Together with the core team of the HKU professorship Performative Processes I am very happy to announce that the Perilous Experience CARPA5 Colloquium Proceedings are published, in the Helsinki Performing Arts Research Centre’s online publication series Nivel.
In late August 2017, Nirav Christophe, Henny Dörr, Joris Weijdom, Marieke Nooren and I gave a “polyvocal presentation” on the IYANTWAY project, in which we worked together with a group of youngsters who suffer from absence seizure. For more information on the project and a previous post on the colloquium see here.
For the direct link to the professorship’s contribution to the proceedings click here. The article works well as a complement and introduction to our recent book publication on IYANTWAY. Next to the information on the specific project the article includes our more imaginative and provocative Prague Provocations and Helsinki Hindsights. Enjoy the read!
From 20th to 23rd of February, the Reflective Conservatoire Conference (RCC) took place at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama in London. This was the third and last in a series of three conferences and seminars regarding the artist in society (after the ICON seminar on listening in October 2017 and the Protean Musician conference in Oslo in November 2017), and by this represented a wonderful closure of a huge amount of input to be processed, specifically in regarding to conservatoire education. It was particularly fascinating to experience the three very different formats of these events: ICON’s interactive modes of engaging practice, Oslo’s small core group of “bright minds” (Darla Crispin) working on the theme of the Protean for three days, and the large scale and extensive program of the RCC.
Next to being an engaging conference, these days were a gathering of many friends and colleagues, from HKU, ArtEZ, the team of ICON creative directors, many former ICON participants and international networks such as the AEC or EPARM. It has been wonderful to experience these days with so many well-known – and new – people together. As the conference had an extremely extensive program, I could only attend a part of the presentations. I chose a few of them to write about here that I think were most remarkable, or most useful in the larger endeavor of developing a concept on the musician in society. Seen the length of this post, I also decided to write about the collaborative presentation with Christina Guillaumier, as well as the overarching ICON session in which we presented, at a slightly later moment in one or two weeks.
Opening by Helena Gaunt
On the first afternoon, after the initial welcome from Guildhall principal Lynne Williams, Vice-Principal & Director of Guildhall Innovation Helena Gaunt introduced the conference theme, its issues and challenges, and asked a few intriguing questions to inspire the participants’ thinking and engagement during the next few days.
Gaunt started with an elaboration of the theme of the Artist as Citizen – and why it is such an important one at this moment. We live in a time of both great pressure on, and enormous opportunity for the arts. Pressures are reducing of public subsidy, a lowering political will and, specifically in Great Britain, the very real threats to the quality of the arts coming with Brexit. Opportunities are digitalization, the rise of the creative industries, the process of moving into an experience culture, the continuous exploration of co-creation of artistic experiences, new domains of artists working as populations age; strategies of how we meet marginalized groups of society such as refugees, prisoners or mentally ill people, and addressing humanity in a time when we see major failures of leadership in our global corporate economies. According to Helena Gaunt, these pressures and opportunities ask us to dig down and think about what our purpose as artists is, or can be. What can the fundamental elements and characteristics of the arts – provoking, disturbing, illuminating – bring to the wider world?
Regarding changes and challenges that are provoked by the discussion of the artist as citizen, Gaunt touched on one aspect that is crucial to the fundamental values and principles of musicians in particular: the notion of craft. She observed that craft and academic or professional skills don’t seem to combine very well in our daily practice as musicians, and that there is a tension between them.
However, craft is so much about utility as well. The case of a glasblower illustrates this, as one who creates a most beautiful and artful object, which has a clear function at the same time as being artful. Gaunt suggests a shift in our understanding of craft towards being embedded in purpose and identity on the one hand, and expression in the world on the other. She calls this “expanded craft”: a partnering of values, rather than their separation. The interesting question for our practice and our education is then: How do we get these values to become partners?
Gaunt further elaborated on embedded craft, as being a concept that works across disciplines, sectors and cultures. Her elaboration was marked by four terms that each connect to a powerful pair of seemingly contradictory terms, which provide food for further thought:
Innovation: imagination and enterprise
Sustained purposeful work: doing/creating and reflecting
Connected communities: individual and ensembles
Resilience: perfection and lifelong growth
Especially the last pair is an interesting one for music education: Craft is often associated with perfection, exacerbated by virtuosity and the recording industry, among others. At the same time, however, the process of failing and trying again is utterly critical in order to develop continuous and lifelong learning.
At the end of Gaunt’s introduction we turned towards a more practical and explorative work form, in which the conference participants were asked to take a few minutes to collect “burning questions” about the conference theme of artists as citizens, and collect sources that illuminate the relationship between “artist” and “citizen”. Both could than be tweeted under the hashtag of the conference, and by this collected online. The resulting feed was projected onto the large screen, and be discussed further.
