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The career of a classical musician is tinged with disciplined and result-focused practise, aimed at mastering auditions, high profiled concerts and competitions. Research have shown that up to 25% of musicians suffer from music performance anxiety and that musicians paradoxically feel that they are the only one with problems performing (McGrath, Hendricks, & Smith, 2016, p. 4). As a solution much focus is given to the musician’s individual strategies for solving performance issues with emphasis on self-regulated learning and self-regulatory processes to develop skills such as those used in sport (Williamon, Clark & Küssner, 2017). Self-regulatory learning could also expand to include a psychological exploration of what effects the classical performance culture has on the individual performer. Some of the prerequisites are amongst other that symphony orchestras mostly perform well-established literature from the 18th and 19th centuries and the audiences that are able to pay the steep prices for attendance usually know more or less what to expect in terms of compositional aesthetic and performance practice and quality. This is also part of a greater sociological “package” that Becker describes as creating “the inertia that keeps things as they are” (1995, p. 306). This package affects everyone involved in the creation and reception of music, both audience and musicians, and the latter perhaps not altogether in positive ways. Keeping things the way they are means that there is a certain silence surrounding classical music performance. A recent study by Castiglione, Rampullo, & Cardullo (2018) suggests that music performance anxiety (MPA) is related to the performance setting, and that it may “affect how the musician experiences the performance and the levels of anxiety that they feel” (p.799). If so, how can I as a musician explore these settings? To best make use of the self regulating processes and self-regulated learning mentioned above, musicians must be encouraged to observe some of the built-in values that classical music creates.
Artists’ self-observed values connected to performing in classical music context have been described as performance values (Skoogh & Frisk, 2019). They are musicians’ thoughts and beliefs on how to act and react within western classical musical performance. Performance values (PVs) are often complex and contradictory and can be connected to both positive and negative performance experiences. As described by Skoogh and Frisk (2019) PVs can be influenced by perfectionism, high demands, awareness of audience expectations and respect for tradition. PVs have a strong bearing on the study of music performance anxiety (MPA) and the well-being of classical musicians. While PVs are individual, they have socio-cultural origins in conservatoire teaching and in professional communities in classical music.
Both MPA and stage fright are terms associated with negative impact on musicians’ performance career, and there is a taboo connected to MPA in conservatoire and concert hall culture (Nepil, 2017, McGrath, Hendricks & Smith, 2016, p. 131).  In the art worlds of western classical music, MPA is often regarded as an individual problem to be dealt with therapeutically, rather than as a socio-cultural issue.
In this exposition, I argue that negative PVs should be addressed by musicians themselves as a part of a wider health perspective aiming at breaking the taboo, or the silence often connected to negative aspects of performing.  The exposition adheres to the main call of this issue by addressing negative dimensions of silence manifested in artistic work. Problematic psychological silence, connected to MPA can be unsilenced by proactive artistic exploration, such as the projects described in this exposition, as well as through critical discussions within higher music education. As a classical artist I present ways of breaking the expected silence between me and my audience, challenging both me as a performing artist and the context of classical music performance. In addition to breaking the silence I have obtained a beneficial emotional regulatory effect on my performance.
I argue that by mapping out individual PVs, musicians will be better equipped to express and explore difficult emotions connected to performing, before they become subject to psychological illness and therapeutic interventions. The concept of PVs can be used as an educational tool in higher music education regarding musical performance (Malmö Academy of Music, 2020). Defining PVs, but also using explorative ways of addressing them artistically, are novel strategies to tackle MPA.
This exposition is structured beginning with a literature review of research on MPA, and emotional regulation, followed by my personal reports on two experimental artistic research projects, exploring novel methods to reduce MPA in musical performance, the impact of which is discussed in the final section.
