SIMM: An International Research Platform for Music’s Role in Social and Community Work

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SIMM: An International Research Platform for Music’s Role in Social and Community Work

Lukas Pairon, Founding Director, SIMM


Lukas Pairon doing SIMM-research in Kinshasa, DR Congo. Photo: SIMM.

The practice of music in social and community work has developed rapidly over the last few decades. During the past decade, I have been one among a growing international group of scholars and practitioners who increasingly felt a need to study and better understand the field. We felt it was important to move away from an often romanticized, salvatory discourse claiming that music has “magical” powers and can “save lost souls.”

We came to understand that part of the explanation for the relative lack of research could be found in exaggerated rhetoric and redemptionist discourse about the power of music. In addition, many people seemed to think it was simply not necessary to do research on something that is already considered obvious. (My colleagues and I sometimes encountered such reactions in relation to our own scholarly work.) Fortunately, this has started to change recently, and more research projects are now being undertaken in this field.

Seeing that music is increasingly used as an instrument of social change and reintegration of young—and not-so-young—people, a group of scholars and practitioners from seven different countries came together in 2015 to found the scholarly platform SIMM (Social Impact of Making Music), to allow regular exchanges of scholars and practitioners involved in developing scientific and critical research on this field of practice. Our goal was to help develop a research field focused specifically on the possible roles music can play in social and community work.

SIMM was given incubation support in 2015 by the University and the University College of Ghent; from 2017 on, it was formally established as an independent international scholarly association with its head office in Brussels, Belgium. Its first president was John Sloboda (Guildhall School of Music, London); Brydie-Leigh Bartleet is the current president.

SIMM-posium at Guildhall School, London, 2017. Photo: SIMM.

Each year, SIMM organises an international conference—we call them “SIMM-posia”—that lasts for 2–3 days and involves multiple research presentations in the field. Each SIMM-posium is sponsored by an educational institution. The first, in 2015, was held in Ghent and Brussels, Belgium (sponsored by Ghent University and University College); succeeding SIMM-posia have been held in London, U.K. (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); Porto, Portugal (CIPEM); Bogota, Colombia (Fundacion Universitaria Juan N. Corpas); Brussels, Belgium (Arts Centre Bozar); and Paris, France, (Philharmonie de Paris and Fondation Royaumont). The last two years have included a large virtual component due to the pandemic. The seventh annual SIMM-posium will be in December 2022 in London, U.K. (Guildhall School of Music); a 2023 SIMM-posium is planned for Brisbane, Australia (Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Griffith University).

SIMM also organizes annual research seminars, bringing together small groups of up to 20 scholars for four days to exchange their research methodology and findings. Experienced facilitators accompany this work of in-depth reflection and exchange of experiences and thoughts. This year’s research seminar will be in London, U.K. (Guildhall School of Music).

SIMM is now involved in its first international comparative research, focusing on the practitioners working on SIMM projects (their contexts, ambitions, and beliefs). This research, headed by John Sloboda in collaboration with research teams in Finland, Colombia, and Belgium, began in 2020, and its findings will be communicated during the 2022 SIMM-posium.

In 2021, a special SIMM-themed issue of Musicae Scientiae published articles describing research on the social impacts of music-making and the role of music in social and community work. The issue was coordinated and edited by Brydie-Leigh Bartleet and myself; it  includes articles by Sarah Doxat-Pratt (U.K.), Gillian Howell (Australia), Inês Lamela (Portugal), Áine Mangaoang (Ireland-Norway), Nikki Dibben (U.K.), Julian Guevara (Colombia), and Juan Sebastián Rojas (Colombia).

John Sloboda and Lukas Pairon giving a lecture at Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, 2018. Photo: SIMM.

SIMM also started a podcast and broadcast a total of 14 episodes in 2021. The SIMM-podcast can be easily found online on podcast platforms including Apple, Google, and Spotify.

Over the past few years, SIMM has helped to develop new research initiatives, some of them international and comparative. A large network of more than 1,000 scholars from different disciplines are now in contact with each other globally, regularly exchanging research ideas, projects, and methods. Thanks to the rapid development of research, we are developing a better understanding of the potential role that music learning and music making may play in social and community work. We expect that in the near future, the SIMM network will be able to further strengthen initiatives by universities and university colleges to prepare practitioners (musicians, teaching artists, and social and community workers) for this practice, as well as to support and accompany scholars doing research on the role music can play in social and community work.

Apply here for 2022 SIMM events. The application deadline for September’s SIMM-seminar is March 30; for December’s SIMM-posium, the deadline is April 15. For further information, contact


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