Conference debates music and war

The complex relationship between music and war will be examined this month at during two-day conference at the City of London Festival.

Musicians, art therapists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and soldiers will come together to discuss the relationship between art and conflict; artistic responses to post-traumatic stress disorder; and whether human creativity is in itself therapeutic.

‘Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War’ is organised by The Musical Brain – a London-based charity which aims to facilitate debate about the effects of music on the mind – and takes place on 28 and 29 June at Mansion House.

Ian Ritchie, artistic director of both the City of London Festival and The Musical Brain, told IAM: ‘This year we thought it was an opportune time to tackle music and PTSD, and trauma from conflict, bearing in mind what’s going on around the world and that the impact of war is deeply psychological. We wanted to give the issue a high-profile presence [during COLF], not shoved off into some university corridor somewhere. It gives the subject the prominence it deserves.’

The event will also explore how emotional experiences are reflected in music and poetry; an understanding of whether expression of pain could in fact ease the suffering of it; and whether neurobiological perspectives might explain therapeutic outcomes.

‘There will be a focus on individuals but also examples of how music can bring communities and groups of people closer,’ said Ritchie. ‘Music is a wordless language that people share, so music’s social impacts aren’t far removed from its capacity for individual healing.’

Speakers include British composer Nigel Osborne; classical music broadcaster Stephen Johnson; and Morten Kringelbach, director of the Scars of War Foundation and a senior research fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University.

Ritchie continued: ‘I’ve witnessed the application of musicmaking in a very healing sense among people who have suffered trauma as a result of conflict. I went to Bosnia and worked with young people who were making music, and saw a huge and immediate effect on their mental health. A musical therapy centre was built there as a result. Music has really done a huge amount to improve their symptoms.’

The conference is presented in association with The Army, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Institute of Musical Research, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, and The Scars of War Foundation.