Context & Dialogue

Artistic Development Work (Rythmic Music Conservatoire, DK)


The Rhythmic Music Conservatory (RMC) in Copenhagen has undergone a significant transformation in its education philosophy since the early 2010s. The driving force behind these changes were the decision to include all musical genres within rhythmic music and the recognition that a new approach to teaching and learning was necessary in a crossgenre education. RMC now teaches music as a contemporary art form, rather than as cultural heritage studies. The institution is also preparing students for a labour market with a significant number of freelance positions, and as such, places an emphasis on developing reflection skills and the ability to adapt and evolve professionally. The education approach at RMC is student-centered, with a focus on peer-learning and a culture of sharing perspectives on one another's work. The role of the teacher at RMC is to facilitate methodological reflection, contextual informedness, reflective skills, and to nurture dialogue in class.


The main learning outcome of the programme is to have students develop the ability to create and/or perform music through independent artistic expression. This includes the development of supporting skills such as technical skills, reflection skills, knowledge, information and inspiration, and agency and project realisation skills. The institution starts by identifying the student's goals and then works on clarifying the technical skills needed, such as instrument skills, composition methodologies, and production expertise. Instead of traditional main instrument lessons, students work on individual specialisation with a supervisor. This includes discussions on the supporting skills the student wants to improve in the current and long-term, how they align with the student's artistic goals, and the most effective ways to learn these skills. Students have the freedom to choose their own teachers, even those outside of the RMC staff, and can pool their lessons with other students. Approval from the supervisor and administration is required, and the choice of teachers must align with the student's learning ambitions and overall skills development. The choice of specialisation is made a few weeks into the semester, and the number of lessons and application deadline vary between semesters and student levels. The student's specialisation work is also discussed in the KUA class and exams, with a focus on how it informs the student's artistic process and future goals.


This educational approach involves a kind of ‘contract’ between student and institution, meaning that mutual expectations are clearly stated and clarified from the start. 

The student may expect for instance that RMC's teachers will focus on developing their own artistic language, respect their aesthetic ideals and intentions, broaden their understanding of their own practice, provide constructive criticism, believe in their potential, and create a learning environment with a wide range of references to contemporary music, art and society. The RMC, on the other hand, RMC expects its students to be actively engaged in their own artistic practice, to be willing to present and share their work and ideas even if they are not fully developed, to reflect on their own practice and be open to feedback from their peers, to show genuine interest in the perspectives and developments of their fellow students, to take responsibility for their own learning and to see themselves as having agency in their artistic process and the ability to take the necessary steps to bring their ideas to fruition.


When it comes to assessment, the RMC education philosophy emphasises on the student's own artistic expression and development of supporting skills, rather than a focus on assessment and judgment. However, at admission tests and exams, assessments are made, but these are based on openly communicated criteria such as methodological and contextual understanding, correspondence between intention and resulting product, and practical materiality and sounding realization of the concept. These assessments are necessary for finding future students among the numerous applicants, but not as a primary focus for evaluating the quality of the student’s work.


This new education philosophy has led to the creation of a unique subject known as Artistic Development Work (KUA). This subject is the backbone of the performance and composition education at RMC, and is mandatory for students at both the bachelor and master level throughout their whole studies (3h per week). In KUA classes, students bring their own work to the class, where they discuss the actual work and the process, as well as their thoughts, motivations, and learning goals. The class also talks about how the fellow students perceive the music, including the listening experience and observations. Between classes, students work extensively on their music and research. The teachers in KUA are artists and educators, with artistic research obligations in their positions. The KUA subject is informed by the characteristics of artistic research, but it is also open for work that is more material/practical than discourse-based. 


Important elements of the KUA class are listening, dialogue and feedback. The class focuses on listening and responding to the works and sketches of fellow students. To make this work to the benefit of everyone, it is important to be highly aware of the frames around the dialogue. Several different response models are used for this purpose, some of the RMC’s own making and some borrowed from other educators or institutions, such as Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, the DasArts Feedback Method or techniques of close reading from New Criticism by the Danish School of Writing (Dansk Forfatterskolen). The aim is to make everyone in the class learn from what is taking place, not only the presenting student, and to empower the students to draw their own conclusions, while helping them arrive at new perspectives on their work. The dialogue is not thought of as the group making a collective judgment on the work, but rather as the group realising collectively what learning potential each situation holds. The response models are not used for assessment, valuation, or judgment, but rather to stimulate critical thinking and bring alternative perspectives, experiences and solutions into consideration. 


