The migration of things

Musik & Migration | © Carlos /

The theory and method handbook "Music and Migration", which was published in July, is dedicated to the manifold aspects, phenomena, interactions and perspectives in the research field between music and migration in 16 thematic complexes. 

The Routledge Handbook of Music and Migration. Theories and Methodologies

Wolfgang Gratzer (Mozarteum University), Susanne Scheiblhofer as well as Nils Grosch (Paris Lodron University Salzburg) and Ulrike Präger (Boston University / College of Fine Arts) are the editors of the publication "Music and Migration", which was published this summer in German and English, a comprehensive basic book for future research on which a total of 24 authors collaborated. The common concern to offer a platform for researching music and migration in transdisciplinary contexts motivated Wolfgang Gratzer and Nils Grosch in 2014 to found the inter-university research initiative Music and Migration and to establish the book series of the same name: Both observed that there was great uncertainty inside and outside universities about how this topic could be meaningfully researched. The Handbook of Methods is intended to eliminate these uncertainties, to deliberately address a broad readership, and to show possibilities for research that are already standard in the cultural and historical sciences, but are still lacking with regard to music. The preface already reminds us that migration and mobility are among the essential features of human existence - an explicit counteraction to the negative connotation of the term migration and the portrayal of migration as a danger in order to justify demarcation. "We have agreed - contrary to the widespread understanding that migration refers solely to the movement of refugees - to define the term more broadly in accordance with the original, more general meaning of the word and to also include phenomena such as educational, labor, marriage migration and other forms of migration," says Wolfgang Gratzer. Susanne Scheiblhofer adds: "It is very important to us to dispel prejudices or at least to question them. We want to give people the tools to be able to ask questions themselves."

There is an essential, dynamic relationship between music and migration: both terms are constantly changing and being negotiated. "Music and migration play a common role in all aspects of our lives and culture. As a person, when I move from one place to another, I take all my cultural experiences with me and share them with other people, learn about other cultural traditions. And I also take this learning experience back with me when I go back," explains Susanne Scheiblhofer, referring to the long shared history of the correlation between music and migration: "Vagant music," the music of traveling people, was already present in the Middle Ages, and the monk of Salzburg was also one of them. Travelling opera troupes went through Europe with so-called "Kofferarien". Songs and songbooks popular along the Way of St. James in the 11th and 12th centuries "migrated" with the people and spread. And the Salzburg court music in the 18th century was staffed with quite a few "foreigners" in order to remain competitive with the best musicians. This also resulted in better earnings, as Wolfgang Gratzer explains. "Especially in Salzburg this reciprocal relationship is well tangible. W.A. Mozart was on the 'Western Europe Journey' for three years and we can say with good reason, Mozart learned a lot on these travels. Mozart wrote from Paris to his father on September 11, 1778, 'Without travel one is probably a poor creature'." Salzburg is also well known for another example; Susanne Scheiblhofer also dealt with it in her dissertation: "The Sound of Music," the story of the singing family that fled to the U.S. from the Nazis, took traditional music from Austria with them and successfully built a new existence as a choir. "That in turn was marketed as a film in Austria, and the actress Mary Martin saw that film and thought, 'I want to do that in an English version!' And so this cultural product migrated back to the States, Richard Rogers turned it - with completely new music - into a musical that eventually traveled around the world. Even if we as Austrians are not very familiar with it: "The Sound of Music" shows beautifully that music cannot be fixed, it always moves with people."

The fact that music is not only on the move globally when traveling or in the context of self-chosen migration is also shown by the diverse discussions of the authors. In their contribution, Anna Papaeti and M. J. Grant deal with responsible research methods when working with people who have experienced flight. Gratzer mentions that a certain awareness of care is needed and also the knowledge that those affected may experience consequences such as retraumatization. Scheiblhofer adds: "I think it is very important that Papaeti and Grant have included the perspective, the position of the researchers: It's about the danger of (re)traumatizing the people being researched or themselves. The latter is called second-hand trauma. Researchers, especially younger ones, need to be prepared to take care of themselves as well when dealing with sensitive issues." André de Quadros addresses this aspect, advocating for a humanitarian approach to working with refugees. He advocates not only visiting refugees in their camps and conducting "helicopter research." "Music and Migration" also aims to question existing narratives, as Susanne Scheiblhofer explains: "We have a great contribution by Nils Grosch on cultural mobility and music in exile, with biographies of artists and composers who were displaced by National Socialism. Here we often see the narrative that migration led to a break in style. Is that so? You can't say whether Kurt Weill would have written the same music had he stayed in Europe." From the fields of music, pedagogy, and systematic musicology, Katarzyna Grebosz-Haring and Magnus Gaul approach acculturation processes among young people using qualitative-quantitative research methods. Ulrike Präger examines music and migration from an ethnological perspective in two contributions. Key concepts such as ethnography, auto-ethnography or musicking are dealt with or the question of what it means to make participant observation. Michael Parzer deals with perspectives of migrant business research and how people rebuild their economic existence with the help of music after relocating their center of life. Media scholars Ricarda Drüeke and Elisabeth Klaus offer methodological and theoretical perspectives on how to translate such observations into solid research and systematically address specific questions. In his contribution, Gratzer discusses the advantages and challenges of researching one and the same migration topic from multiple perspectives - that is, from different sides, including from the perspective of the people being researched.

"The Handbook's authors mobilize the power of that evidence that emerges from the interplay of theories and methods to point to new ways of giving attention to the voices of migration in a modern, troubled, and unsettled world," Philip V. Bohlman notes in the preface. This wish regarding the impact of the publication is also shared by the editors, and in part it is already beginning to be fulfilled with the publication: "We made a conscious decision to publish our book primarily in open access, and it is already being downloaded all over the world," Wolfgang Gratzer is pleased to say. "A nice example of a 'migration of things': that these proposals, these ideas, this reflection and also this criticism can spread very quickly all over the world."


(First published in Uni-Nachrichten / Salzburger Nachrichten on October 7, 2023)

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