Music performance anxiety (MPA) is a great challenge for performing artists within all musical genres, and especially in western classical music (Papageorgi, Creech and Welch, 2013), and has been researched since the early 1970’s (Goren, 2014). Kenny et al. (2014) define MPA as a combination of affective, cognitive, somatic, and behavioural symptoms and observes how it “may occur in a range of performance settings but is usually more severe in settings involving high ego investment, evaluative threat (audience), and fear of failure. It affects musicians across the lifespan and is at least partially independent of years of training, practice, and level of musical accomplishment. It may or may not impair the quality of the musical performance” (p. 61). In a recent metastudy by Fernholz, Mumm, Plag, Noeres, Rotter, Willich, Ströhle, Berghöfer and Schmidt (2019) the prevalence of MPA was found to be between 16,5% and 60%.
Musicians report three main causes for MPA: “pressure from self”, “excessive arousal” and “inadequate preparation for performance”. These issues are dealt with using different coping strategies such as increased amount of practicing, positive self-talk, relaxation methods, discussions, training in virtual reality environments, and the use of medication (Kenny et al., 2014). All of these, with perhaps the exception of discussions, aim to handle, withstand and adapt to the situations and traditions of the classical performance culture. Psychological and medical science professionals, seek to resolve psychological suffering by helping the performer “to manage performance stress and the demands of their audiences” (Williamon, Aufegger, & Eiholzer, 2014, p. 1).
Both pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments are used to reduce MPA and two primary approaches within psychotherapy have emerged: management of physical tension and the management of maladaptive thoughts (Goren, p. 27, 2014). Following treatment guidelines on how to deal with anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proven effective with psychoeducation, exposure, relaxation, applied relaxation, problem-solving, cognitive restructuring, and interpersonal psychotherapy. Other techniques include deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, Alexander technique, as well as bio- and neuro-feedback (Zhukov, 2019). A promising result on the effectiveness of Mindfulness is presented in a study by Diaz (2018), showing that participants who meditated at least weekly tended to report less MPA. However, many studies on the effectiveness of MPA treatments suffer from methodological weaknesses (Matei & Ginsborg, 2017). Interventions are conducted with small samples of musicians without prior screening of their MPA levels, often without control, and limited replication.
Today, a substantial body of research has been established, investigating health issues amongst musicians, anxiety, mental skills and perception during performance (Williamon & Thompson, 2006; Clark & Williamon, 2011; Hoffman & Hanrahan, 2012; Clark, Lisboa & Williamon, 2014; Geeves, McIlwain, Sutton & Christensen, 2014; Kenny & Halls, 2018). A growing number of studies are concerned with how musicians can improve performance skills, and lower anxiety during performance, even by simulating performance (Williamon, Aufegger & Eiholzer, 2014).
It has been suggested that musicians themselves need to engage with their performance issues and physical symptoms, in order for others to address their needs (Zhukov, 2019, p. 58). This exposition outlines two artistic approaches to self regulation of MPA carried out by me, as part of my practice as a professional concert pianist. The projects were designed to challenge my PVs and I argue that this created settings and atmospheres in which MPA was less prominent, and that this suggests that artistic interventions can be a relevant additional approach to the treatment of such issues.
Performing western classical music is a matter of great cognitive effort, particularly with regard to the memorization of large quantities of music, and the technical mastery of the material. Suppression has been found to be an effortful form of self-regulation that leads to memory impairments for social information. This implies that other forms of memory impairment could interfere with musical performance, which is why it is important for musicians to apply adequate ways of regulating emotions, preferably cognitive reappraisal. Social sharing of emotions seems to be valuable and when someone experiences an emotion, especially negative emotion, “…people around that person play a critical role in the regulation of this experience “ (Rimé, 2007, p. 481). For a musician, also the audience can play such a critical role. Could experimentation with the nature of the relation between performer and audience constitute a possibility for emotional regulation? This may suggest that in addition to the intrapersonal strategy discussed above, social sharing, which is interpersonal, could be used to regulate negative emotions derived from unsuccessful performance. Musicians can, as shown in the projects below, share and express emotional difficulties with the audience, and thereby regulate negative emotions. This sharing and emotional communication with the audience is breaking a silence of expressing difficulties that otherwise is firmly rooted in classical music performance.