Attention to context is also crucial, with the reflection of the student evolving from a narrow to a wider context. The KUA curriculum at RMC differentiates the contextual focus for each semester of the bachelor education. In the first semester, students are expected to be able to narrate their individual history of inspiration and explain their position to fellow students and staff. In the second semester, students reflect on how their work is informed by relevant traditions and current trends. The third semester focuses on the student's methodological context, investigating how other similarly sounding and working artists approach their craft. In the fourth semester, students reflect on their practice within a wider, transdisciplinary context. The fifth semester is dedicated to external collaborative projects and in the final semester, the Bachelor Project, students are expected to consider all aspects of context including aesthetics, methodology, transdisciplinary and artistic research practices in their project.


Read more about the learning goals, assessment criteria, detailed description of the curriculum and forms of examination, as well as the different methods used in the KUA class in this compendium created by pianist, RMC teacher and KUA-class designer Jakob Anderskov.

Institutional Models 

 



This page explores the bachelor curriculum and activities at various institutions for higher music education in Europe and the US. This includes the Artistic Development Work subject proposed by the Rhytmic Conservatoire in Copenhagen, the Capstone project of the Trinity College Dublin, the reDesign or New Classical programme at USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles, the Musician 3.0 course  of the HKU Utrecht Conservatory and the Free Candidate Studies (FRIKA) of the Norwegian Academy of Music. Focal points of the presentations include a general description of the programme or activity, the educational philosophy that motivated its creation admission and assessment processes and the role of the teacher. 

 

A la Carte

Free Candidate Studies – FRIKA (The Norwegian Academy of Music, NO)


 

The Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM) offers a program called the ‘Frie kandidatstudiet’ (Free Candidate Studies) for students who wish to pursue an independent, self-directed course of study. The curriculum for the Frie kandidatstudiet is highly flexible, allowing students to tailor their studies to their specific interests and career goals. It is for instance possible to combine composition and performance, to study several instruments at the same time, or various musical genres. 


Students are required to take a certain number of credits in various areas, such as musicology, performance, and composition, but they have the freedom to choose which courses they take and how they organize their studies. In addition, students are required to complete a final project or thesis, which can take the form of a performance, composition, or research project. In order to be able to profit from such a broad offer, students are expected to show at entry level alreadt, both great musical distinctiveness and visions. There is a focus on project management, and the very structure of the programme – the possibility to choose subjects from different areas, to compose one’s own trajectory and work with teachers, staff and students across departments – aims itself at training students to develop their networking skills.



Music Performance Artists

Musician 3.0 (HKU Utrecht Conservatoire, NL)

 

In September 2011, the HKU Utrecht Conservatory launched ‘Musician 3.0: Creating, Performing, Communicating,’ a new program of study designed to develop versatile and independent musicians. The ideals of the Musician 3.0 programme focus on fostering reflection, scouting for new visions, and valuing creativity as a main staple. The program encourages students to ask themselves, ‘What kind of artist would you like to become?’ and trains them to become music performance artists who are highly-skilled in communication and in the creative dissemination of their work.

 

The program was developed with input from a team of experienced educators and professionals from the field, and aimed to address the needs of both the Conservatory and the professional field. The Conservatory sought to address students' struggles to fit into traditional program's requirements, while partners in the professional field sought musicians with diverse skills, including musical leadership, innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and entrepreneurial thinking. The curriculum incorporates elements of artistic research as well as findings from research on lifelong learning, including the need for alumni to possess knowledge in the areas of improvisation, flexibility, connection, and entrepreneurship. As such, the program strikes a balance between traditional skills and freedom, making it an ideal place for students who may not fit in a traditional conservatory setting. As a result of this educational philosophy graduates of the program have gone on to successful careers in a variety of fields, including improvisation, starting their own companies, composing music for web videos, and even opera composing.

 

The student body is a diverse mix of instrumentalists and composers from different genres. There is no main subject teacher, but students can take instrumental lessons if they feel the need to do so. Indeed, much thought is given in the programme to the use of language and vocabulary, with a ‘black list’ of words such as ‘main course’ and ‘main subject teacher’ that are not to be used in the context of 3.0. The programme's teachers are well-known musicians from the Dutch creative scene, who have received special training in feedback techniques and student-centered teaching. They are generally musicians with an ‘improvising mind.’

