In the midst of generations

Katrina DowlingMusic1 Comment

intergenerational musicOnce, I heard the diplomat Kishore Mahbubani speak with music performers and scholars, and his words became part of what I hold up to my everyday work and play.

Kishore Mahbubani has served many years in the Singapore Foreign Service and in the United Nations, and is Dean of the School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore, where I attended a symposium at the School of Music in 2009. In a panel called ‘Asian Voices,’ towards the end of the symposium, Mahbubani reflected that he often speaks to audiences who tend to see divisions. In contrast, he felt that the musicians at the conference tended to look for ways to come together, rather than ways to box things apart. And he called for us to share with others this way of looking for unification.

A big strand of my work is musical style analysis, which relies on being able to box things apart in a multiplicity of different ways in order to then draw meaningful connections between them. I remind students of ‘the perils of pigeonholing’ – the purpose of categorising is not to give a label to something and make that the end of curiosity, but to be imaginative about finding those connections and those meanings.

I’m also lucky enough to do music-making with people of all phases of growth from tiny to the nineties, so, with some others from St Luke’s, I went along this month to an event held by the Centre for Ministry and Theology in Melbourne on practicalities in intergenerational worship. It was delightful to find there a little echo of that call to look at things in a way that finds connections. I learned that ‘generational’ primarily focuses on distinguishing groups by age (emphasising only the connections between people within each generation), whereas ‘intergenerational’ means a primary focus on people of all ages deepening and strengthening their connections with each other, one-to-one.

It’s a continuing discovery to find how well music-making helps us to make those mutual and reciprocal relationships between people of various ages. Especially when we hold our own tastes lightly enough to be able to share in each other’s musical passions! As a 13-year-old has hit upon it, “to be human doesn’t mean that you are a human, it means that you are part of humanity. And being a part of something means that you have to do your part.”[1] I’m sure that some of the reason music is central in our worship is that it’s such a clear way of being fully human, because in making music we not only play and imagine, we do so in relationship with each other and as part of something that is beyond each of us. Have you had the experience of developing a connection with someone not the same age as you through music?

[1] Audio snippet in “Jean Berko Gleason — Unfolding Language, Unfolding Life,” interview by Krista Tippett, On Being, American Public Media, February 4, 2016,

One Comment on “In the midst of generations”

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful drawing together of important themes in your reflection on the intergeneration workshop. I agree that there is often too much emphasis on generations, to the exclusion of what connects people. Whilst one has a natural connection with one’s own age group, deep friendships and support between peers of different ages has been a joy for me in my Christian community and life experience. Exploring life’s diversities and finding connections and similarities between people, ideas, music and life is a joyful learning process.

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