According to John & Gross (2004), there are two emotional regulation strategies, cognitive reappraisal (changing thoughts concerning an emotional event) and expressive suppression (changing the responsive emotional behaviour in connection to the event). These can be used to frame how musicians process live concert experience. It has been found that reappraisal strategies have a healthier profile of short-term affective, cognitive, and social consequences than suppression (John & Gross, 2004, p. 1301). By communicating in new ways and connecting with the audience I have altered my thoughts about performing, as described in the projects below.
There are few studies focusing on emotional regulation strategies among musicians, but there have been attempts to describe how performers deal with stress by examining cortisol levels in connection with working memory. The results from one study showed that more experienced performers were less insecure, had better regulation of their cortisol response, and demonstrated better working memory (Killough, Thompson, & Morgan, 2015). It is not clear which emotional response strategy or strategies participants used during the study. A suggestion for future studies is to “directly examine the effectiveness of different emotion regulation strategies in performance situations” (Killough, Thompson, & Morgan, 2015, n. p). This is more easy said than done. Being the soloist with an orchestra implies that one most be excellent. Experimenting with strategies in an actual high status performance with a professional orchestra that might risk the perfection of the performance, is difficult to say the least.
Rimé (2007, p. 474) observes three classes of regulation needs when having experienced a negative emotional experience: socio affective, cognitive and action needs. It is plausible that musicians regulate emotions related to negative performance experiences within the action need class by soliciting a teacher for help and assistance, by restoring mastery and control through action (practise more) and by searching for a successful experience (the next concert performance). Musicians could benefit from adding strategies for regulating emotions within the socio-affective class, and it is important to develop this area at educational institutions. The projects described below are examples of the creation of shared experiences of performing, in which I explore socio-affective approaches to the regulation of negative emotions, through novel forms of audience interaction.
Another important theme for the projects has been to explore how I could become more natural, relaxed and to be more “myself” while performing. Inauthenticity has been found to be related to suppression, but not to reappraisal (John & Gross, 2004, p. 1313). To be able to perform and reinvent, not just repeat, a classical canonical work, several levels of personal input, or “personal authenticity” (Kivy, 1995, p.123) is needed. The performance of classical music in contemporary concert hall culture is connected with the pressure to perform with as few mistakes as possible, and musicians are not likely to talk openly of the difficulties of performing under this pressure, but rather use suppression. To suppress negative feelings during a performance and even before a performance during preparation, is paired with expectations to be personally authentic, which could create a cognitive dissonance on stage. Stage performance under these conditions creates a situation where the musician shuts down “…prohibiting coping via venting and creates a painful awareness of inauthenticity in social relationships” (John & Gross, 2004, p. 1314). In Play always as if in the presence of a master I openly express auto-biographical experiences of MPA, as a staged performance using live electronics and pre-recorded electronic sound. The project is further described below.
Findings in a study by Yoshie, Nagai, Critchley and Harrison (2016) suggest that the presence of an audience can alter skilled motor performance through changes in force output. Social evaluation also enhanced activation within the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), an area that is active in reporting visual information about others’ actions to the inferior parietal cortex (IPC). IPC became deactivated, as the result of perception of negative cues, when participants felt that they were being watched. The results of the study indicated that incoherence between self and others disrupts the typical facilitatory functioning of the action-observation network (AON), altering skilled motor control. Socially evaluative situations seem to lead to incoherence between one’s own intentioned action and the perceived intention of others which could ultimately disturb motor output.
We realised that AON might also be related to performance anxiety because when being scrutinised, we tend to care about how the audience is feeling about us and our performance. …For example, before an actual public performance, a musician could perform in front of his/her family and close friends and receive a lot of applause. Such experience would help to induce a desirable activation pattern in your brain and boost self-confidence. (Yoshie et. al, 2016, n.p.)
