Beyond binaries

Camlin, D. A. (2017) Beyond binaries. In: Music and Ideas: What Do Excellence and Inclusion Really Mean?, 21 September 2017, Royal College of Music, London. (Unpublished)


One of my favourite moments in the film Donnie Darko (Kelly 2001) is the moment where Donnie (played by a youthful Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to categorise a life experience as either belonging to the realm of ‘fear’ or ‘love’. He refuses to cooperate, arguing that ‘you can’t just lump things into two categories; things aren’t that simple,’ and is punished as a result. But what Darko reveals in his classroom rebellion is an intuitive sense that when we attempt to view complex situations through a binary ‘frame’, we ignore the situation’s complexity and the exercise becomes meaningless. I feel the same way about the ‘excellence / inclusion’ debate. If we allow ourselves to be drawn into a discussion of musical practices in these binary terms, we are reducing the complexity of music’s multi-faceted impact, thereby missing the opportunity to advance our knowledge of music’s power. As Ben Goldacre might caution, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that” (Goldacre 2014). Music is ubiquitous in people’s lives (MacDonald et al. 2013) and its power to impact on people’s experience (of themselves, their community, their place, their culture) goes way beyond the simple binary implied by these two terms (Hallam 2015).

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