Explore Climate Change Through Music in New Conservatorium Unit

A new undergraduate unit at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music explores environmental issues through music.

A Pate wooden stick drum instrument, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Image via Shutterstock, ID:1064308244.

Climate change is one of the most important global issues of our era, and one which is destined to have a major influence on the lives of subsequent generations. It is especially dependent upon our understandings of the environment, our place within it, and our views of our environmental responsibilities.

In this new unit, Music, Environment and Climate Change (MUSC3641), students will explore some of the incredible range of ways in which music, the environment and climate change are interwoven. They will be guided through lectures from musicians and researchers involved in the connection between music and the environment across the fields of ethnomusicology, composition, digital music technology, jazz and contemporary music, as well as by lectures and a workshop with Indigenous Australian cultural custodians. Through this unit, students will understand not only the ways that, for millennia, music has had a central role in the way that humans record, transmit and promote understandings of many different aspects of the environment, but also how it functions today and how it may help in solving environmental problems of the future.

‘The connections between music and the environment have been an important dimension within my own research, on the music of the Kam (in Chinese, Dong 侗) minority in southwestern China. It is impossible to fully understand the content of Kam songs, the metaphors used in song lyrics, the names for different musical roles and even key concepts within Kam musical systems without knowing something of the environment of Kam communities.’

— Dr Catherine Ingram

This unit will teach students to:

  • identify the significance of the many different connections between music and environment from the perspective of Indigenous peoples of Australia and beyond
  • demonstrate an enhanced awareness of musical diversity and the ways in which it can be linked to the environment by different musicians and communities
  • explain how music can be useful in promoting better environmental outcomes and combating climate change
  • show how climate change and other environmental problems can impact on music
  • gain musical inspiration from better understanding your own creative connections with your environment

‘As a composer, I’m interested in how ecological thinking opens up new registers for collaboration and knowing. In my own work, I’ve been exploring the pre-modern rhetorical format of the ‘bestiary’ to develop an ontology of music as ‘creatures’ in order to imagine ways of sharing stories and singing songs from more-than-human viewpoints, expanding on music’s power as a relational and creative force in the world.’

— Professor Liza Lim

The course will include lectures by Catherine Ingram, Liza Lim, Genevieve Campbell and other scholars from the Conservatorium, as well as Indigenous leaders and contemporary musicians.

For more information, please contact course coordinator Dr Catherine Ingram.