The conclusions drawn by the researchers are perhaps not far-reaching enough. The findings provide a more fine-grained understanding of the performer’s situation in the classical concert culture. For example, when performing as soloist with an orchestra one must comply with unspoken, behaviour rules that restrains the performers from communicating verbally with the audience. The incoherence between self and other is built into its ritual. The project discussed below takes the notion of incoherence between self and other as a point of departure and a PV within me, in the design of an artistic project which wishes to alter the interaction between soloist and audience.
There are examples of other artistic research projects that address and problematize performance. Pianist and researcher Paulo de Assis looks into in particular the performance of canonical works in the project Rehearsing Innovation (Orpheus Instituut, 2019). The performance was a rehearsal in open dialogue with the audience. It was not designed from an MPA perspective, but has implications that could be used in the future for the purpose of exploring emotional and behavioural aspects of performance. Questions such as how to organize the rehearsal in a way that makes dialogue possible between musicians and audience are vital and necessary for any musician today (Orpheus Instituut, 2019).
There are up until now no other projects investigating MPA in Artistic Research. However some projects do look into other performing aspects. Catherine Laws project Piano Player explores the complex make-up of the performing self and the performer’s different creative personae, the relationship to the piano and its history, and the embodied sense of self at the instrument (Laws, 2014). Gabija Rimkutė’s project emphasises the interpretative aspect of the analysed music with the aim to raise and formulate major difficulties encountered by pianists wishing to perform religious works of music. Rimkutė (2020) relies on her personal experience as a performer. “In what ways can a musician adjust his or her performance approach by taking into account the characteristics of a specific type of venue?” is a research question by Gregor Desman (Desman, 2017). The project pinpoints the uniqueness of each performance, such as the performer’s physical and psychological condition, connection to repertoire and the conditions presented by a given venue.
The projects mentioned above are not designed to investigate MPA, but they are examples on how artistic research addresses performance-related issues and as such can be used as a point of departure when planning interdisciplinary research projects. Other researchers within the field of Artistic Research could follow up on studies in psychology and neurophysiology and collaborate with researchers in these fields, regarding for example the conceptualisation of MPA, how to incorporate artistic expression in scientific studies and thereby find successful coping strategies. The research questions and methods could be created in collaboration with pianists (or of course other musicians), addressing and developing performance in a broader context. This artistic-driven perspective could lead the way to performance as a specific subject for example at music education institutions (Malmö Academy of Music, 2020).
In the next section I report on two novel case studies that utilize experimental music practice to investigate MPA. Each project is further contextualized with brief outlines of the theoretical influences that has informed their design. The two projects were carried out by me as a part of my PhD project and they were produced for professional concert hall performances. Hence, the experimental methods discussed below were tested in situations of high ecological validity.
Performing classical music has more and more come to be defined by hyper-virtuosity, perfectionism, and the demands of the music industry. It is important to state that far from all musicians feel inhibited by MPA, but when it occures it is perhaps a phenomenon worthy of not being reduced to individual issues, but explored in a wider context. Furthermore even in the abscence of MPA, performing classical music can be explored beyond traditional frames. Through artistic research and experimentation, methods for coping with performance can be developed by:
● experimenting with new ways of interacting and challenging not only the musicians but also the audience and music industry ● employing more introspective, reflective work (based on interdisciplinary fields for example psychology) on the individual artist’s specific conceptualization of audience and performing ● developing methods on how to, not only prepare musicians for the stage but, prepare stage for musicians
A soloist may either be defined simply as “a musician who performs alone or plays an instrument alone” or as a “…top-level musicians who travel from city to city, performing with different orchestras as the star of the show” (Berklee, 2019). In the second meaning, performing as a soloist with an orchestra is, amongst many things, to be regarded as a socially evaluative situation. The soloist does not interact with the audience, or appear on stage before the concert, with the exception of formal “pre-concert talks”. The soloist is commonly alone in the dressing room before going on stage, to focus or prepare mentally to perform. My own PVs connected to being a soloist where therefore that I have to be alone, manage by myself, be strong, not show or express anything before the actual performance itself.