Keynote 1: Geoffrey Crossick “Arts, citizenship and civil society”
Professor of the Humanities, and Director of the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project Geoffrey Crossick offered the first keynote speech of the conference. He distinguished and elaborated on three dimensions of arts, citizenship and civil society:
artists as citizens
participants as citizens
how civil society & citizenship constituted through the arts
He discussed these dimension on the background of the report of the Cultural Value Project: Understanding the value of arts & culture; a large scale research project of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC, see here for the final publication, written by Crossick & Patrycja Kaszynska). The leading question of the report was how we obtain evidence of that value of arts and culture in society. One of the report’s objectives was questioning claims of this value that weren’t supported by adequate evidence.
I found this notion of “adequate evidence” particularly intriguing, as it reminded me of the importance of artists as being researchers, as we ourselves are responsible for actually delivering data on the importance of our work, which goes much further than just telling our own stories and vision. From this perspective, Crossick made an important argument towards research in the arts: for a narrative about the arts’ values in society, from the perspective of the arts themselves. This narrative should not just consist of artists’ anecdotes, but should include research and outcomes based on actually useful data, which is essential for making specific aspects clear about one’s projects, their value and impact.
Crossick thinks of the report as a response to four key questions about the value of arts and culture:
Who wants to know and why? Governments always want to hear, but mostly in relation to economical values.
What is the phenomenon whose value we’re trying to understand? Most analysis’ look predominantly at subsidized culture, neglecting commercial areas of cultural production and activity, including streaming & games, amateur production and participatory co-creation.
Are we looking in the right places in our search for value? Looking at impact outcomes is not always the most appropriate, or enough: The report includes six full chapters on what is called “components” of cultural value.
By what methods should we find and evidence that value? Quantitative methods can be valuable, but are not more rigorous or useful in themselves per se! The equal validity of methods from the arts, humanities or qualitative sciences has to be accepted, which include close reading of texts, language, images and performances. If these are not taken into account, the value of arts and culture will never be understood.
Crossick’s argument here is that the methods have to follow that what we try to understand, not the other way round. But artists’ stories and anecdotes are not data to sufficiently support a value-related narrative, but artists do have to take ownership of evaluation; so that they can construct narratives they believe in, about why the arts matter, about what are the values of arts in society, from the perspective of the arts! – And based on good evidence.
“We should understand the variety of methods that flow from the arts, individuals and society, and we should insist on the need to explain how we know what we claim is indeed the case – including what we as artists achieve when acting as citizens.” (Geoffrey Crossick)
In the final sections of his talk, Crossick offered a number of case studies, and elaborated more on how artists actually position their engagement as citizens in relation, or as a part of their artistic work: “It’s what many artists do, and what they want to do.” Many artists who work in these areas do not do this because they cannot “make it” as “pure artists” (as others often claim), but because social engagement is part of what drives them as artists. They see most of this work equal to their own artistic practice, and don’t necessarily make a crucial difference between both. This also underlines how outdated these traditional images of “autonomous” artistic work are, which often seem to suggest that a total detachment from artistic work to external influences. The kind of work is extremely varied, and is situated in the areas of health, aging, dementia, criminal justice, education, youth and community work, urban planning and development, up to the design of new urban spaces. Some of the projects here connected specifically to improving of life quality, while others were broader oriented, towards experience and appreciation of arts and culture in general.
Crossick closed his keynote with a few interesting questions about quality of the artistic within this kind of work: “If engagement with the arts has beneficial, social or health outcomes, does the excellency of the artistic product itself make any difference to the outcome? We know that it does, from research in literature, self-understanding and empathy.”
Keynote 2 – Vikki Heywood “Old wood and green shoots. Clearing the way for young artists as citizens.
In the second keynote of the conference, Vikki Heywood focussed more directly on education, and on the relation between education and the students’ training in becoming citizens. Heywood shared a few tendencies in current practice, addressed several aspects of critique on the institutions as they are now, and then presented a new institution, Mountview, which seeks to address these issues.
Two of the tendencies Heywood observes are that it slowly becomes the norm that arts venues act as a hub for the local community, and that the gap between professional and amateur players is breaking down and disappearing. She addressed the need of institutions to react on these developments and actually reflect the society we live in. According to Heywood the institutions should become meeting points for students, creative professionals and the community, and by this reflect the society and community in which the institutions are situated, as many arts venues already do. “We don’t want our kids to learn in a bubble.” This includes the challenge that our organizations and institutions are not diverse enough, in terms of ethnically, gender and sexuality.
