'Cultural or social barriers can be broken by making art together'

Wim HenderickxThu 10th January 2019

Composer Wim Henderickx on the unifying and educational power of music

How can we bring people together through music; amateurs versus professionals, various cultures and religions, different generations, heterogeneous social backgrounds and different art forms? And what effect can this generate within a broader social context? What can classical/contemporary music and art in general contribute to this modern world? 

These questions have already occupied me a large part of my artistic life and in a number of productions I have tried to come up with solutions and implement them.

When we talk about music life in Flanders, Belgium and the Netherlands in the broadest sense, I can say with certainty that it is alive and kicking. It is however a fact that people mostly make music within their specific context, with little overlap. I assume that this is a general phenomenon. In my opinion, it is very important that we search specifically for ways to bring various groups into contact with each other, in order to widen views, to increase tolerance on every level and to make different ideas, tastes and experiences interact infectiously. 

In 2014 I started working on an ambitious idea in this context, after I was approached to realize a large-scale community project. I made Antifoon, a work for 500 people of all ages, backgrounds and levels to be performed on a gigantic bridge. The challenge was enormous; there were orchestras, wind bands, choirs, various ensembles, carillons and two professional singers. After six months of intense work I succeeded, along with a diverse team, to pry out certain fixed ideas and enthuse people for something they were not familiar with in many cases. After some initial opposition here and there, an enthusiasm and solidarity bubbled up and ultimately also a shared pride after having successfully completed this feat.

With Parade Noorderlicht I was recently involved in a project that went one step further. My work was performed in a musical parade in the most deprived areas of Antwerp. People from the neighborhoods as well as students from fashion academies and music schools made clothing, street decoration, luminous objects and musical instruments. Adults, youngsters and children from all possible backgrounds participated in the parade and I had a great time playing percussion on a garbage truck, together with a particularly varied and colourful group of percussionists. At such moments you feel a connection between people that you would otherwise not assume as possible. Moreover, people from the neighborhoods were delighted to also get in the news in a positive way.

This brings us to the metaphysical power of music and art, a force that facilitates reconciliation. On the most recent recording with my work by Boho Strings, we implemented my work Nostalgia for string orchestra. Originally this work was composed for Atlas Ensemble in Amsterdam, for seven musicians from the Middle East. My aim was to bring together musicians who were not allowed to play their traditional music together and would now be able to communicate through this contemporary music. Witnessing this process was an incredibly poignant and touching experience for the audience and everyone involved.

In Belgium, the Netherlands and undoubtedly also abroad, there are many great initiatives that bring art and music to the people in order to increase cohesion between various layers of the population. Usually they work with limited resources because the political establishment does not always correctly assess the necessity of these initiatives. A wonderful example for this is the particularly praiseworthy Tutti Fratelli, a social-artistic workshop in the heart of Antwerp. Professional actors, directors and musicians make musical theatre with people in poverty, psychological problems or disabilities. Each production results in highly esteemed performances in the Flemish and Dutch theatres. People testify how this initiative changed their lives, how they got out of loneliness and gained self-esteem.

Music and art in general undoubtedly has the power to bring people from different cultural and social backgrounds closer together. In times of extremism and intolerance, I want to contribute as an artist in softening the harshness of contemporary life. Cultural or social barriers can be broken by making art together. This is yet another invitation to policy makers to treat music and art as a major priority in education.

'Nostalgia: Works for String Orchestra by Wim Henderickx' with Boho Strings and David Ramael is out on January 11, 2019 on Antarctica Records: Amazon / iTunes

For more information about Wim Henderickx, please visit: wimhenderickx

Wim Henderickx's picture

Wim Henderickx

Composer and percussionist Wim Henderickx is Professor of composition at the Conservatories of Antwerp and Amsterdam, and main coach on the annual international composition course SoundMine for young composers at Musica

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