One of the initial questions of this research was if there is artistic common ground and a conceived need of interdepartmental music making activities amongst the KC student community. The observations of a series of case studies and the analysis of data from a number of surveys from the past year indicate that there indeed is common ground and shared interest under students of all departments next to a solid curiosity about working with each other.
A concrete picture can be drawn on the experience, motivation and interest of our new first-year students, since the researcher met many of them during my activities during the start-up week, and especially gained even more insights by the many questionnaires that have been returned by them, as one can find in the reports (appendix). Second year students mention in their feedback of the Bootcamp Week that experiencing interdepartmental exchange still is something extraordinary for them in a social and artistic way, but even more a meaningful experience.
However, the work also showed that the idea of Crossing Borders, which in this case means interdepartmental activities of music making and creation, is an extremely complex and wide topic that can be approached in countless ways. Therefore, through the gained answers new questions came up and new challenges appeared. During the course of the process logistical difficulties also emerged as the unfortunate little response to the KC-wide survey shows (appendix). In this regard the researcher was hoping for more complete data and more response in general. Perhaps the developments around these ideas need more time and the word needs to be spread amongst the student community.
Next to new questions and challenges, new ideas and thoughts came up as well. The tools that are described in the previous chapter are an outcome of a year-long learning process of the researcher himself, as well as the little essays on further thoughts underneath this part.
Nevertheless, the findings of all case studies showed clearly that for the majority of students who took part in the projects in a serious and motivated way, open spaces for creative interdepartmental exchange are stimulating their creativity, knowledge, autonomy and motivation. New experiences, made eventually outside the own comfort zone, by touching new ground or crossing the borders of the own genre, will enhance students’ curiosity and flexibility. The community has divergent needs. Due to personality, musical experience, the own instrument and genre, every single student will have a personal relation with cross-genre processes, and will experience either fear, curiosity or motivation differently, or eventually show just simple disinterest. The own comfort zone, and how far one wants to get out of it, or stretch its boundaries, is personal, too. Therefore, general tendencies seem difficult to measure in a research like this. Classical musicians tend to seek for more freedom, but experience this freedom as something highly exciting and frightening, while jazz students might just want more artistic cross-overs with the Art of Sound or Sonology department, two departments that fascinate many of our students, and whose students are used to more cross-overs, but mention strong interest in any kind of collaboration with instrumentalists. Other students might have desires for big school-wide opera projects involving all departments. During the course of the workshops some students mentioned that they enjoyed the fact of having complete artistic freedom and no instructions or notes on the paper they should play or refer to. Others mentioned the opposite, the helpful guideline that can be given by any material once entering a creative process.
This shows once again that new approaches to interdepartmental processes should be flexible itself, and therefore focus on accessibility. In that context the terminology of even just the word improvisation should be revisited or opened up in order to get rid of the still existing burdens.
Entering a creative process, cross-genre or not, does not need to be pretentious or difficult. Especially if one just wants to get a taste of the experience, a playful entrance is important, which asks for a safe and healthy social environment, too.
The spark of the first moment of creation forms the motivational motor to explore and create something. Therefore, we should not underestimate the power of spontaneity. Once getting excited, a student will automatically choose for rules or limitations, develop further, dig deeper and search for other strategies and approaches. And once interested, there is quite some content offered within the KC already. The few participants who made use of all offer already, mentioned interest for even further deepening like instrument specific instructions in creative non-genre contexts. But for most of the students the fun part, the lightness and the open character of the process is very important, in order to open up their creative minds. Guidance in collaborative techniques and improvisation is helpful, but must be well balanced with the artistic freedom given. Balance seems to be an overarching but versatile term that applies to group dynamics as well as to musical parameters, and therefore includes many important aspects that can make a group process work better in an artistic and social way. The balance of involvement and motivation in such processes will stay challenging since it depends on the participants’ experience and personalities.
Looking back at the personal experiences made within Splendor and at the ICONgo seminar in Oslo, the researcher can state that once these spontaneous cross-genre situations are entered with openness, curiosity and respect, a satisfying result can be reached. Concerning curational aspects of a concert program even new territories could be explored, though the perfection of the artistic outcome is never guaranteed. But the ability of letting go that goal of perfection, and enjoying the moment of togetherness seems to be more satisfying and refreshing than the perfect result itself. A message that should be granted for all music students. Additionally, experiencing a collaborative creative process as a participant is essential to be able to teach it.
The ICON go seminar showed that a group of instructors, all professionals from the field, show the same symptoms and hick-ups, share similar desires and feel the same sensations as student participants in a conservatoire setting.
The researcher’s personal experiences confirmed that the personal barriers of one’s comfort zone need to be respected and a friction between the playful and spontaneous experiences and the depth and quality of the created musical result is an ongoing issue, though depending on individual perception. An additional, overarching issue is the lack of time for those activities, that overshadows the motivation for it.