 

Theoretically speaking, the programme is centered around the connections between playing and creating, improvisation, contextual thinking, group dynamics, and reflective action. Not bound by any specific instrument or style, it is based on personal goal formulation and self-reflection, inspired by theories such as Fred Korthagen's onion model and reflective circle model. The onion model is a framework for understanding and improving the quality of self-reflection, consisting of five layers: surface reflection, critical incidents, deeper reflection, meta-reflection, and transformative reflection. The reflective circle model is a framework for structuring and guiding reflection, consisting of three elements: description, feelings, and evaluation. Both models approach reflection differently, with the onion model focusing on the stages of reflection and the reflective circle model focusing on the elements or components of reflection. These models are used to explore what motivates students as well as each student's personal strengths.

 

The progression and content of the program include building skills in the first years, with a focus on exploration in the main subject or instrument. From the 3rd year, students are given the freedom to pursue their own direction. The program also includes a module of 2-3 months on artistic research. Strong emphasis is placed on group learning. Most classes are held in groups, as it is believed that this deepens the learning process and allows students to learn from one another. In addition to group classes, there are also a few individual classes, including one on artistic development coaching.  Collaborations with dance, arts, and theatre schools are highly encouraged.


In terms of assessment, the program focuses on the creative process and artistic development, and has partly done away with numeric grading. Instead, there is a dialogue between students and teachers about learning goals and criteria for evaluation, with students writing their own deliverables. Evaluation is done by a committee of three people, with an intersubjective judgement that is not instrument-based. Teachers share their expertise informally and participate in a ‘teacher's academy’ to foster a change of culture in the program. For other subjects, the program has an assessment system in line with HBO onderwijs (Higher Professional Education). ‘Sometimes we are just a school’, as I was told by members of the staff, but students are encouraged to reflect on the assessment criteria and to make connections between these criteria and their work.


There are several types of projects offered by the school, including those focused on movement and sound, performance art, and leadership. Students also have the opportunity to pursue their own unique projects, such as "breaking art" or "dissolving poetry." The program has had a few students who have challenged them with projects that were so interdisciplinary that it was difficult to coach or evaluate. In such cases, the program's aim is to figure out how the student's ideas relate to music, and whether they can still justify the fact that a particular student receives a diploma as a ‘music performance artist’.


The program includes as well a course on communication, aimed at providing students with tools to develop their communication skills, such as reflection and giving and receiving feedback. Students meet weekly to play their own work for each other and are taught to observe, associate, and provide neutral, self-directed feedback. The course also utilises theories and methods such Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process, Johari’s window and Korthagen's onion model. The onion model helps students to consider different layers of themselves, such as their environment, activities, competencies, beliefs, and identity, ultimately leading to their core motivations. Johari’s window is a model known from communication theory and promoting self-reflection and development in a peer-exchange context. Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process includes a series of exercises whose goal is to improve the feedback between a presenter and a group of observers/critical friends.

 

The admission process to 3.0 is rigorous, with a two-phase audition process. The first phase includes submitting material, an audition, and games and making music together. In the second phase, students must present a 20-minute program that may include acting, improvising, or performance. It is important that students have a clear vision for their artistic development before the start of the program, but they are also encouraged to change their orientation during the program if they feel it necessary.

 

The program also places a strong emphasis on dissemination, with a yearly festival organized by the 3rd year students, and an alumni program in the works. The Utrecht Conservatorium's Musician 3.0 program is a unique and innovative approach to music education that provides students with the skills, freedom, and support to become the artists they want to be, and to share their art with the world.

 

The initial experience with 3.0 led the HKU to speak, in their institutional plan for 2013-2018, of a changing paradigm in the way art courses are viewed. It states that changes in art practice, professional field demands, technical and educational developments, and funding all require a different approach to contemporary education. The HKU aims to train students to be able to properly fulfill professional artistic-creative roles in various contexts and to develop knowledge and skills during and after the study to be able to successfully fulfill the chosen role in the given professional context. The HKU's mission statement also emphasises the formation of the creative reflective practitioner who is artistically trained, expert, professional, investigative, enterprising, and socially responsible.


 

Artistry and Discourse

Capstone Project (Dublin Trinity College, IE)


The Capstone Project at Dublin Trinity College offers students the opportunity to engage in independent and significant research and work related to their musical and artistic practice. The project, which is worth 20 ECTS during the fourth year of the bachelor's programme, emphasises the interconnectedness of discursive and musical elements. The context of the research is musical practice and its relationship to what is considered important for other musicians, the music industry, and the artistic development of the student. 