“None of our institutions perfectly reflect the society we are living in.” (Vikki Heywood)
Heywood presented an institution that is still very young, as response to these challenges: Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. It is an institution that takes the historical meaning of the word “conservatoire” serious: looking after people, rather than looking after repertoire. The institution provides space for professionals, students, teachers and the community. One of the basic stances from which Mountview works is that students deserve to have their culture to be reflected in their training.
“There are no road maps for training artists as citizens, so we created one.”
I found it particularly interesting to hear that Mountview’s team scouts talented youngsters, as part of a socially motivated attitude – “not because we need applications, but because we are convinced that the system is not fair.” (Heywood) They are specifically looking for candidates who might otherwise never opt for auditioning, among others because of their seemingly low social or financial status. The next quote, which closes my report on this keynote, connects beautifully to this, as it defies what I often perceive as a sense of hierarchy and raking between institutions, closely connected to the problematic notion of excellency: “We are us, and we are very good at being us.” I would love to see more institutions, and more conservatoires, sending out a message such as this.
Keynote 3 – Helen Marriage
In the last keynote presentation of the conference, artistic director Helen Marriage presented the work of her company, Artichoke. The company produces large scale artistic works, events and experiences, with the aims of reaching the largest audience possible, and providing disruptive and live changing experiences.
Artichoke set the tone of their work already with the first production,The Sultan’s Elephant, created in London in 2006. It is a work that takes over the city and disrupts public life quite literally, as it required closing down the inner city of London for four days (!). Marriage specifically elaborated on the process that lead to these four days, which took seven years of negotiation – the idea that an artist would lead the stage of the city was entirely unnegotiable to the city’s council. In the end, it became a transformative moment for London: The events were engaging with an audience that weren’t trapped by a building such as a theatre of a concert hall, and the happenings and huge moving objects shared public space with people who would otherwise never meet.
“Our cities don’t have to be dedicated to shopping and traffic. They don’t.” (Helen Marriage)
After Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke was asked to do more work such as this. However, they chose not doing work exactly like it, but continued exploring public space with this kind of work. One of these projects is One & Other, London 2009:
Another good example of this is London 1666 (2016), a “festival of arts and ideas” marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, in which Artichoke “invited artists and academics to respond to the Great Fire and consider the modern threats faced by the world cities today: from climate change to conflict.” Centre of the Great Fire 350 umbrella season of events was a 120-metre-long sculpture of the 17th century London skyline, London’s Burning, set alight on the River Thames. To me, one of the strongest aspects of this work is that the wooden sculpture was built by a group of young people from the poorest areas of London: The artists trained these young people in order to do everything necessary to build the enormous sculpture, including wood work, coming in time and, in one case, “eating a tomato because the young boy had never seen a vegetable in his life.” Just as in Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke devised a project that many others deemed impossible, even more so as they did not just develop memories, but real opportunities: Many of these young people found work through this project.
”What we are saying to these young people is: You can do this.”
The final remarks and statements of Helen Marriage finally sold me to her and her company’s work and vision on the arts in society and artists as citizens: Although one hallmark of their work is the deliberate disruption of daily life, of what people think is normal, they do not not aim to do only that, but commit to a quality of the work that is so high that it offers an even bigger payback to the citizens than the disruption they are faced with. To offer them an experience that stays with them for life.
2018 is just a month old, and there are already several news and new activities happening.
The most recent publication of the Professorship Performative Processes is out! In december we published If you are not there, where are you? Mapping the Experience of Absence Seizures through Art, edited by Henny Dörr and myself. The book presents the written outcome of the two-year transdisciplinary artistic research project IYANTWAY, in which a team of nine artists from various disciplines worked with eight youngsters on artistic utterances that match their experiences before, during or after a seizure. On Tuesday, 27th of February, we will officially present and launch the book, beautifully designed by Anton Feddema, at the HKU in Utrecht.
In only one and a half week, Christina Guillaumier and I, both creative directors of the Innovative Conservatoire (ICON), will give a joint presentation at the Reflective Conservatoire Conference 2018: “The musician in society – from craftsman to creative citizen”. For the ones who read the posts on this website regularly it will come with no surprise that I am very enthusiastic about presenting and participating at the Reflective Conservatoire: It is the third large-scale event about the musician in society for me, after the ICON seminar on the Musician in Society in October 2018 and the Protean Musician conference in Oslo last November, thus finishing a series that has provided me with enormous input on this topic.
