A&HHE Special Issue August 2016AHHELogo-300x300

Experiences from a collaborative project between the Norwegian Academy of Music and a local municipality in Norway.

Brit Agot Brøske Danielsen
Kjell Tore Innervik

Abstract

In 2013 a collaborative music project between the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM) and Hammerfest municipality in northern Norway was launched. The project has resulted in a music festival called A Punch of Culture, where children, adults and master`s degree students are involved in playing music in different contexts and venues. The project constitutes a context for professional practice for the students and its development is part of the Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE) at NAM. Through five interconnected strands the project aims to enhance the students` awareness of their relationship with audiences and to experiment with new performance concepts and forms of collaboration as central parts of learning processes. The project is integrated with a research study, focusing on the students` experiences from the project. For the students the project challenges their preconceptions about audiences and performance, and increases their awareness of their artistic goals.

Keywords

collaborative learning, innovative practices, new audiences, significant experiences, higher music education

 

In a diverse and rapidly-changing globalised music community, higher music education institutions have a responsibility to help prepare students for the future by championing innovative ideas and developing new performance concepts. Such developments stimulate future musicians to reflect on their own professional roles in different social contexts, and enable them to learn to collaborate with different groups in society in ways that go beyond their existing comfort zones (Gaunt and Westerlund, 2013).

To contribute to reaching these kind of goals, a collaboration began in 2013 between the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM), Hammerfest municipality in northern Norway, and the multinational oil and gas company Statoil(1), the latter providing extensive financial support. The cooperation has resulted in a music festival in Hammerfest called A Punch of Culture, where more than 300 children, 100 adults and 15 master’s degree students perform music over eight days. The project is part of the Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education(2) (CEMPE) at the Norwegian Academy of Music and constitutes an in situ work-based arena for participating students. Research has been integral to the project(3) since 2014, exploring in particular the students’ learning and significant experiences from the project.

In this paper we present the collaborative project, focusing on its aims and content, and on the impact it has had on participating students, the Academy and Hammerfest municipality.

Aims of A Punch of Culture

Hammerfest, with around 10,000 inhabitants, is one of the northernmost cities in the world. The city is currently experiencing strong growth, resulting mainly from the development of a large natural gas field, With Statoil’s investment, Hammerfest has made great efforts to make the city a desirable place to live, and to strengthen cultural life towards this end. Statoil’s contribution through A Punch of Culture has been decisive in realizing these aims. Within the locality, a central goal has been to foster new social and cultural impulses, contribute to regional development in the arts, and raise interest in cultural activities.

For NAM, objectives include enhancing students’ artistic development and empowering their artistic identity, as well as bringing about culture change in attitudes within higher music education, from a narrow focus on repertoire studies to a wider scope where experimenting with and exploring the role of being musicians in contemporary societies are more fully addressed. When entering higher education, music students are likely to have received formal instrumental tuition for over ten years (Sloboda et al., 1996), focusing largely on improving standards of technical perfection and working with canonical works (Ford and Sloboda, 2013). Creating opportunities for participating in exploratory, collaborative projects such as A Punch of Culture is therefore important, a way of rebalancing musicians’ focus to include diverse societal perspectives as well as aesthetic concerns. This kind of work fulfils a critical institutional responsibility in educating contemporary musicians: through immersing students in contexts where they have to experiment and embrace unfamiliar situations along with the insecurity these may stimulate and the imperative to take risks, we can increase students’ awareness of their audiences and enable them to develop leadership and collaboration skills. Furthermore, by giving the students responsibility and significant opportunities to influence the festival as it evolves, we hope to enhance their professional flexibility.

Five interconnected strands constituting the project

A Punch of Culture was initially established as a three-year project, led by Kjell Tore Innervik for NAM. Each year 15-20 students participate in the project, which is driven by interconnected principles:

  1. A high degree of collaboration. Throughout the days in Hammerfest, the students are required to collaborate with and play alongside fellow students, amateur musicians, children and disabled people across different disciplines.
  2. Artistic presentations in traditional venues such as churches or concert halls, where the students assume full responsibility for curating the events, Decisions on what and how to perform, how to collaborate and with whom, and how to forge relationships with the audiences are all issues that the students take into consideration.
  3. Artistic presentations in less traditional arenas for performance such as private homes or workplaces. These events challenge the students to explore new contexts and often intimate settings between audiences and performers.
  4. Conscious consideration of relationships with audiences, This comes about both through dialogue between musicians and audiences in the performance venues themselves, and through the fact that the students are hosted in private homes when they are in Hammerfest.
  5. A high degree of reflection through the project, characterised by dialogue between the students, and between students, NAM staff and audiences; through this the students make sense of and evaluate their experiences.

