Music in Urban Culture

In early March 2021, our research team (with a project in Vietnam, led by Stefan Östersjö) has an online presentation for the 18th Urban Culture Forum in Thailand. It is an annual event organized by the Urban Research Plaza, a collaboration between major public universities in Osaka (Japan) and Bangkok (Thailand), and held this year at Chulalongkorn University, a distinguished institution that I visited in Bangkok several years ago. The Urban Research Plaza also publishes the Journal of Urban Culture Research, for which I have offered some peer reviews as an external referee.


Our research team will discuss the changing role of music in urban spaces, including how musical practices are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Below is the abstract of our presentation for this event:

Authors - Stefan Östersjö, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, David G. Hebert, and Henrik Frisk


Title - Studio Saigon: Telematic performance and recording technologies in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect individual musicians, ensembles and concert institutions, streaming technology has become a central vehicle through which musicians and audiences can meet. This paper discusses how networked performance, a format which has engaged artists for decades as an artform in its own right, may contribute to the sustaining of cultural heritage among migrant/minority communities as well as to the development of innovative intercultural artistic practices. Building on the experience of our group, The Six Tones, we wish to develop a more robust understanding of the possibilities, and the limitations, that networked technology affords. The central source of our own work is drawn from Musical Transformations, an ongoing project which studies the intersection between traditional and experimental music in globalized society. 

The project has studied the dynamic history and contemporary performance practices of Vọng Cổ, a Vietnamese song which has experienced a radical set of transformations since the 1920’s. Recording technology has played a central role in this development, as evidenced even in the way its formal structure was shaped to match the duration of the 78rpm records on which this music was recorded on local labels still in the 1960’s (Gibbs et al 2013). We note that interactions both inside and outside recording studios contribute to urban culture. From the perspective of the street in Ho Chi Minh City, both recording studios used in this project blended into their surroundings, amongst residences, tiny convenience shops, hair salons, and restaurants selling pho and banh mi. Both studios also were negatively affected by traffic noise from a steady stream of motorbikes and trucks as well as construction projects. Local businesses were evidently accustomed to encountering foreigners leaving the studios for breaks in their recording sessions. Only a modicum of previous ethnomusicological studies have considered the role of recording studios in urban culture, which promote business in local communities while producing cultural products that have a lasting and expansive impact far beyond their neighborhood. Kay Shelemay observed that “recording technology is not only an integral part of our discipline’s intellectual history. It is an increasingly important part of our future as well” (Shelemay, 1991, p.288). We argue that the rise of telematic performance in the time of the pandemic also points to new avenues for recording technologies, inside and beyond the recording studio.



Music Talks Project

I am happy to report that the Music Talks project has just been awarded funding from the EU’s Erasmus Plus, specifically its program for Youth Education: Partnerships for Creativity

Music Talks is coordinated by the Baltic Regional Fund, and is a collaboration between the Info Front youth NGO in North Macedonia, and the Tava Muzikas Skola school in Latvia, with the Grieg Academy Music Education (GAME) research group of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences as the academic partner. 

The 2-year project will apply new technologies to guide music teachers and youth workers in strengthening their community music activities and developing a stronger appreciation for musical heritage.


Symposium on Comparative Educational Philosophy


UPDATE: Here is a link for those who would like to join our online presentation Comparative Philosophies of Education: https://baice.ac.uk/events/baice-students-roundtable-session-comparative-philosophies-of-education/


I look forward to giving an online presentation on January 29 for the British Association for International and Comparative Education. My role for our symposium is as a Discussant, responding to philosophical papers presented by a group of excellent PhD students from five different countries—Adam Switala (Poland), Thu Thu (Myanmar), Czarecah Tuppil Oropilla (Philippines), Luna Luo (China), and Dorothy Ferary (Indonesia)—who are among those that participated in my 2020 course PhD911: Non-Western Educational Philosophy and Policy.

It is exciting to see what these bright young thinkers are accomplishing, and a thrill to be part of it. They are from the same group of scholars who are collaborating with me in development of a special issue on Asian Philosophies for the Nordic Journal of Comparative and International Education

This BAICE event is hosted by Dorothy Ferary, to whom we are grateful for the invitation. We are eager to present our ideas, obtain feedback, and publish our work within a few months. A link to the event, with further details, will be posted here when it is made available. 