Inspired by the results from the study by Yoshie et al. (2016), and as an artistic interpretation of the theory of cognitive reappraisal, I decided to challenge my PVs of a soloist performance, what could be done, how could I experiment with my values regarding this specific kind of performance.  I started with a pre-concert talk with the audience, explaining my research interests in MPA. In this pre-concert talk I describe briefly my research and that I would like to meet the audience in a pre-performance experiment in an adjacent smaller concert hall. I am trying to look convincing and enthusiastic but I also feel nervous that the audience would reject me or question the experiment:
Pre-concert talk, Helsingborg Concert Hall, 2018
I then played before the concert, dressed in concert outfit, thereby simulating performance conditions, as suggested by Welch & McPherson, (2012, p. 740):
I performed parts of the Schumann concerto to some members of the audience who wanted to take part in my experiment. I occasionally stopped and talked to them and they asked me questions about performing, about the concerto etc. It felt very liberating and relaxed to meet them in this more intimate hall before I performed in the concert hall. They also became the individuals I directed my performing towards during the real concert just half an hour later. Practising a concert program in front of a small sample of the audience—in this case approximately twenty people, a fraction of the full audience for the concert—before the actual concert, was an attempt to address the findings that the experience of incoherence between self and others can disrupt facilitatory functioning of the AON as discussed by Yoshie et al. (2016). By interacting with the audience in the pre-concert talk, and by playing before the concert to parts of the audience, a greater coherence was created between “others and the self”, that is, between the audience and the artist. This small group of listeners responded with curiosity to my experiment.
My experience of the concert performance that followed was that I felt less anxious, I obtained a calmer breathing, and an enhanced motoric ability in difficult passages that I had struggled with in previous performances. It is of course impossible to “prove” that it had only to do with the pre-concert experience, but it was a different feel to the whole performing experience. I noted this for example three minutes in to the first movement:Technically I observed a much more relaxed arm movement in the very beginning, for example in the main theme around 27 seconds in and approximately three minutes in. I remember connecting the main theme to the calm, lyrical sensation and communicative expression I had when playing for the small sample audience.
The experiment altering the conventions regarding the relation between performer and audience, was particularly valuable as it was a part of the regular concert series of Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra (2018), relation between performer and audience. My aim was to create an artistic intervention as a response to the findings in Yoshie’s (2016) discussion of the role of incoherence between self and other in music performance. I used artistic methods to alter a well-known situation obtaining a cognitive reappraisal of the emotional event. The decision to interact beforehand with the audience dealt with what could be labelled as a performance value, the “… conflicting mixture of attraction and avoidance: a challenge on the one hand of being heard and seen and on the other hand a fear of being exposed with possible failure” (Kesselring et al., 2006, p. 4. ) The results of this project suggest that experimentation with the relation between soloist and audience in classical concert hall performance may reduce performance anxiety, as an emotional self regulating strategy, and on the artist’s perceived technical ability. While this project consists of only one single instance of artistic experimentation as methodological development, more expansive studies of a similar nature may provide a framework through which professional musicians as well as music students can explore possibilities for self regulation further.
An important perspective on how to develop as a musician is the role of collaboration. In the second case study, artistic collaboration between a performer and a composer constituted a central method for challenging the role of the score as a regulative artifact for performance. Here, I sought to explore the possibility of engaging in “play” in the concert performance, challenging my PVs on what can be expressed and performed in a traditional recital, through collaboration with the Swedish composer Kent Olofsson.
Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott (2005), defines play as a preoccupation children can engage in, where the content does not matter, but rather a withdrawal state of mind, a special area that is not easily left, nor easy to interrupt (Winnicott, 2005, p.69). He also states that playing is the base of creativity and all human cultural activity are developed forms of playing. Winnicott’s conception of “play” is interpersonal, or relational, situated between inner and outer reality, and takes place in between the internal world and external world. At the very beginning this place is between child and caregiver and can happen only in relation to a feeling of confidence and dependability of the mother-figure (Winnicott, 2005, p. 135). Winnicott emphasized the importance of play in the development of children and also throughout life. Winnicott considered playing the key to emotional and psychological well-being. By playing, he meant not only the ways that children of all ages play, but also the way adults play through making art, or engaging in sports, hobbies, humour, meaningful conversation, or, in the musicians’ case, performing.