On the 3rd of March, the new music theatre performance with trumpet player Sef Hermans, silencio, will be performed in its first version for the very first time, in Pamplona, Spain. I am very excited to show this first complete version of the piece, which is inspired by David Lynch’s “club silencio” in Mulholland Drive and the notion of the “ghost light” in theatre. This is also the first time in which the fabulous poem by Lynley Edmeades, Remainder, will be performed in one of my works. I know Lynley since we met at a performance studies conference in Prague, and this is the first actual result of this encounter, with which I am truly happy.
Sef Hermans performing in “silencio”
In the mean time, I have also re-joined the team of researchers of the HKU Professorship “Muzische Professionalisering” in the one-year long “Werkplaats Muzische Professionalisering”. I will publish a first post on my work here soon, but it is incredibly exciting to connect my various research projects with what lector Bart van Rosmalen calls “musal research”, in an inspiring team lead by Bart himself, Daan Andriessen and Peter Rombouts.
From 1-3 November I attended the conference The Protean Musician: the musician in future society in Oslo, a joint initiative of the four research centres of the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH):
The Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music (NordART)
The Centre for Research in Music and Health (CREMAH)
The Centre for Educational Research in Music (CERM)
The Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE)
Were the ICON seminar in October aimed at the questions how we as artists and educators are relating in and to society, did the ”protean conference” focus on the institutions, education and students, the upcoming music professionals in the society of the future. This provided me with a new perspective for my own work on the subject of artists in the society of the 21st Century. Tradition and hierarchy were some of the most intensely discussed aspects of contemporary teaching. For this post, I chose just to write about four of the many presentations: the opening by Darla Crispin, the two keynote lectures of Geir Johanssen and Dawn Bennett, and a brief closure about my own presentation. Besides these examples, there were numerous other inspiring contributions from a large variety of backgrounds, including heartwarming projects such as Cheryl Dileo’s work with musicians and music therapists, working together to enhance quality of life in homeless persons in Philadelphia.
Opening by Darla Crispin
In the opening session, Darla Crispin, Head of the Arne Nordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music, gave a warm welcome to the community of practitioners, students, educators, music therapists, artistic researchers, musicologists and leaders, starting off three days of intensive exchange and discussion. It became immediately clear that participants from a great diversity of disciplines were brought together in this conference through the common theme of the musician in future society, and that this subject is of enormous importance in all of these disciplines.
Crispin introduced the conference theme via the route of Greek mythology and the sea-god Proteus. He could foretell the future, but would change his shape to avoid having to. This attribute of being a shape-changer led to key features of the protean, such as being versatile, flexible and adaptable to change. What Darla offered as being particularly useful for us as musicians and educators in this moment of history, is that the protean also means thinking ahead of the changes, and that we are not here to stand aside: ”We are willing to risk, to participate.” She closed her introductory speech by referring back to its beginning and the interdisciplinary community of the conference: We are aiming “to be better through a shared understanding – the world needs it.”
Geir Johanssen on the conservatoire and the society
In the first keynote, professor of music education Geir Johanssen mapped the terrain of the conference theme by elaborating on the conservatoire and the society. In his keynote speech, Johannsen made four main arguments. He suggested that
conservatoires contribute in shaping society,
solely focusing on “delivery” what is “ordered” limits our self-understanding,
conservatoires should separate between their social intentions and functions,
conservatoires should separate between their social assignment, contributions and responsibility.
Especially the notion of “‘delivering’ what is ‘ordered'” was striking, as it is in a constant tension with what the richness of our self-understanding might be. Johanssen suggests that “a conservatoire is not about results in the next quarter; it is not even about who a student has become by graduation. It is about learning that molds a lifetime, learning that transmits the heritage of millennia, learning that shapes the future.”
Instead of focussing on the question what the ”market” asks, conservatoires should rather have “a moral obligation to critically inspect and constructively contribute to changing society, even if it may be at odds with prevailing, political priorities.” A striking thought here was the turning around of concepts about who is the ”customer” of us as institutes: Rather than providing the students with ”what they need” during their studies, we might also consider asking if we as institutes (want to) offer society students who are agents of change. Johanssen mentioned, very powerfully, the values of depth of slow processes, and the values of the non-measurable; thus questioning parts of our implicitly-agreed-upon ideal of efficiency.
Rather than providing the students with ”what they need” during their studies, we might also consider asking if we as institutes offer society students who are agents of change.
Another term that Johanssen discussed was employability as one of the key objectives within education nowadays. He enriched this fairly straightforward concept with the idea that employability suggests to be employed not only by an employer, but also by a society. This carried the discussion about employability to an entirely different level and made it useful especially in the context of the musician in society.
