I Research in NAIP

I.a Rationale and reasons for this research to be embedded in NAIP

We are living in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. From a global perspective, we are all facing immense challenges in relation to climate, population, social and economic issues. These then play out in our more immediate communities, and the ways in which music and the arts are more widely positioned. Equally they have implications for our individual lives, our identities as musicians and the opportunities we can make in our careers.

Contemporary contexts then become characterised by change, and the music industry is no exception. Being successful requires creativity and we all have to be able to adapt. This probably comes as no surprise these days, but what may be less clear is how any of this connects to the concepts and practices of research. In what ways can research really make a difference to professional practice as an artist?

 One answer is that research is an essential part of adapting and developing new processes in ways that are deeply informed, or to bring an iterative process of experimenting and evaluating to the development of any new artistic product/process, or to transforming a familiar practice into something new. Research brings depth to a creative process. It can enable an artistic process to be informed by different people and perspectives. It can help to structure the development of something that starts as a tiny fragment of material – an idea, a location, a melody, a rhythm, or a group of people.

In the sciences there is of course an explicit relationship between research and innovation: research leads to new possibilities, theories, products. Here research has often become highly systematised, seeking rigorous objectivity, and consequently, from our perspective as artists, can seem rigid and sterile, a long way away from what we do and care about. But this is just one perspective on research as a whole, and a bold stereotype at that. Research comes in many colours and shapes. It may seek to illuminate the nuances of individual lives and tacit, embodied experiences just as much as it may seek to prove theories or make generalisations. It may be concerned with an artistic and emergent process as much as with fixed, easily observable objects. Most important for our context in music, and the NAIP programme in particular, is perhaps that research is something that can prompt, enable, support and validate innovation and change. It is part of the foundation that helps us navigate the VUCA world we inhabit.

The potential for research in the performing arts is huge: extending the disciplines, pushing the boundaries of the art forms and their processes, transforming the nature of performance, discovering new territories and developing new practices.  This is perhaps particularly important in current contexts where the arts find they have become marginalised, audiences for conventional concerts are dwindling, or where funding is increasingly difficult to come by.

Equally, research is essential from more personal perspectives: this relates to issues of developing our own personal and professional practices as musicians, and ensuring that within often fast moving, even turbulent, demanding and confusing professional contexts, we can remain in touch with and connected to our own artistic interests and passions. Research and reflection can help us to ensure that our personal passions are in dialogue with the day-to-day issues we encounter and with the work we do. This is becoming increasingly important where there are few established developmental career structures, and few of us stay in that same role for long periods of time. So often as musicians we have to develop our own career structures and progression routes, and design our own professional development paths. This needs a lot of self-awareness, which comes with an ability to experiment, reflect and move on. Research as a musician can thus enable us to explore inside ourselves as well as outside. It is something that can enable inner and outer impulses to be in an ongoing exchange.

The reasons for engaging in research can therefore be quite diverse:

  • Deepening artistic practice, connecting with one’s artistic voice.
  • Building awareness of both outside worlds and self-awareness internally, including of one’s blind spots.
  • Exploring uncharted contexts, discovering how music might engage in these.
  • Coming up with innovative ideas.
  • Taking more responsibility for oneself.
  • Being strategic about work and career opportunities.

Overarching reasons for research to be embedded in NAIP

The main challenge of today’s musicians trained in our conservatoires is navigating a rapidly changing cultural landscape. In a nutshell, the major changes they encounter can be phrased as follows:

  • Changes in the social-cultural landscape are helping to shape a very different workplace for musicians.
  • Flexible portfolio careers require finely tuned transferable skills and a more entrepreneurial attitude towards work.
  • Increasingly musicians work collaboratively with professionals in other fields – in cross-arts, cross-cultural and cross-sector contexts.
  • Musicians now have to perform different roles as they are expected to respond creatively to cultural and educational contexts that go beyond the concert hall (Renshaw, 2010).

