As mentioned in the earlier post on the Reflective Conservatoire Conference, I gave a presentation at the conference, together with London-based pianist and researcher Christina Guillaumier. Christina is also a Creative Director of the Innovative Conservatoire.

Our presentation, “The Musician in Society. From Craftsman to Creative Citizen”, was part of the ICON session at the Reflective Conservatoire (about practices of the Innovative Conservatoire), chaired by Celia Duffy. I had been looking forward to this lecture for already quite some time, as it closes a series of work on the musician in society, with exactly the focus from where I left in the beginning: the reality at conservatoires nowadays and in which way the institution lacks an understanding and consciousness of the social reality of the community outside of itself, especially when it comes to educating young musicians.

Previously at the conference: Gillian Moore, the facilitator of the invited panel “What does artistic citizenship mean for us as artists?”, which took place on the same morning as our presentation, asked an intriguing question: “Are we training artists in the right way to become artistic citizens?” This question leads perfectly to the perspective on artistic citizenship that Christina Guillaumier and I had chosen for our own presentation.

See here for the slides of the presentation.

We started by framing artistic citizenship and providing just a few examples of engaged practice, to set the stage for context and possible practice, and collect three very basic premises to work form:

  1. The arts are made for and by people.
  2. Art making and art taking need to be integrated with personal and community life.
  3. The arts as inherently social practices should be viewed, studied and practiced as forms of ethically guided citizenship.

As David Elliott puts it in the introduction of the wonderful publication Artistic Citizenship. Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis: There is no option not to relate. Building on Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus” as the habits, skills, and dispositions of each and every one of us, drawn from our life experience, Christina and I argued that it is the responsibility of the institution to create an environment for students not just to understand and learn conceptually what Artistic Citizenship is. Students should instead be able to develop their own concept of it, through practice, and should be facilitated in this as an essential part of their professional education. This cannot be achieved through implementation of distinct subjects, courses or projects, but is rather meant as an essential foundation of the institution’s, teachers’ and students’ work, a foundation of relating and engaging.

A few examples of such engaging practice are projects such as the Guerilla Generation in Greece, Theatre of Witness in Derry, Nothern Ireland, Bedside Buskers (image below) in The Netherlands or the HEAR initiative in Philadelphia, Australia.

Almost contrary to the impressions from these different kinds of work, be collected a number of observations and reflections related to conservatoire practice nowadays:

  • The profession of musicians is (still) often perceived in a vertical and hierarchical fashion
  • There is still a strong emphasis on principal studies, especially in classical music – which relates to questions of locating “craft” from Helena Gaunt’s keynote
  • A strong focus on mostly traditional professional profiles, virtually ignoring hybrid professional practices of today
  • A solid tradition that reproduces itself: Passed on from one-to-one teaching before and strengthened during the time at the conservatoire
  • Jazz & Pop practice is usually more diversified than practices in the classical, which is part of its own tradition, already including different kinds of performing situations, teaching, interdisciplinarity; but there is still a disconnection between conservatoire and society observable
  • As institutions, we need to change the self-understanding of our role as conservatoires within the perspective of lifelong learning, as “transitory stations”

There are lots of questions concerning these observations and their consequences. First of all, far from everybody would agree to these observations, for different reasons. There is no hard, or exact right or wrong in a complex area such as education; as these observations are made from a specific perspective and vision, and there are other, sometimes contrasting perspectives and visions as well.

Question are manifold as to which change of this situation is exactly necessary, and how this might possibly be put in practice. In our presentation, we chose the perspective of “transferable skills”, a term which has been coined by Helena Gaunt and that is actively used and practiced at ICON seminars, such as the recent seminar on listening. ICON operates from the conceptual framework of the arts as embedded, and being in the centre of our society, and aims to create strong relationships between practice and reflection, through an action research approach and feedback loops of doing and thinking. With transferable skills, we mean skills that are essentially trained through music: literally “musical skills”, which are then applied in and transferred to a huge variety of contexts, within and outside the strict realm of musical practice. These skills can then become “tools” of training artistic citizenship, as both students and teachers already practice these skills in their daily training; they understand the inner workings of these skills and already recognize them as essential, which makes them much easier to be made transferable.

Without being too concerned about working these concepts out in the presentation, we left the presentation itself open-ended at this point and made the direct transition to the practical ICON session, led by ICON Creative Directors Dinah Stabb and Jo Hensel, both from Guildhall. In this session, we did physical work with the group, as well as conducting a few exercises of listening, and by this putting the previously mentioned transferred skills in practice. What I personally found most striking in this session in its entirety was that what we at ICON call “transformative power” of the work that we do there, was observable in London as well, despite the short duration of the session with the group.

I am looking forward to continuing this work: at ICON, at the conservatoires where I am working, and most notably a series of workshops that I will conduct with others in the research environment of the HKU Utrechts Conservatoire, Studio 118. To be continued soon…

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

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 location of the seminar: The main building at Kallio-Kuninkala, about 40 minutes from Helsinki.
The location of the seminar: The main building at Kallio-Kuninkala, about 40 minutes from Helsinki.

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.

A collection of sources.
A collection of sources.

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)

Picking images before a group session.
Picking images before a group session.

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.

The lake close to Kallio-Kuninkala right before evening.
The lake close to Kallio-Kuninkala right before evening.

“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)

Workshop leader Jane Cook gives an introduction to a group session.
Workshop leader Jane Cook gives an introduction to a group session.