It is already some time ago that I presented a rough outline of the concept of my long term ongoing project “Artistic Research as Integrative Practice”, in November 2017 at the Protean Musician conference in Oslo. During the first weeks of this academic year, in September 2018, I had the chance to deliver a few lectures in which I could take the next step.

The essential point in Oslo was to frame the two overarching concepts of the project: the contemporary hybrid practice of musicians, and the 21st Century Skills as essential concept for being able to fully participate in our 21st Century society (see here for the blog post on the conference). In this post I make one further step and share some ideas on the understanding of research when framed as integrative practice. The theoretical-conceptual substantiation of these elements still has to be done; what you are reading is in process and relatively rough, yet at the same time grounded in my daily practice of making, thinking and teaching. This is also how I present the different elements to students, with a primary means to inspire, to spark ideas and exchange, rather than giving a coherent conceptual outline grounded in a scholarly discourse. I strongly believe that this should happen more, both in the contexts of education as well as academia: On the one hand, thoughts that are still in process can be explored not only alone, but primarily with others; and on the other hand it is fascinating to make students an active part of this exchange, and by this empower them and encourage ownership in current debates and developments.

The main point of the idea of Artistic Research as Integrative Practice is that research is not something one does next to the main professional activities. Research, instead, can be understood as a perspective, and practiced as a habit from which any professional activities can be carried out. The point of departure is that the often scattered, extremely diversified activities of a hybrid professional identity can be seen as nodes in a network, in which research is seen as a “hub” that connects all of these different nodes. Research does not necessarily need to be a distinct activity in this network (however, it could be – “I am working on my research today.” – see the hashtag #PhDweekend on Twitter to see what I mean), but more of a habit and process how to carry out these different activities and how to interconnect them in one’s own professional identity (see the slide 6 and 7 “Hybrid Practice” of the previously mentioned presentation in Oslo).

In short, I understand doing research as an investigative activity and process, from which the student/artist/professional can work, think, develop and design. Research is then more of an attitude, behavior and habit that encompasses all aspects of the professional identity: fully integrated rather than a thing one does next to other work (or, as for some students, next to the “real” work such as performing or composing). I see the activity, behavior and habit of doing research as a central element in the network of the diversified activities of a hybrid professional practice, as an element that connects all of these different activities of the network: Composing can be connected to, and used in teaching, which in turn might connect to giving workshops, or feed back into the conceptual thinking regarding composing. Obviously these connections happen very often anyways, such as giving workshops will profit from earlier teaching experience. However, when these connections are made through research as a form of a habit, first, more exemplification and reflection is possible that ultimately results in much deeper learning. Second, particularly the connection between less obvious activities can facilitate unexpected connections, which might produce entirely new forms of practice, reflection, understanding and learning.

 

From pyramids to networks

The understanding that the different activities of a hybrid professional identity form a network resonates with the work of Dutch philosopher Henk Oosterling. He argues that, as a participatory and networked society at large, we have to abandon the understanding of pyramids (bottom up, top down) and start thinking in networks. For Oosterling, members of society are not autonomous, but nodes in a network, cross-linked and relational autonomous.

Henk-Oosterling-10-1680x2520
Henk Oosterling

In music, especially in classical music, different professional profiles are traditionally often understood or perceived as some form of a pyramid, which translates to a hierarchy: Performing as a solo musician (in classical music) is seen as the top of the pyramid (in the case of performers), followed by working as a leader (concert master or leader of other sections) in a symphony orchestra, and by playing chamber music. After this playing as a regular member of the orchestra, and then, after quite some empty space, teaching comes, followed by working as a music teacher at secondary schools working as a music therapist. Of course I am terribly exaggerating here, but I do this just to make the point clear (however, try asking a third or fourth year classical music student to join an ensemble with students from the music education department).

Pyramid Music Conductor Musician
Two more pyramids on “Artistic Influence”, from William J. Stevens’ presentation at the Protean Musician conference in Oslo, November 2017.

 

Even if this exaggerated hierarchy might be more nuanced, and happening more unconscious in daily practice, I am sure it is not unfamiliar to many students and teachers in the field of music. Such kind of hierarchy can also be at work in how musicians understand the different activities of their own hybrid identity. Composing and performing are regarded as most important, and as the core of the profession for many, whereas teaching or writing grant applications might be considered less central to this identity, but rather as something necessary to carry out the actual core activities. I do not intend to make a judgment about any of these views. My point is that, by understanding these diversified activities as being part of an essentially non-hierarchical network, with the habit of research and inquiry as a central connection, all of these activities can be linked to each other, to achieve more deepened and sustainable learning and development.

 

Epilogue

I always feel grateful when I have the possibility to share a concept that it is still in development, especially by presenting for students. I believe not only that the moment of sharing is essential to research, but that specifically sharing the processes and moments in-between, rather than just the final outcomes, facilitates the possibility of feedback, of a mutual conversation; because the subject of discussion is not yet finished. This enables me to test, to review, to revisit, to discover yet unknown layers – and to change.

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.

Oslo Harbour

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.

Darla Crispin.

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

  1. conservatoires contribute in shaping society,
  2. solely focusing on “delivery” what is “ordered” limits our self-understanding,
  3. conservatoires should separate between their social intentions and functions,
  4. 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.”

Geir Johanssen.

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.

Dawn Bennett.

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 rather EmployABILITY: ”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
  • Engage alumni
  • 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.

ARIP Hub

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.

21st C Skills.jpg