter Bazalgette has written the Cultural Revolution’s handbook


Peter Bazalgette’s The Empathy Instinct, published last month, shows how we can discard the quantifying language of economics when talking about the arts, and what our central concern should be when we do this. Referring to the latest scientific research as well as to current practices in the arts, Bazalgette describes how the “empathy instinct” is central to a healthy society.

There are two main threads in the book. The first is about defining empathy and showing how, via arts processes, it promotes social cohesion within a group; the second is about showing how conflicts arising between socially cohesive groups can be resolved using empathy (via arts processes).

The empathy instinct comprises two types of empathy which coexist and interrelate: emotional empathy, and cognitive empathy. It is the result both of what we have inherited and of how our environment has shaped us, particularly in the early childhood years.

Emotional empathy is developmentally the most basic type of empathy, and occurs when motor mimicry leads to emotional contagion – that is, when one person copies another’s movements and, thanks to the work of mirror neurons, begins to feel the same way as the other person does (that may be as simple as a baby returning your smile). In a recent post I spoke about kinaesthetic empathy between members of an orchestra: that is this process at work and it does not require language for communication.

Cognitive empathy definitely requires language. “Cognitive empathy is a more ‘thinking’ connection with another. It is our attempt to understand the emotions and thoughts of others.” (2017:66). In fact, referring to the work of Frans de Waal, he writes “language itself may have developed from our desire not just to communicate but also to empathise effectively.” (2017:49).

Empathy helps to promote social cohesion in groups. The empathy which engenders loyalty to one’s own group can make us hostile to others, even against our own better judgement, which can be distorted by the group’s interests (as described in the work of Joshua Greene).

Understanding the role empathy plays in creating an “us” and a “them” is the first step to designing a way to resolve conflict. Citing the work of Ruth Feldman with Israeli and Palestinian young people, Bazalgette writes “Her tentative conclusion was that working on emotional empathy via our more primitive, non-verbal social behaviours, may be a better route for conflict resolution than targeting our higher, cognitive processes. Peace-promoting exercises might be most effective, allowing humane, person-to-person exchanges without too many complex history lessons.” (2017:235).

This points to the important role that kinaesthetic empathy can play in creating empathy between hostile sides, so it should not come as a surprise that Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, was founded to unite Israeli and Palestinian young musicians in a shared creative endeavour.

In the final chapter of the book, Bazalgette lists many examples of different arts processes and how they currently use empathy to improve mutual understanding and resolve conflict: “We’ve seen how arts and culture can capture the human condition in an emotionally powerful way. This enables us to empathise with others, even those different to us. Via our imagination we produce a ‘theory of mind’. This is an instinctive brain function for most of us and is potentially beneficial in society, but only if we go beyond the cognitive.” (2017:270).

In a recent article regarding the National Endowment for the Arts in the USA’s precarious future prospects, the author proposes that we need the positive impact the arts can have in resolving negative outcomes of globalisation (such as populism) by promoting pro-social behaviour: “As the planet becomes at once smaller and more complex, the public needs a vital arts scene, one that will inspire us to understand who we are and how we got here — and one that will help us to see other countries, like China, not as enemies in a mercenary trade war but as partners in a complicated world.”. As Bazalgette writes, “it seems likely that the best results occur when both emotional and cognitive empathy are married to a reasoned respect for justice and human rights.”, something which the arts are eminently placed to achieve.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the revolution in economics and the book that sets out why this needs to happen.

The importance of cultural value in achieving long-term subjective well-being has been the subject of other posts in this blog, and I have written about the importance of the intrinsic psychological need “relatedness” – the feeling that one belongs to a group – as being possibly the most important of the three intrinsic needs (autonomy, relatedness, competence) required for “happiness”. I have shown how kinaesthetic empathy, emotional capital, and emotional intelligence are intimately connected to social cohesion, and how music processes are well-placed to promote these.