Within these changing careers, in addition to highly developed artistic skills, transferable ‘life skills’ are increasingly important for musicians and it is clear that they need to take up various interrelated roles in order to be able to do their work in a successful and relevant way. They need to be entrepreneurs, innovators, connectors, partners and reflective practitioners.

Research or - as we might say in this context - reflective inquiry is of the utmost importance for musicians when they want to create innovation and develop their professional skills. It is required when for instance they are engaging with new audiences or new types of professions. It is also required if they want to improve their practice within the music school or academy setting.

As said, tomorrow’s professional musicians have many roles to perform. They have to be able to look at themselves, reflect on their assumptions and presuppositions and be engaged in evaluative processes. Thinking and reflecting collaboratively on how to improve their work, their knowledge and their cooperation require critical reflection and evaluation. Research can then take place through reflection, evaluation, decision and action in an ongoing circle. Reflecting collaboratively on their practices, and researching their practice together, for example,  with partners from the professional field, is a fruitful way of creating an environment which nourishes a musicians’ continuing professional development of other musicians.

That can lead to artistic and educational practices that are relevant to the current and changing cultural landscape, explore different contexts, are intervention oriented, lead to relevant learning experiences, and illuminate attitudes and values. Reflective practice and leadership are essential requirements if musicians want to become ‘lifelong learners’, in order to be able to adapt to continuous change and to the various contexts which they encounter.

NAIP

The Music Master in New Audiences and Innovative Practice (NAIP) prepares students for a diverse range of career opportunities. Students are enabled in defining and realising individual career pathways that embrace composition, performance and leadership. Graduates’ careers may include instrumental and vocal performance; project-leading for orchestras, schools and other cultural organisations; composition, all within the umbrella of a portfolio career, that develop practices crossing more traditional boundaries.

Research in the NAIP seeks to instil positive attitudes toward inquiry, reflection, and problem-solving as components of innovative practice and program development. Students will value research and its role in assessing effectiveness and improving programs. The whole course is underpinned by the aims of developing a research attitude in students, and the development of communication skills such that students are able to act as critical friends for one another (co-mentoring), asking relevant questions, helping to elucidate areas of difficulty, solving problems, reflect, and formulate appropriate research plans. Research in the NAIP program permeates the complete curriculum; most activities a student undertakes are in some way related to their research, as this is intimately connected to the individual goals of the students. One of the aims of research in NAIP is that students become ‘reflective practitioners’ (see below). Research, and the inquisitive attitude going with it, contributes greatly to this aim. At the end this results in students who are able to carry out professionally relevant practice-based research. They have learnt how to develop research questions and a research plan, how to carry out that research and report about it in various ways (musically, written, spoken). All this as part of their lifelong development.

Critical Studies and Artistic Practice

In the NAIP programme, emphasis is placed on engaging with new audiences. This means that students need to spend time unpacking, challenging, even deconstructing accepted methods of classical performance practice. During the course, students receive considerable teaching and support for the practical and musical aspects of engaging with new audiences. By providing theoretical underpinnings for the projects they work on during their studies, students might better be able to carry out critical, well informed research/artistic practice, which is sensitive to the challenges of the NAIP goals. The aim is that students will develop critical consciousness which will enable them to deepen their reflections and renew their practice.

Several aspects within critical studies are of particular relevance to the NAIP program. These could include (although not limited to):

  • Politics and social issues.
  • Society, culture and taste.
  • Cultural heritage, (post) colonial theory and engaging with cultural diversity.

In order to underpin the theoretical references of the common themes of the NAIP student/contemporary musician, such as audience outreach, community engagement and innovative practice, it is essential to provide an introduction to music and art’s long standing concern for its own social, ethical and political potential, status, purpose and usefulness. This field would explore different ways of thinking about the social, political and ethical dynamics of the current musical environment, but furthermore consider how these different perspectives might be seen to have altered the musician’s practice itself. Topics of exploration could include:

  • Community engagement.
  • Public and participatory art.
  • Politics of performance and spectatorship.

A supplementary reading list is provided under Critical studies.