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14 September 2010

Pauline Muir - Arts Education

Pauline Muir - Arts Education

Pauline Muir is the Course Director for the Arts Management degree at London South Bank University. Her previous job was as Deputy Director for a music education company. Pauline is currently doing a PhD exploring the sonic environments of Black Majority Church settings. 

Pauline grew up in a staunch Pentecostal family in East London. "I remember having teenager rows with my dad about wanting to watch Starsky and Hutch on a Saturday night, but having to attend the regular three hour prayer meeting with loads of elderly people".


As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

I was sent to piano lessons as a child, and didn't have the option of refusing to go because I was bored. As an older teenager I realised I quite enjoyed playing so decided to study at music college. It was at that point that I had vague ideas of becoming an orchestral musician.

How did you get involved in arts education?

In those days at college, you were only made aware of two options, either to play or to teach. I was clear that I didn't want to teach music in a secondary school.  I had horrendous memories of what happened to my own music teacher at school. After graduating, I found that openings for the world of classical music were few, and that it was a terribly competitive industry. Having spent four difficult years practising hard at the double bass, I decided that this world wasn't for me.

It was by chance that a friend introduced me to 'community music'. I started off working as a musician going into a variety of environments running workshops with people from diverse backgrounds. I eventually progressed through the organisation to become part of the senior management team.

What is the gist of your current PhD research?

My research explores the sonic environments of Black Majority Church settings and its role in mediating and constructing black religious subjectivities. To date, there has been little scholarly interest in this area. While there has been a good deal of work on the sociological and political implications of the Black Majority Churches in the UK, there are few studies that consider the role of auditory culture in relation to black religious subjectivity.

What contribution can your findings make to black artists and the wider community?

African American gospel music has been given a great deal of attention over the years. I am hoping that my work will shed some light on not only the significance of sound within religious settings, but how sound is used to construct an individual and corporate sense of self.

Who influences you in your work?

Like much academic writing, my work is very multi-disciplinary and I draw on a multiplicity of writers. But it is probably fair to say that the work falls broadly into the field of Culture, Media and Religion which considers how technologies of the modern age impact and mediate on religious belief and practice. Key writers in this area are people such as Birgit Meyer, David Morgan and Stewart Hoover. But I also draw on the ideas of Robert Beckford, Mark Sturge, Joe Aldred, Roswith Gerloff in writing about the Black Majority Church in the UK.

What is the power of sound?

Words, of course, also translate via the medium of sound and are therefore part of our oral culture, and for many evangelicals, it is the power of the Word that is the marker between the sacred and the profane. But with or without words, sound is an important means of self knowledge and can act as a mechanism for navigating our way through the world. Sound acts as a medium to connect with the divine. Sound creates religious space. Sound enables the presentation of a religious self. Sound provides a social record of what is taking place in a religious setting - I could go on. But I believe that the exploration of sonic frameworks provide us with an important mechanism of interrogating and knowing our world.

What is your most treasured possession?

My iphone - is that a bit shallow? - simply because I can do so much with it. All of my music, the Bible in 16 different translations, my contacts, access to the net, books, podcasts, the ability to make notes on the move, Scrabble!! I hate to admit it, but I would be lost without it.

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream for society. What is yours?

That all people have access to all the resources necessary to enable them to fulfill their potential.

What is the greatest challenge you face in arts education?

Lack of funding. We have had ten glory years where a number of very exciting projects and initiatives have taken place - people's lives have been transformed by the power of the arts. I fear that with the current administration and cuts to the public sector, much of the good work that has been developed will disappear.

What makes you happy?

Playing with my iphone and eating a sumptuous meal with my family - not at the same time though.

How can the arts increase wellbeing in society over the next decade?

That's quite a difficult question. I'm not sure that I know how the arts increase wellbeing in society, but I believe that they do. I think that it is important for all people to have access to participation in a range of art forms. All people regardless of background should have the opportunity to sing, play, dance, paint, read, to engage their creative faculties and not be limited by resource. I believe that the ability to create is an essential part of being human as well as a key characteristic of our Father, the creator.

The ability to engage creativity makes for a better society.