PhD Candidate in Artistic Research in Music
For as long as I can remember, playing the piano has for me been about mastering a piece, to be able to play what I had heard someone else, older than me, perform in concerts or on recordings. As a child my audience was often dad or mum or a neighbour or a “real” audience in a traditional classical setting like, for example, a concert hall. The latter kind of audience used to terrify me to the extent that I performed with fear as the one predominant affect. Today, as a professional pianist, I perceive the audience in a traditional classical music setting most often as an “anonymous mass”, sitting silently waiting for my performance. In my research I wish to explore if the way I perform is influenced by that perception. What is the impact of the audience on my performance?
Performing as perfection?
General questions concerning the communication between musicians and audiences form the background to this PhD project in artistic research. Reviewing pianistic literature such as interviews, articles and biographies and even dissertations there is little, if any, mention of performance issues. The audience is, much as I experienced it as a child, demanding something at the receiving end.
“Speaking of applause, do you think it wrong for audiences to applaud at the end of the first movement of a concerto?” (Elder, 1982, p.52).
The quote is from the extensive interview book “Pianists at play” by Dean Elder. It was very much a “bible” when I started studying the piano and it features the most prominent pianists in the world at that time. Typical topics are: technical issues, practise methods and educational background. The audience, or the communication with the listener, is not mentioned at all apart from the question above, posed to Claudio Arrau. I believe this reflects a way of perceiving the audience and of performing in the community of pianists that affects how we practise, how we interpret and ultimately how we deal with performing. The performer-audience-relationship is portrayed as a unilateral communication from pianist to audience dominated by perfection in performance to comply with the exigencies of specialized audiences found in classical concert venues. In fact, a lot of effort as a performing artist, is made to obtain more perfection, and adapt to the “realistic performance situations” but very little is made to examine if these situations can be changed.
Performance from an artistic perspective
There are a number of psychological and neurological studies made on musicians on and off stage. Many of them deal with performance anxiety, others with how to optimize practise and learning music. Often research questions are formulated by psychologists and researchers in other fields, devoted to music and sometimes amateur musicians themselves. This kind of traditional research explore and go alongside existing traditions and performing situations, and do not question them. Close enough, one might think, but being a professional musician looking into the difficulties from an inside perspective will result in different research questions and artistic research methods. This way I get closer to understanding the performance frames, ceremonies and traditions that without a doubt have an impact on my practice.
During all my years of study at different academies, performance was never discussed conceptually and questions regarding audience interaction and stage fright were seldom raised. The ritual of the classical recital was regarded as a given. Further, musicians suffering from stage fright are most often referred to psychological research and solutions drawn from it, mainly as a way of coping with fear of performing and how to reduce it. They are rarely introduced or encouraged to artistic ways of approaching the act of performing in a salutogenic, proactive process, but rather as a reactive response when something is dysfunctional. I am convinced that pianists and musicians can benefit from experimenting, reflecting and widening their sense and conception of an audience and of performing on stage.
Aims and research questions
The first aim of this project is to develop new approaches to classical concert performance. This includes experimentation with the concert format and how, as a consequence, my interaction with the audience can become more dynamic. Further, it embraces my personal development and how my experience of performing can be altered. Apart from the personal and artistic outcomes, the above aims also have a strong bearing on education of pianists and musicians.
These aims can be further defined through the following research questions:
- What artistic methods can be used to challenge the performance traditions and conventions in classical concert tradition?
- How can introspection (based on theories in the field of psychology and sociology) be used in the -analysis of musical performance?
- How can theoretical perspectives from psychology and sociology inform introspective analysis of musical performance?