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…

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.

 

 

Epilogue

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.

The wonderful main courtyard of Dartington Hall, where the seminar tool place.
The wonderful main courtyard of Dartington Hall, where the seminar took place.

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.

Arriving at Dartington Hall.
Arriving at Dartington Hall.

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?

Day One

Helena Gaunt introduces the seminar, its theme and approach throughout the coming days to the group of creative directors and participants.
What would you hear in this place?

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.

The first exercises.

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.

Day Two

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.

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Film maker and visual artist Niek Pronk, who joined us during the seminar, made a short film about the work Liz did with us:

Day Three

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.

In a practice session, working on the seminar theme.
In a practice session, working on the seminar theme.

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.

The final evening of the seminar - the PARTY.
The final evening of the seminar – the PARTY.

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.