Johanssen closed his keynote with a few remarks on “hidden curricula” in conservatoires. With this, he referred to, a.o., the question if the master-apprenticeship model is actually the only valid model for teaching and learning an instrument, a crucial question within our education. And: “To what degree are our notions of the labour market different to how it actually is ‘out there’?
A few more questions stayed with me while thinking and reflecting on this inspiring keynote speech: How do we bring up our students through hidden curricula, concerning world view, vision on (contributing to) society and hierarchies? By teaching according to the master-apprenticeship model, a teacher embodies and enacts a particular world view, just as another teacher does by joining a student group in an improvisation lesson as an equally contributing musical voice. How does our very own teaching not only facilitate learning about music, but also reflect a world view and a view on our society?
Dawn Bennett about the Protean Musician
The Australian professor of Higher Education Dawn Bennett took a closer look at the concept of the protean musician itself, and the consequences of this for us as educators and institutions. She called for institutions to engage in collaboration much more, as they often share not exactly the same, but nevertheless similar issues.
Bennett argued for an education of “whole musicians” rather than educating violinists, conductors and composers. This led to a term that remained to be discussed during the conference: The portfolio musician. Portfolio is a term coming from the business world, but has been used within arts contexts since recently. The term describes practitioners who have already established a career – mostly according to traditional role models and pathways, think about classical soloists or concert masters — and built capital around them, and then choose to do something different: To build a portfolio of the work and professional identity, which is balanced around their own wishes and needs. It is a voluntary move, a reaction, something which one decides to go for. According to Bennett this is something musicians actually rarely do. Most of musicians’ activities are reactions, rather than being proactive. Bennett characterizes the type of musicians that students usually bring with them as: “The mythical musician” – a type that is usually far away from being protean.
That brought the discussion to an important point concerning education: Rather than being promoted as innovative and belonging to the 21st Century developments of the professional life as musicians, it is important to communicate to students that being protean in itself is not a new thing at all! As early as in the 14th Century, musicians were working in very diverse contexts, such as playing on the street, at court, at weddings and parties – just as later during the 18th Century, and not particularly different from musicians today. Being protean is about going out into the world — just as Brahms, Händel and Mozart did. Not to forget ”the protean virtuosi” such as Liszt, for example: they ran ”amazing businesses”! These musicians knew how to build new markets, first and foremost by traveling.
It is an essential task for us as educators to communicate to our students that the protean is what musicians – and artists in general – have always been doing, and that this all seems new, but in the practice of musicians and artists, this is not new to us at all. This lead Bennett to ask the question:
How do we portray ”succes” in music?
The term Dawn Bennett offered, and which returned on a number of occasions during the conference (including Geir Johanssen’s contribution mentioned above), was Employability, or ratherEmployABILITY: ”The ability to find, create and sustain meaningful work across the career lifespan.”
And this sparked an inspiring thought about making and sustaining meaningful work. In conservatoires, still many young classical students enter with the aim of becoming soloists or concert masters in orchestras, only to be disillusioned during the time of and after their studies. However, when the amount of classical soloists is one in a million, it is not the point that as a student one can hardly be that one who makes it as a soloist. The question is, what are the other 999.999 doing? This is what our students (and their main subject teachers) need to learn, understand and embody: Most of them are doing great work!
Concluding, Bennett made a few suggestions and final thoughts about how to work with these ideas in our practice of educating professional musicians. Despite that haven’t covered all of these in my text, they are are all powerful and useful to develop further in the future:
Help students learn how to think and reflect
Teach the practice of the musician
Educate the whole person / the whole musician
Create strong networks
Ban the words job, employment and employer
Redefine employability development as lifelong
Place ’Create your Future’ at the centre of the curriculum
Make it compulsory
One size fits all?
In my own lecture I presented a concept on which I am working for some time now: Artistic research as integrative practice. The main argument for the lecture in Oslo is that, despite research being a fairly commonplace part of conservatoire education nowadays, still it is often undertaken as separate from the students’ core activities of practicing, performing and composing. Nevertheless, I am convinced that a heightened amount of integration of research in the artistic study would likely equip students much better for their professional future, with its manifold variations of practice that asks for a constant process of critical reflection and experiment. Artistic research as integrative practice is a concept that offers a close connection between research and musicianship.
The essential shift made by viewing artistic research as integrated practice is that the otherwise often scattered activities of hybrid contemporary musicians – performing, composing, teaching, writing, making websites, etc. – become conceptualized as elements of one integrated professional identity as artistic researcher. Research itself might be seen as a ”hub” of all these diverse activities, which is functioning through an investigative attitude and habit. As such, this not particularly new, but it reflects and frames advanced practice of researchers already working in such ways, and positions research as a combining framework rather than something external.
