International Council for Traditional Music

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

General information


The International Council for Traditional Music is a scholarly organization which aims to further the study, practice, documentation, preservation, and dissemination of traditional music and dance of all countries. To these ends the Council organizes World Conferences, Symposia, Colloquia, and Fora, and publishes the Yearbook for Traditional Music and the online Bulletin of the ICTM

As a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO and by means of its wide international representation and the activities of its Study Groups, the International Council for Traditional Music acts as a bond among peoples of different cultures and thus contributes to the peace of humankind.


In her capacity as Honorary Secretary of the International (Advisory) Folk Dance Council, Maud Karpeles (1885–1976) organized the International Conference on Folk Song and Folk Dance, held at the Belgian Institute in London, 22–27 September 1947. Delegates from twenty-eight countries participated, mostly appointed by the governments of their respective nations, as well as a UNESCO representative, Vanett Lawler. The conference was paid for by a small fund held by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), representing profits from the International Folk Dance Conference and Festival held in 1935, an additional £100 from the EFDSS itself, and the same amount from an anonymous donor.

On the afternoon of Monday, 22 September 1947, the Vice Chairman of the conference, Steuart Wilson (1889–1966), proposed “that an International Folk Music Council be formed”. The motion was carried by a show of hands. In the following days, a provisional constitution was adopted, and Officers and an Executive Board were appointed for one year.  

The Officers were:

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams (UK; President)
  • Poul Lorenzen (Denmark; Vice President)
  • Albert Marinus (Belgium; Vice President)
  • W. S. Gwynn Williams (UK; Treasurer)
  • Maud Karpeles (UK; Secretary)

The Executive Board consisted of:

  • Renato Almeida (Brazil)
  • Natko Devčić (Yugoslavia)
  • Duncan Emrich (USA)
  • Douglas Kennedy (UK)
  • László Lajtha (Hungary)
  • Claudie Marcel-Dubois (France)
  • Petro Petridis (Greece)
  • Ole Mørk Sandvik (Norway)
  • Ahmed Adnan Saygun (Turkey)
  • Klaus P. Wachsmann (Uganda)
  • Louise Witzig (Switzerland)

In the same year, IFMC appointed 140 music and dance experts as correspondents from 35 countries and regions. On 13–18 September 1948, the first IFMC conference was held in Basel, and the first Bulletin was published. In 1949 the first issue of the Journal of the International Folk Music Council appeared, and the Council was one of the founding members of the International Music Council. The Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council replaced the Journal in 1969. The name change to the International Council for Traditional Music occurred at the 26th World Conference in Seoul on 27 August 1981. The name of the journal then became the Yearbook for Traditional Music.

The first President of the Council was English composer and folk music collector Ralph Vaughan Williams (1947–1958), followed by Jaap Kunst (1959–1960), Zoltán Kodály (1961–1967), Willard Rhodes (1967–1973), Klaus P. Wachsmann (1973–1977), Poul Rovsing Olsen (1977–1982), Erich Stockmann (1982–1997), Anthony Seeger (1997–1999), Krister Malm (1999–2005), Adrienne L. Kaeppler (2005–2013), and Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco (2013–2021).

The first Secretary General of the Council was Maud Karpeles (1947-1963), followed by Robin Band (1963-1965), Barbara Krader (1965-1966), Felicia Stallman (1966-1967), Christian Ejlers (1967-1968), Connie Matthews (1968-1969), Graham George (1969-1981), Dieter Christensen (1981-2001), Anthony Seeger (2001-2006), Stephen Wild (2006-2011), Svanibor Pettan (2011-2017), and Ursula Hemetek (2017-2021). Among the institutions that were host to the Secretariat were the Danish Folklore Archives (Copenhagen, Denmark),  Queen's University (Kingston, Canada), Columbia University (New York, USA), UCLA (Los Angeles, USA), Australian National University (Canberra, Australia), University of Ljubljana (Ljubljana, Slovenia), and University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (Vienna, Austria). 

Since 2017, the Council has been registered as a non-governmental organization in the Republic of Slovenia. 

World Conferences

ICTM World Conferences have been held since 1948 and are presently biennial. They offer the membership and the general public opportunities for exchanges on a broad range of issues.

Read more about past ICTM World Conferences here.

Study Groups

ICTM Study Groups are formed by ICTM members sharing a common area of scholarly study. They periodically meet at Study Group Symposia (see the Calendar of Events for upcoming Study Group Symposia).

Currently there are 27 active ICTM Study Groups, with foci on African MusicsApplied EthnomusicologyAudiovisual EthnomusicologyEthnochoreology; Global History of MusicIconography of the Performing Arts; Indigenous Music and DanceMaqāmMediterranean Music StudiesMultipart MusicMusic and Allied Arts of Greater South Asia; Music and Dance in Latin America and the CaribbeanMusic and Dance in Southeastern EuropeMusic and Dance of OceaniaMusic and Dance of the Slavic WorldMusic and MinoritiesMusic Archaeology; Music, Education and Social InclusionMusic, Gender, and SexualityMusic in the Arab WorldMusic of the Turkic-speaking WorldMusical InstrumentsMusics of East AsiaPerforming Arts of Southeast Asia; Sacred and Spiritual Sounds and PracticesSound, Movement, and the Sciences, and Sources and Archives for Music and Sound Studies.


Colloquia have been organized by invitation since 1981. These events focus on selected themes, intensively discussed by smaller groups of scholars and representatives from related fields.

Read more about ICTM Colloquia here.


Fora are organized by ICTM in collaboration with other national, regional, and international scholarly organizations on a theme of common concern. They have been held since 2015.

Read more about ICTM Fora here.