The goal is for the student's research or original work to make unique contributions to our understanding and experience of music and musical life. The project can take various forms, such as a thesis, video diaries, score sketches, audio fragments, a complete performance of an original work, or a lecture recital. The assessment focuses on the development of an artistic vision and contextualisation. The capstone project module is in line with the general philosophy of the Trinity College Music Programme, which is to provide a holistic musical education that combines musicology, composition, performance, music theory, and critical theory. The programme aims to prepare students for a wide range of careers in the creative arts, journalism, music production, arts management, research, and teaching.


A capstone project is a term used in higher education across academic disciplines to designate a final assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students at the end of an academic program. It is a multifaceted assignment that is designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills that will prepare them for college, modern careers, and professonal life. It can take many forms, such as a long-term investigative project that culminates in a final product, presentation, or performance. The capstone project allows students to conduct independent group research and come up with innovative solutions for real-world problems, gaining insights into the demands and responsibilities of the working world. It also provides a chance for students to understand the impact of their decisions in a ‘safe space’. Capstone projects are usually interdisciplinary, requiring students to apply skills or investigate issues across many different subject areas or domains of knowledge. They also tend to encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems, and to integrate outside-of-school learning experiences.

Fit for Society

reDesign or The New Classical (USC Thornton School of Music, US)

 

The USC Thornton School of Music has implemented a new curriculum for its undergraduate classical music performance program, known as 'The reDesign.' The focus of this new curriculum is to rethink classical music instruction at the school and redefine what it means to be a virtuoso in the 21st century. The new definition of a virtuoso is someone with a distinct musical voice, who is also an expert on their instrument. The curriculum shift is a move away from traditional music instruction, towards a more diverse and flexible approach that empowers students to shape their own careers.

 

The curriculum is divided into two parts: the first two years are focused on the student's major instrument, with core subjects such as theory and USC's general education curriculum, including subjects like Humanistic Inquiry and Global Citizenship. Next to these subjects, students become acquainted with so-called career skills, such as live production or basics of the music industry.

 

The third and fourth years are focused on continued exploration and flexibility, with an international educational experience and the Young Artist Project (YAP), which is a capstone project for students to develop and fully realize unique individualized, mentored projects related to their work as classical musicians.

 

To support the new curriculum, USC has also changed its admission process, requiring applicants to submit a two-minute video that reflects on what their potential Young Artist Project could be and what kind of risk-taker they are. Additionally, classes were developed using a "two question challenge" for all classes. The questions are: How does this course help students to create a distinctive musical voice? and How does it help them create a fulfilling musical career?

 

Additionally, all classes must also include at least six of the eight "through lines" which are: developing musical excellence, connecting scholarship to music-making, interrogating the relevance of music, mixing genres of music, teaching students to monetize their skills, mastering digital skills and non-traditional venues, building a global network, and promoting well-being and healthy habits.

 

The curriculum changes have also impacted the admission process, with applicants now being required to submit a two-minute video reflecting on what their Young Artist Project could be and what kind of risk-taker they are. The school has also assembled a team of mentors for the Young Artist Project to provide guidance to students.


 

Overall, the foundation of reDesign involves a shift from focusing on just 'music' to focusing on the 'musician.' This involves a move from the past to the future and from the traditional concept of a 'conservatory' to a more flexible and diverse approach. In a promotional film for the program, a student is shown saying that the program allows them to have more control over their professional and artistic visions and that it delves deep into classical music but also allows for building a diverse career. Videos like this as well as the rhetorics used to convey the curriculum’s aims is important: effective communication has proven to be key to the success of the program.

 

The development of the curriculum involved input from both the faculty and a student-run board. Instrumental teachers played a central role in the change, with retreats and committees established to formulate the through lines of the program. A faculty member was also hired to ensure that the content of the classes was adapted to the new program.

 

The program was launched in the fall of 2019, but was impacted by the pandemic. Despite initial resistance, the program has been largely accepted and embraced by both students and teachers. The teachers are excited about the videos and auditions, and the students have seen the immediate connection with their YAP. The pandemic also helped with the integration of the changes.

 

However, the success of the program is not universal. Some teachers feel that there has been little change in their daily activities since the program was implemented, while others have had to cut subjects that they were passionate about. Additionally, the program attracts a different profile of students, typically from private schools with more financial resources. Overall, the changes may appear better on paper than in real life, but the philosophy behind the program is nevertheless inspiring.