Concerning education, I linked what I understand as elements of an ”investigative attitude and habit” to the 21st Century Skills. Without proclaiming that this list is exhaustive or even already underpinned by sufficient research, it is strikingly obvious how the different items on the list differ from traditional elements of conservatoire education and the traditional master-apprenticeship model, specifically in classical departments. I will continue to develop and specify this in the coming months.
”I will carry you over hard times”, the impressive and very physical performance with percussion player Maarten Zaagman, continues to be performed and has been very well received by enthusiastic audiences in Utrecht, Leiden and Den Bosch, all in The Netherlands. Maarten Zaagman performed at the Betweter festival in Utrecht, and most recently at the renowned November Music, festival for contemporary music in Den Bosch.
A very special occasion was the performance at the World Cultural Council on November 8th at Leiden University. ”Hard Times” had been chosen to honour the winner of the Leonardo da Vinci Award of Arts, percussionist and ethnomusicologist professor Russell Hartenberger. And it was an honour for us indeed!
From 8-11 October the 16th seminar of the Innovative Conservatoire (ICON) took place in Dartington, UK. The theme and title of this seminar was Artists in Society. ‘listening’ as a core artistic and professional skill, and its role in evolving purpose and practice. For me personally, this is the start of an exciting series of seminars and conferences, in which I develop both the concept of Artistic Research as Integrative Practice, as well as work on the subject of artists in the society of the 21st Century. This theme has caught my interest since some time, lead by questions that are directed towards the core of higher professional arts education, and are concerned with the role of our institutions, and even more the role of the students as future artists and creative professionals in the society of the 21st Century. From this perspective, the 16th ICON seminar kicks off a series which continues with the December conference The Protean Musician: the musician in future society (abstract) in the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, and the Reflective Conservatoire at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London in February 2018.
The seminar’s booklet introduced the theme and its urgency to the participants:
There has never been a more important time for musicians to develop their sense of purpose and possibilities in society. Music and the arts have such potential to make a huge difference in the world. At the same time, as the music profession continues to change, life can feel unpredictable and confusing even as exciting opportunities open up. Developing a sense of purpose, artistic and professional identity, and being able to evolve these throughout a career, seems increasingly important for all musicians. In what ways can we prepare for and support this process?
As the title of the seminar suggests, the focus of the seminar was two-fold: exploring the theme of the musician in society, and different ways of addressing this theme and its interconnected questions, and within this theme, the specific perspective of listening, as being various processes and skills.
The ability to listen deeply is not only essential to us as performers, but also to finding new ways to connect as artists in society, and of course to teaching as we respond to our students as human beings. Listening, for example, is central to the practices of mentoring and coaching and to the Critical Response Process, with which we have worked in previous seminars. In all these contexts, listening may then also imply responding, a process of dialogue, exchange, give and take.
A number of questions were leading for the seminar, such as:
In what ways can we develop our listening skills, as musicians and as human beings? How may our sense of purpose (artistic, personal, professional), our knowledge and experience, and our value systems and life stories influence our listening and our response to what we hear?
How may our listening skills in one domain complement them in other domains, or even be translatable?
We bring our whole selves to our work as musicians – body, mind and spirit. How can we listen in each of these domains and how can we respond? How can we use our physical selves to listen to and through the body to enrich our playing, performance and ways in which we engage with an audience?
How can we develop listening skills that open up creativity, artistically, in learning and in developing our professional practice in the world?
How can we develop listening skills with students: in their individual practice; in their work with other musicians/peers/teachers; in going out into society?
Next to the introduction by creative director and founding member of ICON, Helena Gaunt, the first afternoon and evening were dedicated to the theme of listening and to a number of short exercises on listening. These included personal introductions of the individual participants to each other about where they come from and what brought them to the seminar.
One of the session included a reflection on what the “artist in society” might mean to us and our work, written large notes on paper, put on the floor in various “constellations”. After hearing the story about such a constellation, the others in the group offered a short reflection on what they heard, in form of a musical-gestural-scenic improvisation. What I found striking, personally, was that the improvisation added an unexpected element to the story, which was playful and less serious than the story itself. This reminded me of “taking things lightly”, as an approach to having more distance towards a subject, which might provide me with the ability to make more informed and well-reflected choices. By means of this playfulness and lightness, the improvisation in fact achieved a discursive quality, which I had not realised ever before.
On the second day a very special guest joined us: Liz Lerman. The American choreographer is, among other work, well-known for her choreographic pieces with elderly people, and for the famous feedback method Critical Response Process (CRP), which is practiced widely and for several years now within ICON and the associated institutions.
