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Paths towards artistic development

Participants from all over Scandinavia gathered together when CEMPE and the Music Conservatory at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø invited them to a seminar on artistic development in higher music education.

Today performative and creative artistic practice has achieved formal recognition as a specific area of knowledge and experience, and the area of artistic development (AD) is a growing field of research. The point of departure for this topic is a think tank initiated by CEMPE in 2018, where teachers of AD-related subjects at institutions in Norway, Sweden and Denmark meet to discuss the developmental potential of AD-based music education at Bachelor’s and Master’s level in Scandinavia.

Critical reflection as a catalyst for development

Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, project coordinator for the think tank and Deputy Director at CEMPE, introduced the proceedings with some open questions as a point of departure for the following days.

“How can higher music education set the stage for investigative processes and critical reflection? What does investigation entail in the context of different musical traditions? How can individual teachers lay the groundwork for experimentation, challenges and critical reflection, and build up their institutions within an educational system geared towards AD?”

Amund Sjølie Sveen at the Music Conservatory in Tromsø followed this up by focusing on the importance of ongoing critical reflection in higher music education.

“Why do we need a music conservatory in Tromsø or Oslo? What should be taught, and why? The answers to these questions must be discovered and articulated, and must be addressed anew every day by the institution, the teachers and the students. For this reason artistic development is necessary,” emphasised the musician and stage artist, who is also one of the leaders of the New North Academy.

The value of trails and bridges

The two days of the seminar offered a chock-full programme where projects, practices and reflections by various Scandinavian music institutions were in the spotlight. Anne Gry Haugland, Associate Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music (DKDM) in Copenhagen, presented her experiences with AD-based work on the basis of two different approaches: blazing trails and building bridges.

The foundation for this work was laid in 2006 with the introduction of a reflective exercise at Master’s level. The exercise was the first step towards implementing critical reflection in connection with artistic practice in music education, Haugland explains.

“It has been important for us that the exercise not only has an administrative aspect, but is meaningful for students in an artistic connection. The exercise does not need to be purely in written form; text can be combined with video or sound recording. We encourage students to be curious, perhaps to cross interdisciplinary borders, and we emphasise the relevance of the chosen subject to the individual student.”

The reflective exercise became a way of blazing a trail, where the students themselves cleared their way through the landscape. This presented certain challenges, according to Haugland.

“You are left with a long list of isolated projects that are rooted in individual practice, but that have no impact on each other during the course of the project.”

For this reason the conservatory began to build bridges by setting up new connections between students while they were working on their exercises. Seminars and workshops were organised across families of instruments, and the reflective exercises were associated more closely with the teacher’s research and aimed at establishing true collaborations.

“I argue very clearly in favour of a dual strategy, where one both blazes trails and builds bridges – where one lets things develop through practice while at the same time building structures that can underpin the work and, not least, enable people in the institution to really see each other. I regard this last element as holding great potential while it is also the biggest challenge,” Haugland summed up.

Participants are given a brief introduction to the High North Movements, under the auspices of dance artist and New North Academy representative Liv Hanne Haugen.

With the aid of literature

Interaction through Zoom, artistic development adapted to the individual student, and artistic knowledge culture in higher music education were among the topics presented in the course of the seminar. The participants, each from his or her virtual window, also presented examples of experimental methods of interpretation. Helene Gjerris from the DKDM spoke about musical text work, Tanja Orning from the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH) presented her experience of working with Maurizio Kagel’s Ludwig van, and classical guitarist and professor Georg Gulyás from Ingesund College of Music and Piteå School of Music spoke on the use of literary texts as tools in artistic interpretation processes.

Gulyás’s project, carried out from 2017 to 2019 in collaboration with literary scholar and librarian Karin Engström of the Ingesund College of Music, explores musical interpretation with a focus on the classical guitar repertoire. The objective of the project was to develop methods for using literary texts as a means of pursuing in-depth teaching of musical design in higher music education.

