Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Fri, January 26, 2018 05:50:54
On 29th December 2017 it was made public that I had been awarded an OBE in the UK New Year's Honours List for services to Psychology and Music (see http://bit.ly/2DAYAEb). On 23rd January 2018 Nicholas Kenyon (old friend and Director of the Barbican Arts Centre) and Lynne Williams (Principal of Guildhall School of Music & Drama), hosted a reception in my honour, attended by colleagues, friends, and family. These are the remarks I made in thanks.
Can I thank you all for coming, and thank Nick
Kenyon and Lynne Williams for co-organising this lovely and unexpected
event. It’s great to see so many people here from different areas of my
life. I’ve also been touched by sincere apologies from a number of
well-wishers who are too far away from London to join an event such as this.
There’s a somewhat fuzzy protocol about what prior honours or achievements are
allowed to stand after one’s name alongside a national honour. One thing
is completely clear. Fellowship of our national academies survives
comparison with any other honour. That is why I now proudly carry 6 letters
after my name, FBA, OBE.
My OBE citation is for services to psychology and music. Similarly, and
in expression of its own interdisciplinary ethos, the British Academy admitted
me to membership of two of its sections, Psychology and Music.
In another similarity, both announcements came as complete - and indeed
overwhelming - surprises.
However, there were differences too. In the case of the British
Academy I knew exactly who had put my name forward - the 40 or so existing
Fellows of the psychology section, with support from Music Fellows. I
also knew exactly what achievements had prompted the election, since at a
splendid inauguration ceremony a formal citation was read out, a citation I
will always treasure.
In the case of the OBE, my nominators are unknown to me. What precisely
they wrote to the honours committee will also remain a secret. But
I am very indebted to these secret admirers who laboured on my behalf.
Having been part of the nominating group for other recipients, I know that this
is not a trivial job.
The absence of a detailed citation leaves a space for well-wishers to fill, and
I have had so many touching messages from individuals as well as
organisations. What has struck me forcibly about the messages from my
professional world is that my fellow psychologists see this honour as upholding
and and validating the wider enterprise of academic psychology, as well as my
specialist sub-discipline, music psychology.
For all its popularity, psychology remains a curiously unselfconfident and
peripherhal discipline within the academy. Only introduced into our
universities on any scale in the 1960s, it has struggled to attain the solid
self-assurance of, say, physics, or history. And Psychology of Music is
even more peripheral! The vast majority of psychology departments contain
no music psychology specialists, and the topic barely figures in major
Where music psychology has fallen on hugely fertile and welcoming ground has
been within the discipline of music itself. Almost every music
undergraduate in Britain these days has read some music psychology; and I
remain astonished at the extent to which bits of my own books and papers are
quoted back at me by the musicians I meet. Conservatoires around the world
have started hiring music psychology specialists, and have increasingly placed
psychology at the centre of their research strategy.
Many of you will know that recent world events have pulled me into new fields
of endeavour, trying to grapple with the huge human cost that military
adventures around the world have created. These new concerns led me to
say goodbye to Keele University, who had given me, and music psychology,
incredible sustained support over more than three decades. I returned to
London to become more fully engaged in the task of speaking truth to power.
At that point I could well have left psychology and music completely behind
were it not for the inspired and persuasive intervention of a few key
individuals connected to Guildhall School. They completely understood and
accepted that the majority of my intellectual and emotional energies were
elsewhere, but found a way to make an offer I could not refuse, a fractional
research post with almost none of the burdensome teaching and administration
that weighs so heavily on career academics.
And so, this last decade has allowed me a new lease of life, bringing my
intellectual concerns to bear on the dreams, preoccupations and dilemmas of the
professional musician, whether at the height of an international career, or
puzzling out what such a musical career should or could mean in the 21st
Century. I remain incredibly grateful to Lynne’s predecessor Barry Ife,
and Helena Gaunt, my constant champion and support within the institution, for
offering me this unique home, with all its creativity and potential - drawing
also on its close reciprocal relationship with the Barbican, Europe’s largest
and most diverse arts centre.
Just at this moment, as Nicholas and Lynne know, I find myself at the centre of
a new collaboration between the two institutions, a jointly funded and
supervised doctoral studentship on the changing role of arts centres against
the backdrop of current social and political dynamics. This is a
new and exciting area of endeavor for me, and illustrates something about the
environment in which I have found myself, always inviting, even pushing, people
such as me to go beyond our comfort zones into new territories.
An event like this is not just about the professional world, but also about the
network of family and friends without which no professional achievement would
be possible or meaningful. There are people in the room tonight who have
known and loved me since long before I did anything that attracted public
attention, not least my dear sisters Clare and Ann. Thankyou all for the
essential friendship and nurturing support you all bring. It is an
additional delight that Ann is now a colleague as well as a sister, heading up
activity here at Guildhall in the related field of Music Therapy.
As many of you know, there is one person who would have been utterly delighted
and proud to have been here, had she not suddenly died literally days before
the announcement was made public. Our mother Mary, who turned 90 last
year, shares this honour in a very real way. As all good parents
do, she (and our late father Mietek) held out for their children the confidence
that they could succeed in whatever they chose to do, and supplied the
practical day in day out support which laid the foundations of later
So in raising a glass to this honour, do also raise a glass to her memory
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