I am hoping we will also manage to attract a few more qualified students to the upcoming Bergen Summer Research School, which includes a new PhD course Internationalising Higher Education


Thanh Thuy Nguyen in Bergen

We are very pleased to announce that Dr. Thanh Thuy Nguyen has been awarded full funding from the Swedish Research Council for a 3-year position as Postdoctoral Researcher with the Grieg Academy Music Education (GAME) and Kairos research groups here in western Norway.

Dr. Nguyen is a renowned master performer on the Vietnamese instrument dan tranh—who works as a professional musician in both traditional and experimental genres—and is also an accomplished researcher. We look forward to mutually-beneficial collaboration in both research and creative music projects.     

Below are links for further information about her artistic and scholarly output:





Major Music Education Project in Uganda

East Africa is among the most dynamic regions of the world today, with many enduring opportunities for economic and educational development. I have long been interested in this region, and have lectured for University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and University of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and mentored a doctoral student from Bagamoyo when I worked in Finland. More recently, Uganda has really captured my attention, especially through participation in several planning meetings with professors and lecturers from University of Bergen, Makerere University and Kyambogo University to develop a proposal for long-term collaboration between Norway and Uganda.

It is now a great pleasure to announce that we have been awarded a large grant from the Norhed program of Norad (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It is to support the 6-year CABUTE project, which will develop the first PhD programs in music, education, and related fields to strengthen teacher training and higher education in Uganda. 

Steinar Sætre, a member of GAME research group, is the project manager, and I will have the main responsibility for PhD program development in music. Through the TeLEd research group and the CABUTE project, we will collaborate with Robert Gray (educational technology/higher education specialist, also at University of Bergen) and a team of professors and local experts based in Uganda. With Norad’s generous financial support we will be able to focus much of our attention on this project for a 6-year period (2021-2027). It is an amazing opportunity, and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this promising collaboration.

Please note that the main project leaders in Norway will also be collaboratively teaching the online PhD course Internationalizing Higher Education for the 2021 Bergen Summer Research School, which is now open to applications from PhD students who can earn credits by taking this course from anywhere in the world. 

We also eagerly await the results of proposals for collaborative research and development projects with institutions and organizations in Europe (Erasmus Plus) and East Asia (Utforsk). Hopefully there will be more good news in early 2021 and opportunities to gain additional institutional support for these initiatives, including PhD stipendiats and Postdoctoral students. 


More information: https://www.uib.no/en/sdgbergen/141540/uib-sweeps-norhed-ii-funding#cabute

[Displayed here are the official Coat of Arms of Uganda, and the file Languages of Uganda, public domain, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda#/media/File:Coat_of_arms_of_Uganda.svg; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Languages_of_Uganda.png].


Book Reviewed in Swedish Journal

Click HERE to see a review of our book Advancing Music Education in Northern Europe (Routledge, 2019), which was written by David Johnson, and published in the Swedish Journal of Music Research

Also, click HERE to see an earlier review of the book, by Adam Switala, published on the website of the International Society for Music Education. 

The book was developed through the Nordic Network for Music Education, an organization I manage which is now expanding with additional partner institutions and projects.

Shown above is a photo of my backyard in Bergen on a day with rather unusual weather. 


Ceremonial Music in 2021

Since ancient times music has been used to set the tone for important events, an essential part of rituals in all cultures worldwide.

Near the conclusion of such a challenging year (2020), I am optimistic to now be developing original music for two events in 2021:

  • Fanfare for the inauguration of the new rektor (president) at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, historian Gunnar Yttri.
  • Music for the opening ceremony of the Bergen Summer Research School, an international PhD-level collaboration between multiple research institutions in Bergen, Norway.

Both of these events will mostly occur online, but we are hopeful that the ongoing pandemic will become much less of a concern in the coming months, making the planning of “live” events ever more realistic.


How ceremonial music should sound in 2021 is an interesting question. Composers and songwriters often struggle to find an ideal balance, in the hope that audiences will not regard their work as either too conservative, too commercialized, or too abstract and complex. Music for events of this kind—with a truly diverse audience—should sound different from music designed to advance the artform with techniques that may only be fully appreciated by composers and professional musicians. It also should not sound like something that belongs in a different century, or that is pop-influenced to the point of seeming condescending to the audience. It is meant to create a serious yet festive mood and focus attention on a significant point in time and space.    

[Public domain image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9c/Russian_Fanfare_Trumpets.jpg]