Music tourism incredibly popular these days

Case

Music tourism incredibly popular these days

Topophile seeks intangible essence of music at the location

How many tourists have had photographs taken at that one specific zebra crossing on Abbey Road in London since 1969? Or in front of the opera house La Scala in Milan? And how many Elvis fans have visited Graceland in Memphis over the years? An inestimable number. Leonieke Bolderman did research into to what she calls ‘musical topophilia’: the love for a location where you seem to get closer to the intangible nature of music.

Did you know? Listeners establish ties with a place based on music, without ever having been there.

Music can grip the listener in various ways: through emotional rapture, by capturing the imagination and not uncommonly by travelling to the place or landscape where the history of that sound is located, concludes Bolderman following her research. ‘Tourists’ travel experiences strengthen their love for both the music and the place. And consequently, music contributes to the popularity of and the affinity with certain places around the world. Music tourism has developed into a successful industry and a popular pastime. By visiting certain places, listeners come closer to the intangible essence of music. Music therefore helps people to find roots in a changing world.’

The Joshua Tree

Meanwhile, year in and year out, entire busloads of tourists marvel at the Cavern Club, where The Beatles made a name for themselves in the early 1960s. However, it is a 'replica' location, as the original building was demolished in a period when Liverpool had yet to appreciate its musical history. In Paris, they visit the grave of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors who died at an early age. Sometimes their ‘topophilic’ tendencies lead to an early demise: in August 2011, the director of pop podium 013 in Tilburg, Guus van Hove, died from a heat stroke when he visited the Joshua Tree National Park in California in search of the tree on the cover of the Joshua Tree Album produced by the Irish band U2.

Leonieke Bolderman on Paul McCartney's Penny Lane, “…in my ears and in my eyes / there beneath the blue suburban skies”.Leonieke Bolderman on Paul McCartney's Penny Lane, “…in my ears and in my eyes / there beneath the blue suburban skies”.

But what were these people actually looking for? And how can music lead to tourism? Why has music tourism become so incredibly popular? These are key questions in the PhD thesis of Leonieke Bolderman entitled ‘Musical topophilia. A critical analysis of contemporary music tourism’ that she defends on Thursday 22 March 2018 at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Because extremely little is known about how music became associated with local identity and what visiting places actually means for tourists.

Musical topophilia

The term ‘topophilia’ was devised by the English poet and literarian W.H. Auden who used it for the first time in his introduction to an anthology of poems by John Betjeman seventy years ago. However, Auden probably never heard of marketing terms such as place branding and city marketing. Bolderman: ‘Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan uses the term topophilia to describe the relationship between a person and place, and I see music tourism as a type of “musical topophilia”: listeners build a relationship with a place on the basis of music without necessarily having ever been to the place concerned.

Marketeers are increasingly tapping into the imaginative power of music. The allure of cities is changing, partly due to the increasing role of music and other popular culture, such as films and TV. Music tourism is viewed as a way of encouraging enterprise and of attracting a different public by giving a location a new identity. Examples are initiatives like the UNESCO Cities of Music Network, the growing number of museums and city walks around (pop) music heritage, and the music festivals that are springing up all over the place.’

We would like to know why some 'music cities' are successful, whereas others are not
- Leonieke Bolderman

Despite the positive 'flow', little is known about when and under which circumstances music can be successful in creating local identity and what actually visiting the music-related locations means for the tourists in question. In a nutshell, we would like to know why some 'music cities' are successful, whereas others are not. To explain the popularity of modern-day music tourism, the researcher delved into more fundamental questions.

Emotional rapture

Bolderman spoke to dozens of tourists, tourist office employees, tour guides… She travelled, amongst other places, to Stockholm – birthplace of ABBA – to interview tourists. She literally cited a U2 fan (aged 43), when this person stood in front of the band's sound studio in Dublin: ‘Wow, I'm here at last, here where the music is made… they've been inside, within these four walls… here they made the music that I've always listened to!’. But Bolderman also met a 65-year-old American in Bayreuth, Germany, who was in rapture about the opera music of Richard Wagner that he could sense everywhere. The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth is the ‘pilgrimage site’ for the genuine Wagner fan – and that is usually as far as they get due to the scarce and highly expensive entrance tickets.

The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, pilgrimage site of the Wagnerian, photo: ShutterstockThe Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, pilgrimage site of the Wagnerian, photo: Shutterstock

At the same time, she thoroughly questioned these tourists about their ‘travel music’ – music that they collect on streaming service Spotify to take with them when they travel. It is a tool with which the intangible can be managed, states Bolderman, as it enables you to give your surroundings a soundtrack.

Through all these associations, listeners connect the feeling that the music elicits to specific locations. In this way, they transfer their love for music to the image of specific places, concludes the researcher. In the case of some listeners, emotional rapture and imagination lead to the irresistible desire to actually visit that specific place.

‘Zoutelande’ by Bløf

These days, the Zeeland Tourist Office makes grateful use of the hit ‘Zoutelande’ by Bløf, in which the harmonious sounds and wistful description of the irresistible atmosphere of Zeeland encourages listeners to take a look at the coastal place – despite the fact that this is a Dutch cover version of a German hit from 2011, which just so blissfully describes the place Frankfurt an der Oder. In the Dutch version, vodka and buckling in a Zeeland beach house take the place of a garden house in former East Germany and schnapps and bockwurst.

Bolderman: ‘What this example so beautifully demonstrates is that music can very concisely and persuasively shape a local identity, as a result of which music and the place become interwoven. Certain music can feel as if it is inextricably linked to specific locations, whereas actually this connection is constantly being made by us as listeners, helped by text and image, and within a certain sociocultural context. That process is what makes music tourism so interesting.’

Further information

Leonieke Bolderman (1985) performed her doctoral research under the supervision of Stijn Reijnders, Professor of Cultural Heritage at Erasmus University Rotterdam, with NWO funding from the Free Competition programme. Reijnders researches film tourism – with an ERC Consolidator Grant of 1.9 million euros – at various locations including South Korea, India, Jamaica, Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Bolderman is now working as an assistant professor in Cultural Geography at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences at the University of Groningen.

  • Photo in the banner: Joshua Tree National Park, USA, from the album cover of U2. Photo: Shutterstock / Ysbrand Cosijn