The Econocracy described the revolution in economics that is happening because people in real life cannot be reduced to the homo œconomicus of neoclassical economics textbooks. The Empathy Instinct describes how and why real people do not always make rational decisions, and how this is intimately connected with cultural value. A revolution driven by creators of cultural value would be the other side of the economics revolution’s coin.

If the cultural revolution is to take place, Bazalgette’s The Empathy Instinct should be the handbook for creators of cultural value to know what it is they are aiming for and how they should go about achieving that goal – a more civil society.

I would like to end today with a quote form Asghar Farhadi’s in absentia speech at the Oscars last night: “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever.”

Do we need music colleges?

In July 2013, the Landesrechnungshof Baden-Württemberg proposed to save between €4 and €5 million per year by cutting funding to all 5 music colleges in Baden-Württemberg: in Stuttgart, Mannheim, Freiburg, Karlsruhe and Trossingen.

The government proposed to reduce the total number of 2500 students by 500 in Mannheim and Trossingen, causing these two colleges to fear that a gradual reduction of the numbers of students attending over the next few years might eventually lead to total closure.

In an interview on SWR2 radio, Theresia Bauer, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Art in Baden-Württemberg, put forward changes in the job market as one of the main reasons for the proposed cuts:

“The musicians’ job market has changed. We have less possibility of placing qualified graduates in orchestras. And we have indications that it is difficult for music college graduates to earn enough as free-lancers to make ends meet. And therefore, we believe a reasonable reduction in the BA and MA areas is in the interests of the students.”

In a classic case of over-supply relative to demand which can be corroborated by statistical evidence gathered by Bishop (2014), Bauer’s argument seems reasonable, yet it provoked an outcry amongst students, music colleges, and musical organisations.

Christian Höppner, general secretary of the Deutscher Musikrat (umbrella organisation of all music associations in Germany) wrote an open letter to the Minister-President of Baden Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, not only emphasising the importance of Trossingen as a cultural centre in an area without cultural infrastructure, but also in terms of the Unesco’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions:

“All five music colleges are striking beacons of cultural diversity at a national and international level, and contribute significantly to a positive image of the federal state in public awareness. The planned cuts would have a fatal signal effect both nationally and internationally – also in the context of the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions.”

Whether Bauer’s perspective is fair can be argued one way  (there aren’t actually enough music teachers for the number of pupils requiring them) or the other (free-lance musicians are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet), but what Höppner says about the value of the music colleges as institutions surely rings true in the context in which he mentions it.

I would like to briefly think about what else Höppner might have said, had he known about the results of my research project on defining cultural value.

In this blog I have written about how the process of making music together with others can contribute to being happy and to social cohesion, and how this is also helped by an identification with inherited values transferred via cultural heritage (the case of the Christmas carols). I have also written about the reason why economic value has become more and more important in societal awareness and how three students at Manchester University started a revolution in economics.

Bauer, in her policy recommendation, was treating music education at HE level as if its value could be captured in the language of neoclassical economics – and quite correctly in this context, if there is over-supply with regard to demand, neoclassical economics recommends that production be reduced.

The institution “music college”, however, also stands for values that are essential for a society to function: music as a “team” effort is unique in that it involves people in real time trying to achieve something together that is completely creative and completely non-competitive – unlike in sports there are only winners. The students trained in music colleges are empowered to create the context for happiness and social cohesion because they are using cultural heritage in a value construct far removed from anything neoclassical economics can offer.

In order to restore the balance between economic value and cultural value in societal perception we need institutions that places cultural value first.

If we want society to be healthy, we definitely need music colleges.

Why Merkel was right about the playing the recorder

In October 2016, the German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at the CDU congress in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, specifically addressing the extreme right-wing AfD’s perception of Islam as condoning anti-constitutional values. She said it was up to citizens to counter this fear of the erosion of western values by upholding Christian traditions, for instance by singing Christmas carols and, “if there’s someone who can play the recorder … asking him [to join in].”

This was met by laughter in the hall, bemusement in the media, and some mischievous jubilation among the professional recorder community including the hashtag #blockflötegegenafd.

Singing together accompanied by recorders to combat fear and save our values?