Play consists of many features such as the preoccupation in the playing of a young child, where the state is important, not the content. The psychic area of play is not an inner reality, nor an external one, but in between. Furthermore, playing implies trust and embodiment, and it takes place in the interplay of the subjective and what is objectively perceived. Winnicott specifies that a high degree of anxiety is possible during play but that there is indeed also ”a degree of anxiety that is unbearable and this destroys playing” (Winnicott, 2005, p. 69). He continues to claim that cultural experience is located in the potential space between the individual and its environment much like the way play is manifested. This potential space is an inviting and safe interpersonal field in which one can be spontaneously playful while at the same time connected to others. One important aspect is that playing is not compliant and cannot happen when a person feels pressured to perform in some mandated way, forced to live up to a standard, be consistent, or obliged to make sense.
Can any useful relations between play during a musical performance and the concept of play as described by Winnicott be established? Indeed, performing on stage implies, similarly to Winnicott’s discussion, the necessity of trust in oneself and in others. As observed by Gritten (2017), “[t]rust enables and facilitates interaction, collaboration, risk taking, experimentation, interpretative leaps, and all kinds of phenomena that are frequently associated with wonderful performance”( p. 11). However, classical musicians operate in a culture that does not always emphasize trust and where the content of play is more important than the state of play. Many artists have experienced a loss of control and even performance anxiety, due to high expectations and negative forms of perfectionism, none of which are beneficiary to play or musical expression.
Winnicott’s “potential space” is a useful theoretical concept active during performance but also during the period of preparing to perform. The concept can be used to develop a wide range of methods from mental preparation to curatorial approaches in concert programming and it might also be a way for the western classical music scene to move forward in an otherwise conservative tradition. Musical performance in western classical music is, as mentioned above, occupied with preparing to perform the work, implying technical perfection and mastery of an instrument. Moving beyond that, there are possibilities exploring the relationship between musician, composer, work and audience equivalent to human interactions as it is defined by psychoanalytical theories. A step in this direction was made by Nicky Losseff (2011) who argues that the psychoanalytic concept of projective-identification-as-interpretation may constitute “a model for some modes of interaction with musical works in which psychological investment might be better understood and hence contained and managed” (p. 58). Hence, to create a potential space where the result of practise and excellence is present but not dominant, where “play” is possible, musicians need to create their own strategies to challenge the rigid concert framing present in the classical music community. This would be in line with findings that wellbeing in musicians should prioritize “the space for subjective idiosyncratic subtleties” (Ascenso, Williamon, & Perkins, 2017, p. 78). There are no obvious strategies or quick fixes regarding how this space should be created, but the project that follows introduces one.
Can artistic collaboration between composer and performer contribute to the exploration of MPA? In 2017 composer Kent Olofsson and I started working on a composition to critically address the traditions and ceremonies of classical music performance, my PVs regarding the respect for the score, defined as Werktreue (Goehr 1992, p. 231). The composition Play always as if in the presence of a master is inspired by the writings of Winnicott in his “Playing and Reality” (1971, 2005) merges my auto-biographical accounts and values and my individual experience of MPA, as a staged performance using live electronics and pre-recorded electronic sound, thus breaking the silence brought on by feelings of inadequacy.