This day, Liz worked with us on themes that were interconnected with listening, yet focussed on the body and movement in space, listening through the body, awareness and concepts of translation.
Film maker and visual artist Niek Pronk, who joined us during the seminar, made a short film about the work Liz did with us:
After the first day being dedicated to listening, and the second day as an “interlude” with body work, the third day was entirely focussed on the participants’ work related to the seminar theme of the musician in society. Everyone was invited to bring his or her own question, or issue, into the discussion and the sessions on this day. We spent the day working in small groups that stayed the same throughout the whole day.
Concerning the work forms, this day presented one of the most continuous and complex forms within ICON seminars to date. The day was structured into three main sessions. In each session, one or two participants offered their story or question, related to the seminar theme. Yet, through this work, all participants were invited – or challenged – to work on their own question through the stories of the others at the same time. Different roles were assigned: the presenter, a group of responders including the session facilitator, and one “artist in the corner” who sat outside of the group, invited only in the end to offer his “artistic comment” of the work the group had done.
The presenter offered his story and questions to the responders, and the group responded with reflections, feedback, questions and other type of responses, by means of different work forms.
The day, and with it the seminar, ended in a final session in which the group shared meaningful experiences and important moments of learning, together with a collective reflection on what everybody will take away to the home institutions, to have further impact on art and music education in innovative ways.
True to its title, the conference included a large variety of papers, presentations and workshops that were exploring ”borders”: from the speculative via voice hearing to the paranormal. We were particularly impressed by two keynote speeches on the first two days: Etzel Cardeña presented From Monkey-mind to Embodied Performance Presence (see here for Cardeña’s abstract and bio and here for the registration of his keynote), and Lisa Blackman elaborated on Speculative Science, Threshold Experiences and Transubjectivities (see here for her abstract and bio and here for the registration of her presentation).
Readers who follow the work of the professorship, or this site, will know the project If You Are Not There Where Are You? (IYANTWAY) already: science and art were connected to make absence seizures (a light form of epilepsy) experienceable. As artists and researchers we worked with a group of children and youths from a performative and co-creative perspective, in which knowledge has not only been described, but generated through artistic utterance: artist and artwork are not only objects of research but its main actors. Artists worked alone and in pairs with the participants, in a creation process that transformed from collaboration into sheer co-creation.
Children who suffer from absence seizures have little ways of sharing their experiences. Language does not suffice to explain the often fearful multi-sensory hallucinations, and the moments of ‘not being there’. Neurologists can measure brain activity to help the diagnosis, but fail to grasp the actual experience of these children.
In the presentation we aimed to show how artistic research as methodology has helped us to re-create experience, to realize impact on reality, and to strengthen our conceptions of co-creative work forms. We addressed several questions this project has raised on ownership, co-creation and ethics, illustrating the perilousness of engaging with absence seizures.
We chose for a kaleidoscopic and polyphonic approach to the form of the presentation, which aimed to address not only the various aspects of the project itself, but also the different personalities, and ways of working within the team of artist-researchers.
After Marieke Nooren’s brief introduction and a film trailer, Nirav Christophe talked about co-creation and creation strategies from the perspective of the artists, after which Falk Hübner shed light on the aspects of ownership and creation on the side of the participants.
Henny Dörr and Joris Weijdom followed with a staged “Q&A”-like dialogue on their approaches to the creative work in their respective collaborations, in order to ”re-create the experience” of the participants. In particular they elaborated on the relation between the abstract and the concrete, which worked differently in both cases – Henny went through a process in which the material became more and more abstract, and Joris exactly the other way round, towards more concrete material.
In the third part, Marieke presented a number of quotes from participants and stakeholders of IYANTWAY to illustrate the impact of the project. The quotes were projected on the screen and the team was provoked to react on these quotes quickly and intuitively, recalling the mode of a quiz show.
We closed with the first step of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (CRP), a form that specifically aims to facilitate qualitative feedback.
The presentation was paralleled (or counterpointed) with the Helsinki Hindsights, a page containing statements or provocations that resulted from our work in IYANTWAY. These statements were provided to the audience by simply laying them on the chairs.
Notebooks and coffee, two essential ingredients for good research.
Our setup for the presentation.
And we have finally been cited!
The team of the professorship! From left to right: Marloeke van der Vlugt, Debbie Straver, Daniela Moosman, Marieke Nooren, Henny Dörr, Joris Weijdom, Falk Hübner and Nirav Christophe.
As the first post of this season, this is a brief newsletter about a new publication and three, partly collaborative, conference presentations in Helsinki, Oslo and London. There are also several other projects coming up, which will be covered more in depth in the following posts.
