leading conservatory students in musical creation processes


I would like to express my special thanks to Paul Craenen, Roos Leeflang and Martin Prchal for their support and crucial role in leading the research group making in music over the past two years. Not only has this sparked interesting and new research activities, but it has made it possible to think over the borders of our departments and get a truly collaborative movement going, in the form of the new Minor Collaborative Music Creation which has started its first course in September 2020. 


Karst de Jong, January 2021




 In the period 2011-2020 I have been extensively involved in various projects concerning improvisation for classical music performance students. Firstly, the Royal Conservatoire has been an initiating partner of 2 large scale European projects on improvisation for classical performing musicians. The first project was named ‘Modernisation of Higher Music Education by Improvisation’. This project was initiated by the Royal Conservatoire and lasted from 2011-2014. The second project named ‘METRIC’ started in 2016 and ended in August 2018. Both projects included a large partner group of European music institutions, working together in so called Intensive Projects (IP’s) with teachers and students.1. Furthermore, the music theory curriculum of the Royal Conservatoire has been overhauled radically in the past few years. Improvisation has become an important element in this curriculum, especially in relation to Aural Development. It is used as a catalyst to develop aural skills, and improve the connection the student has with his/her instrument, as well as the ‘interface’ between hearing and playing. 

Apart from the Royal Conservatoire I have been active at other institutions as well. First of all I have been employed at the Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya (ESMUC)2 in Barcelona since 2003, mainly to teach improvisation to classical students. Coming from a classical piano background myself and practicing improvisation mainly as a solo pianist, the work at ESMUC with a mix of instrumental and voice students has offered me a great opportunity to grow and broaden experiences with teaching and coaching improvisation. I have especially learned a lot about interaction between players and their roles in improvisation.


Since 2017 I have been a regular guest at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of the National University of Singapore, and from 2019 followed an appointment as recurring visiting professor. It allowed me to expand my experience through working with large creative projects, involving up to 60 students collaborating in creating a variety of pieces. In these projects the creation processes go beyond pure improvisation; there are elements of composition (without notation), extra-musical elements such as staging and organization. In the past year with COVID restrictions the element of technology has been added: video production and collaborating on a distance over the internet. Many musical ideas are born out of improvisation and crystallize into more fixed structures. The experiences with these projects have made me very interested in the creation processes as such, and the multitude of possibilities when creating collaboratively. 





This research is about the development of active autonomous creativity among classical performing musicians by involving them in collaborative improvisation and making processes. Furthermore it is about the ways to facilitate, encourage and coach these collaborative creative processes. Unlike in many other musical cultures, nowadays the roles are distinctly divided in the classical/contemporary music world. There have been ongoing processes where the voices of classical musicians have become more and more subordinated to reproduction and replication. The roles are divided: composers create the pieces, conductors lead the interpretation and performance, and the performing musicians are trying to faithfully reproduce the information in the score, and follow performance orders. Moreover, in a conservatory setting there is the watching eye of the principal instrumental teacher. Despite or maybe even thanks to this, classical performers have mastered the art of reproducing music created by others. But originality, idiosyncracy and personality have been sacrificed for the greater good of the perfect performance, sometimes leading to extreme situations where creativity of those very musicians is not only lacking, but even unwanted. 

In this exposition I will discuss the nature of a few very specific collaborative creation processes, and critically investigate my own involvement and role as a coach and facilitator of these processes in order to better understand how ideas are being generated, developed and ultimately shaped into performed pieces. The investigation will be illustrated with a selected number of projects I have been working on during the years 2017-2020. Of the five projects that are central to this research, four have been done in a conservatory setting with conservatory students. The fifth is a project in which I have been involved myself as a creator and performer, together with colleague faculty. At first I hesitated to include it, but after thinking about it for a while I believe this project sheds a valuable complementary light on some of the the creation processes, exactly because of me being on the 'other' side. 

The exposition is structured in the following way: in a first chapter (PRESENTATION) the 5 project cases will be described and illustrated with video trailers of the end products. A second chapter (BACKSTAGE) will analyze the nature of the creation processes, and discuss how they were conceived and realized. Next follows a chapter (ANALYSIS) in which I will discuss commonalities of the creation processes, my personal role in coaching them, and some external sources and references. Finally (CONCLUSION) I will try to formulate some answers to the research questions, as well as an outlook of future ideas and projects.




1 • While working with conservatory students on the creation of new music, how do collaborative creative processes work, how is material created and developed, and what do the students gain from such an experience?


2 • What has been my role and influence as a facilitator and coach of these processes, and how did I contribute to the final outcomes?

3 • What can be the implications of this research for others, and for the development of the minor of collaborative music creation?3