It doesn’t sound likely, but Merkel was right, and this is why.

My research into why free-lance orchestral musicians continued to work in their job despite their negative outlook regarding future job opportunities and their fear of not earning enough prompted me to ask what exactly it is about their job which makes it so attractive. What is actually going on when an orchestra rehearses and performs together? If musicians are not earning (large amounts of) economic capital, which kind of capital are they earning?

Research by Niina Koivunen points out that the orchestral musician’s work situation is unlike other group working situations because the musicians are all in extremely close physical proximity to one another when they rehearse and perform. Their communication regarding playing together and interpreting the music together is non-verbal: body language cues are extremely important. Central to this is the concept of kinaesthetic empathy: “Kinaesthetic empathy has a capacity to make sense of other people’s experiential movements and coordinate that with our own bodily movements. It includes the placing of oneself in another’s locus without the loss of one’s own.” (Koivunen 2011:64).

Empathy as such – “the ability to comprehend another’s feelings and to re-experience them oneself.” (1990:10) –  is defined by Salovey and Mayer as one possibly central part of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is considered by Bénédicte Gendron to be the vehicle by which emotional capital is acquired in interactions with others: “emotional identification, perception and expression, emotional facilitation of thought, emotional understanding and emotional management” (2004:7).

This suggests that the kind of capital the musicians are accruing, because of the special nature of their work, is emotional capital.

So, what is emotional capital good for?

Gendron’s research suggests that emotional capital is essential for successful team-building.

If you have built a successful team, then you have managed a high degree of social cohesion, and for anyone who read my last blog post, social cohesion is what happens when there’s a lot of “relatedness” – meaning that members of a group feel that they belong to that group. So it would seem that there is a direct causal correlation between emotional capital and “relatedness”, the intrinsic value that is possibly the most important of the three when it comes to “being happy”.

Going back to Merkel’s Christmas carol singing accompanied by recorders, I think it is clear that aspects of the orchestral rehearsal situation are also taking place in this context: close physical proximity, coordination of body movements, social cohesion promoted by kinaesthetic empathy.

These aren’t the only things that are going on though: a study by the Max Planck Gesellschaft describes how musicians’ brain waves coordinate when they play duets together, and a recent programme on German television reported on how singing in choirs makes people happy – the music sociologist and psychologist, Karl Adamek, spoke in interview on the programme about the positive effects of the hormones that this group activity produces.

All these aspects could apply to other team situations, such as playing football. So, what else is special about Merkel’s scenario?

By picking Christmas carols, Merkel is calling on citizens to actively access their cultural heritage. Cultural heritage is one important value that all the groups in my research correlated with Historically Informed Performance, because an identification with music of the past reinforced a sense of cultural identity, meaning that the people “doing” HIP felt they were part of a group with a long cultural history – another example of “relatedness”.

A recent article in the Guardian describes how on a small scale, knowing about and identifying with one’s own cultural history (in this case intimate family history) is important for being happy and having good emotional health, and my research shows how this works on a large scale for big groups as well.

So, Merkel was suggesting that citizens engage in an activity that would promote social cohesion in terms of the inherited values which define their cultural identity in order to counteract the fear that outside influences may be eroding the basis on which their society works.

Merkel was right: playing the recorder might indeed save the world.

Money won’t buy you happiness?

The students and professionals in my research (Historically Informed Performance freelancers) reported being passionate about what they did, mentioning more creative freedom, more responsibility, and more communication with the audience than they believed they would experience in a “mainstream” salaried orchestral job.

They also reported that they believed 50% of their colleagues could not make ends meet from performance work (the professionals) and that it would be very difficult to finance a family (the students). The professionals who had been in performance for longer than 10 years reported a negative trend with regard to income opportunity which they believed would continue in the future. None of them spoke about being so unhappy that they wanted to change profession.

Faced with these results – this passion and fulfilment at the same time as a negative forecast for future income prospects – I asked myself what value these people were attributing to what they did that was so important that it overrode financial worry, and why this even worked.