The new publication of the core team of the Professorship Performative Processes, When you are not there, where are you?, is in its final stages. This concludes a large project initiated by Dutch documentary maker Maartje Nevejan, which spans many activities during the last two years, including the practical work of the team of the professorship with a group of children suffering from absence epilepsy seizures, a collaborative performance lecture in Prague, the performance installation Down next to a whole range of other artistic work, and the lecture Transforming Absence. Art as Bridge from Multimodal Experience to Transdisciplinary Collaboration in Cape Town in December 2016. In the end of August, the core team of the professorship (Nirav Christophe, Henny Dörr, Joris Weijdom and Falk Hübner) will present another collaborative performance lecture called Transforming Absence. Re-creating Experience through Artistic Research at the Carpa conference in Helsinki.
In November I will give a lecture on artistic research as “integrated practice” at the conference ‘The Protean Musician’: the musician in future society. This is the first lecture in which I develop this concept of artistic research in relation to higher music education and the students’ future in society. A wide array of presenters will join the conference from many countries around the globe, and this promises to be a most interesting and impactful conference “examining the roles of musicians in our increasingly complex world.” (Darla Crispin) The conference is organized by The Arne Hordheim Centre for Artistic Research in Music (NordART), The Centre for Research in Music and Health (CREMAH), The Centre for Educational Research in Music (CERM) and The Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE) (abstract).
Finally, in February I will join forces with Christina Guillaumier, pianist, Head of Undergraduate Studies at the Royal College of Music in London and a Creative Director of the Innovative Conservatoire (ICON). Together we will present The Musician in Society – From Craftsmanship to Creative Citizen at the Reflective Conservatoire Conference at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. We will address conservatoire reality nowadays, in relation to the quickly changing development of our world and social surroundings, and use the work of the Innovative Conservatoire as a case study that might provide a toolkit for innovative practice both in student and teacher training.
Apart from these scholarly activities, two artistic projects are still in process and will be concluded this season: the music theatre silencio with trumpet player Sef Hermans, and a new participatory music theatre work with the Dutch vocal quartet Quatre Bouches. More on these projects in the upcoming posts!
Maarten Zaagman and I had just been back from Brighton, with five performances of I will carry you over hard times, when we received the news about the next performances: in November 2017 we will perform at the prestigious Dutch November Music festival, as part of the KunstMuziekRoute. We are very happy and excited about taking part in the wonderful festival in Den Bosch! Keep an eye on the site for dates and times, as these will be announced soon.
Back in Brighton, it was not only great to perform the work for several times in the beautiful little church of Sweet St Amdrews. Maarten and I also gave a workshop on our creative process; and it was particularly rewarding (and fun!) to perform on the sunny streets of Brighton.
From 8-12 April 2017, the ICON Creative Directors team and participants worked under the guidance of professional coach Jane Cook on the theme ”coaching and mentoring”. Jane comes from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where she is Head of Leadership and Coaching.
The seminar was aimed at anyone in teaching, mentoring and management roles: working with students as a one to one teacher or mentor, or with students in groups, or having line management responsibility for colleagues in one’s home institution. The red thread of the seminar’s activities and session was to work on core mentoring-coaching skills, such as
listen for and illuminate meaning
ask questions that prompt new learning
how to motivate and encourage new and creative thinking
The international group of teachers started the first evening with a series of sessions that involve “sources of inspiration”. Everybody brought 2-3 objects, images or quotes that have a relation or connection to the seminar theme.
During the seminar days, participants worked on real issues with each other in the different roles of client, coach and observer. The core of the seminar programme was constant feedback practice from “real life”: “We will not role play. We ask you to work on real material with each other. You cannot learn how to be an excellent mentor-coach if you have never understood what it is to be a client.” (ICON programme booklet)
ICON is well-known for its variety in innovative work forms. The most common forms of this seminar were either sessions with the whole group, in which Jane Cook demonstrated specific approaches to coaching with one or two participants, or practice sessions in duos.
A welcome new form during the intense days was the late afternoon walk in pairs, in which the participants reflected on the day and the sessions. This was done in a mode of telling and concentrated listening and asking questions, so that essential coaching skills were still practiced, while enjoying the last hours of the light of day.
“Coaching and mentoring skills […] can enable us to take ownership of our development, generate new perspectives, and access our ‘best possible selves’ and those of the people we work with, be these students, colleagues or other professionals around us.” (ICON programme booklet)
Falk Hübner is a true example of 21st century hybrid professional practice in the arts. He works on the intersections between experimental practice, artistic research and higher arts education. His diverse practice ranges from devising experimental music theatre, performances and installations, publishing articles to working with students and giving shape to research agendas within higher arts education curricula.