Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Our Performance Research Revolution

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Our Performance Research Revolution

Article excerpt

This article space is dedicated to singing, singers, singing teachers, and vocal music education. One of the most difficult challenges right now is gaining the financial and infrastructural means for singing to happen. I don't mean this in an informal folksong sense. I am thinking of the kind of singing that comes from formal training, and is presented in public performance. In order to earn, gather, or be awarded funds for music libraries, teaching spaces and performance venues, we are more than at any other time in history being required to formally account for ourselves, and quantify our choices. While making music is happening for all good reasons: education of the young, education through our lifetimes, building community, aesthetic inspiration and enrichment, artistic skill building and artistic refinement, and reaching beyond ourselves through vocal art, we are having to convert and translate our lyrical and prosaic processing styles into hard data.

At the Royal College of Music in London England, Professor Aaron Williamon's track record for grant applications instantly became more successful when he changed the name of his research office from The Centre for Music Performance to The Centre for Performance Science. His methods of research and his research team remained the same, but the optics of its work was now viewed as being scientific instead of artistic.

"Talk Fahrenheit! Talk Centigrade! Use language we can comprehend. Tell us what elements to blend." So writes Robert Frost in his "Choose Something Like a Star." While "we are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams," (from Arthur O'Shaughnessy's poem "The Music Makers"), we must keep all of that close to us while also reporting about it with numbers and graphs, that relate concert attendance, "in-kind" benefits, budgets, dissemination of our research findings, the number of "research opportunities" for students that were created by each "initiative." These identify what for us seems like obtuse nomenclature, and agonizingly specific requirements in our present performance world.

As we look at the landscape from other glasses, we can be thankful that there are so many choral and vocal music teachers who are altruistic and virtuous in their musical, educational and artistic activities in our schools. To augment those experiences, or simply to fulfill the need for them where vocal and instrumental music is not happening, community-based organizations are now surrounding us in ways that church choirs, bands and orchestras did in the first part of the 20th century, and in a role in which schools and service clubs have shared thereafter. Now, the non-profit organization has risen to become the community-based mechanism for musical life and activity. For those of us who wish to keep this and advance it, the advocacy that is now being required of us is in a state of high alert.

The alarm is not only sounding because we need money. The alarm is sounding because we have largely failed to learn the access routes to funding: scientific methodology, successful grant acquisition, and in our relationships with people: donor development. We have erroneously thought that the good of the music making and the development of a better community would be sufficient.

When considering government subsidization, there are divergent opinions. The first is one that follows the government money trail. This route requires subscribing to strict and highly detailed government requirements, the submission of grant proposals, and the judgments of peer committees appointed through the civil service.

Some claim that this takes groups further and further away from artistic and community wellbeing, and closer to vote-hungry guidelines aimed for broad appeal and mediocre outcomes in direction and artistry. It does, however, provide means, and whether or not a cause is universally deemed artistically worthwhile, it is inclusively worthwhile, demographically advantageous, and optically strong. …

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