What is Music For?: Utopian Ecomusicologies and Musicking Hornby Island
Mark, Andrew Christopher Whitton
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This dissertation concerns making music as a utopian ecological practice, skill, or method of associative communication where participants temporarily move towards idealized relationships between themselves and their environment. Live music making can bring people together in the collective present, creating limited states of unification. We are “taken” by music when utopia is performed and brought to the present. From rehearsal to rehearsal, band to band, year to year, musicking binds entire communities more closely together. I locate strategies for community solidarity like turn-taking, trust-building, gift-exchange, communication, fundraising, partying, education, and conflict resolution as plentiful within musical ensembles in any socially environmentally conscious community. Based upon 10 months of fieldwork and 40 extended interviews, my theoretical assertions are grounded in immersive ethnographic research on Hornby Island, a 12-square-mile Gulf Island between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Canada. I describe how roughly 1000 Islanders struggle to achieve environmental resilience in a uniquely biodiverse region where fisheries collapsed, logging declined, and second-generation settler farms were replaced with vacation homes in the 20th century. Today, extreme gentrification complicates housing for the island’s vulnerable populations as more than half of island residents live below the poverty line. With demographics that reflect a median age of 62, young individuals, families, and children are squeezed out of the community, unable to reproduce Hornby’s alternative society. This dissertation begins with theorization that connects music making to community and environmental thought. I then represent the challenges Islanders set for themselves and the struggles they face, like their desire for food sovereignty, off-grid energy, secure housing, protection of their aquifers, affordability of ferry transportation, ecological waste-cycles, and care for each other’s mental health. I bring attention to unique institutions that Islanders have created to better manage their needs and desires. In response to the island’s social and environmental dynamics of justice, I argue and demonstrate through ethnography that music making is an essential communal process that brings people together to dialogue about their needs and advance their goals to establish a more equitable and environmentally responsible community.