My reading took me into the realms of Happiness Economics and psychology, where I discovered how very important cultural value is when it comes to “being happy”, or “long-term subjective wellbeing”.

I discovered the “Easterlin paradox”, named after Richard Easterlin, whose research suggested that increase of a country’s GDP does not mean that individuals in that country feel increasingly happy. He also suggested that over one person’s lifespan, when income increased over time, reported wellbeing didn’t.

Whether Easterlin’s view is correct or not has been fiercely debated in the academic literature, and one opposing view argues that feelings of happiness are just an evolutionary twist to get people to carry on evolving.

As I see it, both views are possible – one of them is about single bursts of feeling happy because something good just happened, the other one is about long-term life satisfaction.

It’s this long-term life satisfaction that interests me, particularly in the case of my professionals, where theirs really doesn’t seem to have anything much to do with economic value beyond being able to make ends meet.

Happiness Economics has, over the last decades, become an important branch of economics. It disagrees with the neoclassical economic view that people are only interested in outcomes. One collection of essays on the subject was co-authored and edited by Bruno Frey (who’s been featured heavily in this blog so far):  Happiness: A Revolution in Economics. Frey suggests that people can gain positive returns (“utility”) not just from outcomes, but also from processes themselves (“procedural utility”):

“Procedural utility exists because procedures provide important feedback information to the self. Specifically, they address innate psychological needs of self-determination differently. Psychologists have identified three such psychological needs as essential: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.” (Frey 2008:109)

In the case of the people in my research, they report that “doing HIP” – a process of rehearsal and performance that definitely takes place over time – makes them happy, so this idea of “procedural utility” seems to apply to them (especially since the outcome involves not enough money, as they also report).

In the quote above, Frey refers to the work of two psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who developed a theory of motivation called Self-Determination Theory.

In their paper “The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior” (Deci & Ryan 2000), Deci and Ryan explore the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic needs, where “autonomy, relatedness, and competence” are considered intrinsic needs because they have been show to apply to all people, regardless of age, ethnicity, or citizenship.

Autonomy refers to a person’s degree of self-determination in life decisions, relatedness refers to a person’s sense of belonging to a group, and competence refers to a person’s feeling that they are able to do a job adequately. Anything which does not refer to these three intrinsic needs is classified as an extrinsic need.

Deci and Ryan (2000:247) find that “whereas the attainment of intrinsic life goals is associated with enhanced well-being, the attainment of extrinsic life goals (once one is above poverty level) appears to have little effect on well-being.”

My research results suggest that the HIP musicians’ intrinsic needs are being met by their chosen profession:

The musicians in my study report a great deal of “autonomy” – not just because they are freelance, but also because they have enhanced creative freedom in their place of work. I infer that the professionals also experienced a good deal of “competence” because they were part of an internationally acclaimed orchestra. Most of the students were aspiring towards a career with their own ensemble, one reason why they had decided to study HIP, and this goal aims for experiencing both “autonomy” and “competence”. The reports by both students and professionals regarding high levels of emotional communication with the audience I would categorise under “relatedness”, the feeling that they belong to a group.

Harvard University’s longest running study on what makes people happy suggests that of all three intrinsic values, “relatedness” is the most important. There’s a TED talk about the study and how it is first and foremost the support of real life social networks such as family and friends that contributes towards long-term well-being.

“Relatedness”, seen at the level of the state, is possibly exactly what was lacking in the case of the Brexit vote. Disenfranchised voters felt that Westminster was not properly addressing their needs (such as “autonomy” and the opportunity to experience “competence” – see here for an excellent analysis of the sociology of Brexit), and therefore voted against the government stance and for change, whatever that meant. The “leave” voters felt that they neither identified with nor belonged to the group of people ruled by Westminster. “Relatedness” appears to be the intrinsic need that, above the other two, promotes social cohesion.

This all suggests that the high status enjoyed by economic value as compared to cultural value at a societal level is not going to make any of us happier – money, indeed, won’t buy happiness, unless you are spending it on real life experiences that involve cultural value…