A follow up question might be: How to find the right balance between artistic freedom, playfulness and spontaneity on one side, and satisfying artistic results on the other side, combined with the will and the possibility of each participant to invest enough time?
There is hidden potential and curiosity for new explorations in instructors as well as in students. Therefore, these spaces should invite both teachers and students to be playful and adventurous, in order to let them show their skills and creativity.
Concluding this research, the following (additional) aspects turned out to be important and influential, and therefore should be summarized in an overview:
- The accessibility of interdepartmental processes are crucial, short introduction moments of creative experiences are needed.
- Flexibility and openness are the key for creativity and inspiration.
- The perception of what improvisation is or means, is personal.
- Creative collaborative processes in an interdepartmental setting are experienced beyond right or wrong and ideally free from any competition.
- Group size and length of these activities do matter and ask for different approaches.
- Subdividing into the smallest group possible, the duo setting, as well as the pressure cooker approach, is a proved starting tool to get participants involved in a balanced way, and to create a safe working environment with a personal connection.
- An inspiring but calm environment and location is essential for an open, respectful and inspiring group dynamic. Room size and chair seating arrangement do matter.
- Professional musicians, who chose to be part of a multi-genre creative collective, have similar issues and problems that students might have when it comes to time management, motivation and confidence.
- The right balance between free creative space and guidance by an instructor is crucial for a fruitful process and result. Ideally, inspiring and spontaneous moments are experienced spontaneously in the beginning of a creative session. After a while, ‘just playing’ can lead to repetition, then tools are needed.
- For some participants, both students and professionals, the use of theatric elements like moving and acting connected to a story-line might represent artistical freedom, doing something outside their own genre, not using the personal instrument.
- Interdepartmental projects have a big social impact on the community-building of a conservatoire.
- Balance in decision making is a challenge for students, especially in pressure cooker projects.
All participants mentioned the personal connection with other musicians to be experienced as something special. Obviously, even though music making should be a social process of togetherness, teachers and students might need to be remembered of this fact. Artistic playfulness, being something personal and vulnerable, has to be cherished in a conservatoire. The liberating idea of no right or wrong and no competition has been mentioned very often, next to the fact that any group of artists can create something meaningful once there is balance, respect and motivation. And that any kind of result apart from perfect can be satisfying, too. Creating something musically helps some to get away from the pre-set thinking of how they approach music, and for others these creative moments have been a reminder on what music making actually is about.
Most processes will face two challenges: firstly, finding the right balance between offering ideas, teaching methods and facilitate brainstorms, but keeping the artistic freedom alive while aiming for a safe and creative environment. Secondly, keeping the experience of each participant as meaningful as possible while giving as much room to the power of their creativity and spontaneity as possible, but simultaneously working towards an artistic meaningful result.
The activities proved the proposition of the researcher’s previous research project, that interdepartmental projects stimulate openness, autonomy, creativity and motivation. Additionally, once these projects eventually help students to reconnect with the joy of music making, their main subject and ensemble playing most probably will benefit from it as well.
Our institute therefore could profit from developing and testing strategies on how to integrate more accessible non-mandatory interdepartmental playgrounds for both students who want to go deeper into the topic as well as students who seek for inspiration and short-term experiences only. Conducting these discussions about possible content and strategies including students and teachers will be necessary.
The following thoughts in the form of little essays are direct outcomes of the experiences the researcher made during the process of this research term.
A Unique Selling Point
Personally, I strongly believe that working outside the comfort zone of the own genre is valuable to the artistic development of all music students. During my work I gained insights in what formats, strategies and methods work and which ones are less effective, as well as in the interests and needs of students and on how the student community responds to already offered activities. Next to that I gained knowledge about ‘what we have in house’, too. First of all, the KC offers a unique combination of study programs compared to other institutions. Think of the departments of Sonology, Art of Sound or Composition, which have shaped the school in a special way for a long time. More exchange or collaboration with for example jazz, early music or the classical department could evolve in rich artistic outcomes and learning experiences. And if we believe the outcomes of the questionnaires, our students think so, too.
Nevertheless, quite a range of cross-genre activities is offered already like projects or electives (CMC, Bootcamp, Synergy Sessions etc). Some are mandatory, others are elective, some extracurricular. A problem that occurs is the missing accessibility and connection of the already offered cross-genre activities, and the missing variety of formats and approaches that students can choose. Creating a better overarching structure, offering a wider variety of extracurricular activities with an easy access, free of choice, potentially offered by internal KC staff, not only embedding the already offered content, but strengthening and preparing it, could be the next step. Then ‘Crossing Borders’ could become a unique selling point for our institution, since this combination of study-directions is unique, and so is our student population.