Musical works, and their accompanying texts, were selected according to four criteria: fidelity to the original source, the connection to the period when the work and text were created, the relationship to today’s audience and fidelity to one’s own artistic practice. In connection with the last mentioned, a poetry workshop was arranged in order to help participants write their own texts.

“I had some participants who already wrote poetry, but one had no experience. So I used Kenneth Koch’s method for creative writing. It is actually meant for children, but that was fine – we are all children inside,” said Gulyás.

The project was implemented with the aid of rehearsal periods, working groups and, finally, a concert. The aim of the project was to “promote awareness of interpretation processes and verbalise a process that is often characterised as silent knowledge”, according to Gulyás, who summarised by used a quote from one of the students who had participated:

“The four criteria generated a way of thinking that I can keep coming back to. Each time there is a long process to go through, the next one will be shorter, and when you’re practising a piece you can use these tools and small tactics and strategies.”

"It’s all about cultivating an inquisitive, exploratory mindset through artistic research – about understanding the student as an inquisitive artist, not only as a performer."

Peter Tornquist Principal, Norwegian Academy of Music

Challenges and initiatives

Discussions were arranged after the thematically organised lectures. Issues that were addressed included resources, the inclusion of main instrument instructors in AD-based teaching, and the integration of an AD mindset at an early stage of studies, and the seminar closed with a broad panel debate about AD in higher music education.

Breie Nyhus moderated the discussion between Principal Peter Tornquist of the NMH, Pro Vice-Chancellor Johannes Landgren of the Royal College of Music (KMH) in Stockholm, Vice Principal Søren Kjærgaard of the Rhythmic Music Conservatory (RMC) in Copenhagen, Associate Professor Tone Åse of the Department of Music at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Associate Professor Anne Gry Haugland of the DKDM in Copenhagen, and former NMH student Guoste Tamulynaite.

“What are the most important components that connect music education to AD? And what are the challenges?” asked Breie Nyhus.

“It’s mainly a question of building bridges between the artistic research mentality and the artistic excellence mentality,” Tornquist began.

He continued: “It’s all about cultivating an inquisitive, exploratory mindset through artistic research – about understanding the student as an inquisitive artist, not only as a performer.”

Landgren, from the KMH in Stockholm, emphasised the importance of really seeing the students.

“I think we have to be mindful of seeing things from the students’ perspective. Should they apply for an audition with a symphony orchestra, or work as freelancers or in academia? It seems to me that we can take advantage of collaboration across organisations.”

Åse from the NTNU focused on the importance of having staff who are themselves involved in artistic work, and that their experience in that area could be used actively in their teaching activities.

“There might not be enough time earmarked for staff to pursue their own interests – that can be a challenge. It might also be difficult for staff members to see how their own artistic processes can be transferred to their teaching,” she said.

Tamulynaite, who recently completed nine years of study at the NMH, highlighted two important aspects of AD from her own experience – wide-ranging exposure and the opportunity for students to associate with others, and teachers who encourage students to develop their aesthetic sense.

“There is an unfortunate tendency for students to expect to be told what to do. Sometimes it feels as though a Bachelor’s student is given no responsibility. It was not until I was studying for my Master’s that I was asked why I played. Students could be challenged at an earlier stage,” said Tamulynaite.

Their own language

“Reflection is a word that appears again and again, and we understand it in different ways. When students are going to refer to the sources of their work, what should those be?” wondered Breie Nyhus, adding that the work of being reflective also involves language challenges. After all, there are students whose primary language is neither Scandinavian nor English.

“Reflection is not something you carry out at the end of a project – it goes on continuously. Reflection begins almost before we start a semester or a project. When it comes to language, we have some Danish and some English. We try to explain that the students can develop their own language for representing their work,” Kjærgaard said.

The Vice Principal’s colleague at the RMC, Jacob Anderskov, added – and summed up:

“The key is to have an open and spontaneous view of what it means to be reflective.”

Jacob Anderskov RMC