The Nordic Sound (what is it now?)

Courtesy of Nordic Sounds, MIC can now bring you exclusive extracts from the upcoming issue of the renowned Nordic Music Committee (NOMUS) music magazine. Read Halvor Voldstad’s excellent piece on cultural diversity two full weeks before the Nordic Sounds magazine is available in print.

Nordic Sounds Nr. 1 2003

In 2003, in collaboration with educational and training institutions, NOMUS is initiating a project with the aim of documenting and developing new practices and new ideas that can help to improve music teaching in the Nordic countries. The focus of the project is musical training and practice that is locally rooted but crosses boundaries in terms of aesthetic expression in interaction with music and people from all over the world.

The Nordic sound

From time to time, reading foreign reviews of Nordic musicians and composers, one encounters the notion of a special “Nordic sound”. This Nordic sound is rather monotonously associated with proximity to fjord, mountain and forest, as something closer to village than to urban life. But is that really the Nordic sound of now?

To a certain extent, this view has also held us Scandinavians in its grip, stuck in our notions of a shared cultural and musical heritage rather than pointing out the rich variation we find in the Nordic region. These notions are now being stridently challenged.

It is happening in different ways and at different tempos, but there is little doubt that the Nordic societies too are going in for cultural globalisation in music – to beat the band, so to speak. This is evident from our consumption of international cultural products (for example so-called world music), technological development, tourism and migration. The last of these in particular has helped to change our view of the homogeneity of the Nordic communities, and has posed new challenges for cultural policy. But the discussion of cultural diversity must not be restricted to issues of immigration and integration.

It is important to point out that the Nordic countries have always – to a greater or lesser degree – exhibited cultural diversity. The Sámi populations of Finland, Sweden and Norway and the other national minorities have contributed to this. And then international exchanges through trade across the Baltic, the North Sea and the Norwegian ‘North Cap’ have provided impulses that have been crucial to the development of our culture and identity.

All the same, on the cultural policy front there has been greater interest in nation building and the strengthening of what has been seen as our shared cultural heritage than in acknowledging our cultural diversity for what it is. This sense of community has had a higher value in cultural policy than tolerance and respect for differences.

In recent years it seems that this picture is changing. The discussions of cultural policy in the multicultural society have become more important, and policy measures have been initiated at the national level. The common Nordic goal of cultural democracy must involve granting equal status and equal value to different forms of cultural expression; the right and the opportunity to express oneself as one wants must apply to everyone.

So what about Nordic co-operation? The Swedish chairmanship of the Nordic Council
of Ministers in 2003 has stated that the issues of the multicultural North must take pride of place. It is emphasised that cultural life in the Nordic countries must be typified by diversity, and that it is necessary to strengthen the Nordic dialogue about how this is to be ensured.

What about music?

Many people would say that it is precisely in the musical area that we have come furthest in terms of profiling cultural diversity in the North. Several Nordic musicians with minority backgrounds have made their mark nationally as well as internationally. Musicians with backgrounds in folk music or jazz have participated successfully in the growing market for so-called world music.

The activities of the National Concert Organisations in Sweden and Norway, World.dk in Denmark, as well as festivals and venues have been important in getting new musical idioms out to a wider public. In addition there has been a wealth of initiatives from musicians, organisers and cultural associations with their roots in minority environments.

It is an important goal of cultural policy to make training in and for music available to everyone regardless of social status, domicile, gender and cultural background. This has led to great leaps forward over the last couple of decades, during which – in parallel with the expansion of the educational system in general – local music schools have been launched in practically every municipality in the Nordic countries. At the same time training opportunities at the higher level have been developed, so that today musicians and music teachers are being trained in numbers and to standards that would have been almost inconceivable just a few decades ago.

All the same we have far to go before we can say that public musical education takes an active approach to contemporary cultural diversity. In Oslo a third of the pupils in the primary schools come from minority backgrounds; in Malmö it is closer to half.
What does this mean for the music schools and musical training?

The Nordic Music Committee, NOMUS, wants to make a contribution to this debate.
In 2003 a project is being launched with the aim, in co-operation with educational and
training institutions, of documenting and developing a new practice and new ideas that can help to develop musical education in the Nordic countries. The focus area of the project is musical education and musical practice that are locally rooted, boundary-shifting in aesthetic expression and which encourage interaction between musics and peoples all over the world.

Starting point in existing projects

The project will take its point of departure in some of the initiatives that have already been launched in the Nordic countries. One of these is the World Music Centre in Århus. Under the leadership of Lance D’Souza from the music school there, the centre has offered training in music and dance based on traditions from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. The activities have taken the form of classroom teaching in the state schools and are now an ordinary part of the music school syllabus.

In the Lärjedalen neighbourhood outside Gothenburg, the International School of Dance and Music was started in 2000 on the initiative of local musicians with minority backgrounds and in collaboration with Musikhögskolan in Gothenburg. For some years Musikhögskolan had been working with a qualification project for musicians from a minority background, and it is the participants in this project who are working
at the school in Lärjedalen. Since the autumn of 2002, Musikhögskolan has offered its own course in World Music.

For several years Musikhögskolan in Malmö has been offering courses in world music as part of music teacher training. The experience gained from this has been the starting point for experiments with “World Music Schools” which have been implemented as project work in the state schools.

In Norway the cultural school in Fredrikstad has for a long time had courses in African music. Projects have been started up in Oslo and in the Saupstad neighbourhood in Trondheim, both aimed especially at children from minority backgrounds. At Norges Musikkhøgskole there are further training courses for musicians and music teachers with minority backgrounds.

In Finland the Sibelius Academy has conducted projects with multicultural musical training in cooperation with the Global Music Centre in Helsinki. The Sibelius Academy also has experience of integrating musical traditions from all over the world in the folk music course as well as in music teacher training.

So what can NOMUS contribute?

At the time of writing the undersigned, who is also leader of the project, is concluding a journey involving a series of meetings with all the above organisations as well as a few more. Besides meeting many able people with experience from what can still be called pioneering work in the Nordic context, I have been left with the impression of a decided wish for opportunities to learn from one another. This is perhaps the best starting point for the development of meaningful networking among institutions interested in developing new models in this area.

NOMUS wants to encourage this by establishing a reference group or “think tank” that will contribute to the further progress of the project, the intention being that the project will support exchanges among workshops, arrangements for visiting teachers and practice teaching in institutions at various levels. Documentation, the passing on of experience and the launching of new development work will be central aspects.

NOMUS wants to promote broad discussion of what the multicultural society is to mean for the future development of musical education, and of the role it is to play for the multicultural society. And who knows? Perhaps in a few years’ time diversity will be regarded as a typical feature of the Nordic sound?


Nordic Sounds is the Nordic Music Committee’s music magazine that is edited by Anders Beyer and is published four times a year. MIC would like to express gratitude for being allowed to exclusively publish extracts from the upcoming issue of Nordic Sounds. More information on Nordic Sounds can be obtained here.


Halvor Voldstad is project director for “World Music in the North” – a project founded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Music Committee (NOMUS). “World Music in the North” is scheduled to run from January 2003 to the end of 2004. Halvor Voldstad is located at the Music Information Centre Norway where he shares office space with the MIC adminstration. Voldstad has his background from among other institutions the Norwegian Cultural Council where he served as a consultant on the development work of the Cultural Council aimed at strengthening cultural diversity in Norwegian cultural life through the “Mosaic” programme.

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