Musical exchange and soft power: The potential benefits and risks

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

Proceedings of the 2013 fulbright symposium: Soft power, smart power: The multiplier effect of educational and cultural exchange


The Australian-American Fulbright Commission


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts




Originally published as: Paget, J. (2019). Musical exchange and soft power: The potential benefits and risks. In Proceedings of the 2013 Fulbright Symposium (pp. 59-62). Canberra, ACT: The Australian-American Fulbright Commission. Original publication available here


Sharing music across cultures can increase mutual understanding between nations and the sharing of musical traditions can be an ideal vehicle for international discourse. However, while the moral superiority of soft power over hard power is obvious, the notion of artistic exchange as an exertion of national power is not without inherent risks. Is soft power, for example, a form of soft colonialism? This paper explores the potential ethical pitfalls inherent within the notion of musical exchange as soft power and also suggests some of its unexpected positive effects. Using the example of Peter Sculthorpe’s music, exploration is made of some of the ethical dilemmas of music synthesizing cross-cultural influences. Furthermore, Sculthorpe’s example illustrates the way that exchange experiences involving international travel can precipitate an individual musician’s personal (re)discovery of their own national and artistic identity. Ultimately, international cultural exchanges are potentially enriching, and have significant power to effect change. But we must be careful to celebrate other musical cultures with sincere respect, to afford them similar rights and copyright protections, and to preserve the diversity of worldwide musical cultures.

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