With the aim of exploring the performance situation—emphasizing playful interaction, a third area where play can take place (Winnicott, 2005, p.144)—Olofsson and I worked with fragments of the sonata op. 11 by Robert Schumann. Samples of my performance of the sonata were edited and arranged in a sampler, allowing me to play with Schumann’s music, and thereby create a new composition:
Playing with motifs, Inter Art Centre, Malmö, 2018
Together with Skoogh’s autobiographical accounts, drawn from an interview with her on the subject of Winnicott’s definition of play, Werktreue and Schumann’s aesthetical thoughts on music and interpretation, the fragmented Schumann materials constitute a new composition entitled Play always as if in the presence of a master. The collaboration focused specifically on the sonata, and different possible approaches to the score in performance:
Collaborative Play at Interference #5 A Laboratory for Artistic Research, Malmö 2018
Olofsson’s development of a compositional practice within experimental music theatre was an important point of departure. Since 2009, he has been researching how dramaturgy and musical composition can be merged (Olofsson, 2018). Through this connection to Olofsson’s research, Play always as if in the presence of a master can be associated with Maurizio Kagel’s concept of “Instrumental theatre” (Heile, 2016) and has a specific resemblance with Kagel’s composition Ludwig van (1969). Kagel examines the impact of the composer and his work on audiences. One of the strongest PVs, that I observed in my research projects, is the notion that western classical musicians do not have much freedom on interpretation and associated with this, the question of how to perform on stage within the classical concert traditions. This includes the notion that the musical work has a pre-defined essential meaning, and that it is the performer’s obligation to express this essence, with little or no room for playful interaction with the musical material or the performance situation. New findings in performance studies suggest that musicians do not any longer adhere strictly to this ideal. Young musicians increasingly emphasize their own agency and authority to make interpretative decisions, open to the interpretation as a discursive process, being perceptive to dialogue with the material and the context (Hunter & Broad, 2017, p. 17). Other researchers argue that musical expression could benefit from being detached from Werktreue, examining expression from a greater variety of perspectives (Crispin & Östersjö, 2017, p. 18). The collaboration between me and Olofsson was inspired by Winnicott’s notion on the importance of trust and the inviting and safe interpersonal field in which one can be spontaneously playful while at the same time connected to others. We focused on building a potential space to express the difficulties facing me as a performing artist within the western classical music field.
Kagel’s artistic comment reviews Beethoven as an icon and his works as revered monoliths of the western canon, making them difficult to bring forward with authenticity. Play always as if in the presence of a master moves this idea further suggesting that this crisis, this monotonous reproduction of canonized works, also has an impact on the musician’s emotions and their possibilities to move away from the anxiety of correct performances, towards a focus on expressivity.
The result of our collaboration suggests that artistic and compositional approaches to MPA may be a possible domain of further research. In my self-reports from the working process, I observed less anxiety, less ruminating thoughts on perfection and I felt more present in the moment. Instead of suppressing negative feelings during the performance, they were expressed, and this shared experience with the audience was helpful for me to regulate anxiety. It was particularly noticeable to me also in the performance of the sonata by Schumann op. 11 that followed after Play always as if in the presence of a master. The main theme of the Sonata was thourougly reworked in Olofsson’s compostion and he had transformed it for me as a performer to play with. I felt that I could do more rubato, a different rubato for example in the introduction. See video from the concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOvM_e6CUE0
“Could it be that an unhealthy degree of clinical perfection, separation of composers and instrumentalists as professions and many other related issues are slowly killing the spirit of classical music life?” (Kraggerud, 2016).
This exposition suggests that it is possible to backtrack MPA to the sometimes paralyzing social rules of western classical music, connected he inertia in classical music art worlds, as discussed by Becker. This can be counteracted by allowing musicians to emotionally regulate performance anxiety by addressing psycholoical silence as a possibly problematic theme before and during performance. As shown in this exposition, musicians themselves can explore performance values and emotional regulation and uncover strategies for audience interaction, performance anxiety and other phenomenons with western classical music culture.This is an important addition to the predominating guidance for the psychological, neurological and medical research within the MPA research field.