A new approach of learning
The outside inside approach: If we would approach a conservatory from its outside as one creative room, we could assume that everything is ‘in there’ (talented music students and their teachers), and subsequently state that artistically everything could be possible. While working, processing, it most probably would get obvious soon to the students that certain decisions have to be taken, that limitations need to be applied in order to achieve a certain artistic idea or goal.
Instead of firstly learning and secondly following the rules, we could start with an open situation free of rules and limitations, in which a student in the course of the process would experience the urge to apply rules.
Why this thought? Because everybody that enters an institution like a conservatoire has a certain talent already, has skills and brings musicianship and artistry. Free creative spaces are necessary from the beginning on, for unfolding interests, experiences, skills and talents.
Right now, we approach music within the rules of our instrument or genre. Only thereafter, which might be much later, we eventually step out of that bubble and experience what else could be possible.
A foreign approach on artistic freedom (Demusis case study)
Especially while working with unexperienced groups of students, who are used to a rather old fashioned and hierarchical education system and are therefore not used to take creative musical initiative, the balance of artistic autonomy, a safe creative environment (that includes literally the atmosphere of the location) and guidance is important. Once guided too much, these groups will not come up with their own ideas, but if they feel comfortable and find themselves in an environment, where coaches only facilitate (guided brainstorms etc.), students’ creativity will be stimulated and they will come with many ideas, strategies and solutions for collaborative work themselves; the first sensation of being creative on the spot is very powerful, the continuation of it forms the challenge.
In the case of the students of the Demusis project in Belgrade it would have been wise to start every day with a workshop about ways to improvise and collaborate in order to stimulate and inspire them, and also handing them some simple tools and techniques for doing so, like finding a topic or theme, using specific melodies, harmonies, rhythms or phrases or just bringing in something from the own background, country or culture, either musical or other.
Putting students in a position where they have the artistic freedom to create something together with peers not only contributes to students’ creativity, autonomy and artistic confidence. But also stimulates social processes and the building of a students’ community. In countries where educational structures are rather strict and hierarchal, these processes have big influences, even if done in small and approachable projects. Students usually only prepare and present, they do not create.
In the case of the Demusis project, the group was not as interdepartmental as initially wished. That had to do with the classical domination of the whole school, but also with the hesitance of certain students, and teachers. It shows once more, how important it is to continue and repeat these activities so that students will spread the word amongst the community, and inspire each other to be more curious about artistic creation.
This particular project also showed that in a less mixed group (in this case almost all students who have been classically trained) still an enthusiastic effect can be achieved in the end. Here, the cross-over with other art forms liker theater was dominant, musical cross-overs and improvisation came second. Storytelling seemed to be an important way of expression for the group. The outcomes may not be as artistic sophisticated as wished for by the facilitators, but could still be fundamentally meaningful to the participants and therefore possibly contribute to creative future activities in for example music school work.
Discussions with participants led to a symbolic dilemma: The friction that appears once one prepares material and holds on to it, and therefore does not feel artistic freedom, versus one not preparing anything and having all the artistic freedom and room for spontaneity in the world, but afterwards realizing what could have been better, had it been prepared. Firstly, we need to ask if the experience or the result is more important. Secondly, once a process is entered with an none-judgmental open mind, taking it to stage beyond right or wrong, this dilemma might be out of sight already.
But friction in music generally is a matter of perspective, on multiple sides.
What is friction to me? What does it mean for the audience, or for the other musicians I am playing with?
Of course, within the group of listeners the differing perspective of each single audience member is subjective and therefore determinant. But especially within the group of performers the perspective of each player will be different, too. So, the personal perception and musical approach of the participating musicians can be a friction on itself.
In the context of cross-genre music making multiple layers of friction are often touched. Players from several backgrounds and genres interpret music from multiple styles or genres, or work with elements of improvisation. The way musicians approach these musical situations is based on their personal skills, experience and attitude.
In the Amsterdam based artist collective Splendor more than 50 musicians and composers share a building and create concerts together. Friction on stage, and Working with Friction, is part of their daily practice.
Felix Schlarmann is part of Splendor. In October 2020 he worked together with Emily Beyon (principal flutist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) for a special duo project, where friction was pre-programmed. The jazz drummer meets the orchestra flute player – how big could the differences be?
However, they managed to create and prepare a concert program within only one afternoon by discussing ideas, wishes and interests, and determining common ground. Discussions appeared: Can we use existing repertoire, and what is suitable? Do I dare to change or open up specific classical repertoire? What does that mean to open up the repertoire? What is improvisation? Do we need to improvise? What can two different players contribute to the program in the sense of curation?
All of these aspects are a matter of perspective, attitude and perception. Therefore friction, is too, within the way musicians play and even within the way different artists put together a concert program in a cross-genre situation. What is a small change of interpretation for the one can be a huge step of re-working existing repertoire for the other.
All of this is friction on and off stage, too. This friction makes music making new and exciting, and it triggers openness, spontaneity and creativity.