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Evelyn Orman, Past Chair and Ana Lucía Frega, Honorary Life Member of ISME, provide a look back over 50 years of the ISME Research Commission and highlight its current operation.

The 27th International Society for Music Education (ISME) Research Commission Seminar held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates July 8-13, 2018 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first meeting held in Reading, England in July 1968. The inaugural meeting evolved from a discussion in April 1967 amongst four professors who attended the 7th International Society of Music Education World Conference, 18-28 August 1966, held in the United States at Interlochen, Michigan. Arnold Bentley (University of Reading, UK), Allen Britton (University of Michigan, US), James Carlsen (University of Washington, US), and Bengt Franzén (Royal Academy of Sweden) informally discussed the formation of an international group to address research in music education. Bengt Franzén hosted a subsequent meeting in Stockholm, Germany in May 1967 attended by Bentley, Carlsen, and Franzén, where they began the task of organising the first international research seminar. They decided the meeting should:

  1. Be restricted to experimental research
  2. Be in the nature of a working party, so rather than the reading of numerous papers, the papers would be distributed in advance and discussion of the papers would dominate the meeting; therefore, the number of participants would be limited to 25 papers
  3. The meeting would be conducted entirely in one language and English was selected as that language
  4. The meeting would be fully residential with all participants present for all discussion or sessions throughout the week. 

Subsequently, the ISME Board issued an invitation for the Seminar to call itself the International Society for Music Education Research Commission, to nominate a chair and a small executive committee to serve on a six-year rotating system. These positions (now known as commissioners and commission chair) have members retiring and replaced every biennial. Thus, the International Society for Music Education Research Commission was established and the first meeting held in Reading, England in 1968 because it was geographically close to Dijon, France (where the ISME World conference was held the next week) so participants could attend the World Conference with little inconvenience. The university regarded the proposed seminar as important, offered to host, and voted a sum of money to cover expenses. Both the considerations of a geographic location accessible to the World Conference and support from a local host still exist today. 

The first organisers agreed it would be unfortunate if no report of the papers followed. A negotiated agreement allowed all papers and the forward written by Arnold Bentley explaining the seminar to be published in the 1969 publication of the Journal of Research in Music Education, 17(1). Arnold Bentley concluded this forward by saying the meeting was a pilot experiment. Little did he or the other founders realise their shared vision and this experiment would lead to 50 years of the ISME Research Commission along with the formation of six  other healthy and active ISME Commissions as the years progressed.

The first meeting in Reading, England included individuals from nine countries. Interestingly, some challenges discussed are those we still face today including problems of exact communication due to different languages and differences in music education systems and school configurations throughout the world. Words that caused confusion at the first meeting included the word “concept” as well as the musical words “tone” and “note.” Today, the ISME Research Commission functions much as it did 50 years ago. After all, if it isn't broken why fix it? The most recent ISME Research Commission Seminar in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, July 8-13, 2018 was hosted by Canadian University Dubai who funded accommodations, meals, opening reception, cultural excursion, and closing gala dinner. Exactly like the first meeting in 1968, the meeting 50 years later included 25 empirical research papers this time from 13 countries, with observers expanding the international representation to 16 countries. While the core mission is the same, the commission now includes research from all types of scientific inquiry, not just experimental.

Today, submitted papers are peer-reviewed as the commission strives to have as broad a geographic representation of papers as possible. All topics of research inquiry including those that fit or do not fit in one of the other ISME commission topic areas are accepted. As with the first meeting, papers are distributed prior to the seminar and extensive discussions at the seminar center around the research questions, methodological approaches, data analyses and how the researchers reached their final conclusions with the goal of strengthening research in music education internationally. The commission works to ensure both less experienced, as well as some of the most accomplished and respected researchers in music education throughout the world, are present and the commission seminars are still fully residential with all participants present for all discussions or sessions throughout the week. This is both a unique and necessary gathering that over the years has and will continue to strengthened the empirical research approaches of all attendees, serve as a catalyst for the beginnings of empirical research in music education in countries where none existed and provide a forum for international music education researchers regardless of research topic or methodology.

It is both fascinating and inspiring to realise a small group of attendees at the 7th ISME World Conference had a shared vision that 50 years later is a vibrant and essential part of ISME. A vision that over the years expanded to six additional healthy commissions. Interestingly, traces of the inception of the Research Commission still exist in all the ISME Commissions and together they all represent an integral part of the International Society for Music Education.

ISME has a number of commissions which members are invited to join. Many of these commissions hold pre-conference seminars, which are held in the immediate weeks before the world conference.  If you wish to join the Research Commission and/or know more about the 2020 pre conference seminar, please visit this page. The commissioner is currently Professor Patricia Gonzalez.