As mentioned before there are a number of studies are concerned with how musicians can improve performance skills, and lower anxiety during performance. Williamon et al. (2014) created the performance simulator as a means for following up on therapeutic methods for anxiety (such as exposure in safe and simulated environments) and it is without a doubt helpful for many musicians to be able to evoke and expose themselves to the anxiety they experience on stage in a safe and controlled environment. However, what if we assume that artists and musicians are capable of changing their experience of stage performance much earlier, before it becomes dysfunctional? The artistic projects in this exposition have challenged the phenomenon of MA, problematizing what can be perceived as a rigid concert tradition, constituting a problematic mental frame. Mapping my own performance values allowed me to reappraise my approach to performing, to the musical work and to my possibilities to alter behaviour connected to classical music performance, aspects that I assumed were not possible to change. Drawing on psychological and neurological research and with inspiration from the psychoanalytic concept of play, social sharing of emotions were outlined in the projects. An increased coherence and sense of authenticity was obtained, not as a therapeutic result, but rather as an artistic process.
Musicians in academia have a surprisingly “passive approach” towards research (Blom, Bennett & Wright, 2011, p. 360), thereby missing the opportunity of exploring possible solutions to difficulties connected to performance. One way to find new strategies to MPA is an increased awareness of performance values. Furthermore, traditional institutions, such as orchestras and conservatories also show little interest towards initiatives aiming at developing and changing western classical music performance. These institutions have the possibilities to raise critical issues, and promote change, in collaboration with artistic researchers. Performance values must be explored by the artists themselves and can be uncovered within projects such as the ones presented in this exposition, or drawing from other fields such as for example philosophy, art and theatre. It is important to show musicians that, contrary to what they might believe, they do have the possibility to create experimental projects in order to be less preoccupied with audience demands and to be more focused on how to explore music from other perspectives. The idea of “different performances” has been proposed by Leech-Wilkinson with several concrete radical aims for musicians to follow up on, amongst these are to offer students a technique for expanding their imaginative relationship with scores, to test the possibilities for and consequences of freeing classical performance from its self-imposed framework of moral obligations, to give performers due credit for the huge contribution they make to the creation of music, and correspondingly to reduce the role of the composer to approximate that of playwright and to open up new possibilities for thinking about the relationship between music and the individual (2016, p. 333-334)
I would like to encourage future interdisciplinary collaboration between research disciplines such as psychology, medicine, cognitive sciences and artistic research, since artists can contribute important insider perspectives to such research. Furthermore, I hope to have inspired musicians to explore and unsilence performance values within the western classical concert hall tradition on stage through performance and interaction with the audience. Although not described in this exposition, positive PVs likewise important to define and experiment with, which is why I hope to encourage musicians in the artistic research field to do so. The artist’s knowledge of values connected to performing is potentially vital for the development of a more robust understanding of MPA, and thereby developing methods for emotional self-regulation. If individual performers begin to be more open and outspoken with their own performance values this is already a step forward. This can allow the performer to address emotional difficulties or possibilities presented by the western classical music tradition, and may perhaps make way for changes on as well as off stage. Such change is called for, if the performance of western classical music is to remain a vivid, authentic contribution to modern society.
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There are however signs of the emergence of a new awareness of the central role of well-being in the educational institutions, very clearly expressed in the formation of the “Healthy Conservatoires Network”, which hosted the Musical Impact research project with the aim of enhancing “the health and wellbeing of musicians studying and working in Britain” (The Gateway to Research, n.p.). More broadly, the Association Européenne des Conservatoires (AEC) has taken several initiatives which aim to “stimulate the process of internal reflection on quality issues” and to “bring fresh ideas and wider perspectives into institutions, encouraging the principle of ‘many correct answers’ to questions concerning the pursuit of quality in higher music education” (Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen, n.p.). ↩︎
Again, it is important to stress that PVs can be positive. As outlined by Lamont (2012) performing music is connected to valuable and rewarding experiences, wellbeing, pleasure, engagement and meaning. ↩︎
An important factor to be able to conduct this experiment at all was that the concert organizer would be willing to let me play before the actual performance and allow her to use an adjacent hall. The author wishes to express her most sincere gratitude to Fredrik Österling, head of Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra for his kind cooperation. ↩︎