Adjustments throughout the project period

Throughout the three-year project period we have experienced challenges and successes, and have used them both to inform changes in forthcoming years. Results from the research study have also contributed to clarifying the outcomes of the project and hence to future development, which will be invaluable as the project is being extended for three more years.

During the three year period changes have been made to the collaboration between students and the music teachers at the Municipal School of Music and Performing Arts. We discovered that the students and the local music teachers had quite different needs and artistic goals, and at one point collaboration between them suffered. This might have been avoided had more attention been paid to it during the panning process, and there are now plans to change the form ad content of this aspect of the cooperation.

Adjustments have also been made to the collaboration between the students. In the first two years the student group consisted of both jazz and classical students from the Academy, with a view to stimulating exchange and learning across genres. We experienced, however, that the learning opportunities were taken up more effectively when including students from just one genre; hence the students participating in 2015 were all from the classical genre. The students could operate and experience within an environment that did not provide too much risk-taking, as the feelings of trust and confidence among the fellow students were established as a foundation. It can seem as if there is a limit in how much risk-taking the students can handle at a time. Being a more homogeneous student group meant that they felt more able to take risks and venture out of their comfort zones. Interestingly, their reflections on the experience were also richer and bolder.

Preliminary results from the research study

Empirical research connected to the project has sought to illuminate ways in which the collaborative project in Hammerfest has created significant experiences for students, and how such experiences have contributed to the students’ personal and professional development. Significant experiences are here understood as experiences that make a difference, interrupting usual and well-known paths of development. In line with Bollnow’s (1976) understanding of an existential meeting, such experiences entail that individuals encounter something unforeseen. Significant experiences thus force learners to reconsider and reorient their views and ideas. Personal involvement is a decisive part of significant experiences, which in turn may be central to developing professional competence (Broeske-Danielsen, 2013).

The research study was qualitative in approach, with questionnaires consisting of two open questions chosen as a means of collecting data. The students were asked to describe significant experiences, and to reflect on their reasons for perceiving the experiences as significant.

Preliminary results from the questionnaire data show that collaboration constituted an essential part of the students’ significant experiences. This entailed collaborating with fellow students, which among other things contributed to empowering the students’ self-confidence. Furthermore, the students underlined the importance of collaborating with different groups of people in Hammerfest, which they felt strengthened their understanding  of the impact of music within communities. One student suggested:

We played together with a girl who had autism and a boy who had Down’s Syndrome. […] It makes you happy to be in the same room as these pupils. […] It is good to see how important playing music is for them. […]

Awareness of the role that music can play in people’s lives brought new perspectives to the students, and helped them to see both what had been dominating their own thinking and what other possibilities there might be to explore.

Different kinds of conversations with audiences, particularly children, also made a strong impact on the students’ preconceptions about the extent to which people can actually like classical music. One student wrote:

Talking with the children during and after the school concert and realising that […] playing for children is actually something that I could enjoy. […] I have been afraid of being confronted with children […], but now I see that they are often wonderful, normal people.

Students’ descriptions of children as audiences showed that as students they experienced these situations as high-risk, but that they nevertheless ended up being positively surprised. In addition, developing these musical presentations for children appeared to be a catalyst for increasing their awareness of ways of playing and offering music to audiences more generally.

Outcomes of the project

Results from the research study reinforce our general impression that A Punch of Culture offers valuable learning experiences for the NAM students, that demand significant personal involvement and thus impact on their artistic and personal development. In addition to contributing to a more inclusive learning environment between the students, it is also evident that participating in the project encourages innovative ideas and performances, increases students’ overall confidence, and challenges their preconceptions about audiences, venues and performance possibilities. Furthermore, the project particularly seems to enhance the students’ appreciation of the benefits of both risk-taking and reflection. In the first two years the student group consisted of both jazz and classical students from the Academy, with a view to stimulating exchange and learning across genres. We experienced, however, that the learning opportunities were taken up more effectively when including students from just one genre; hence the students participating since 2015 were all from the classical genre. The students could operate and experience within an environment that did not provide too much risk-taking, as the feelings of trust and confidence among the fellow students were established as a foundation. It can seem as if there is a limit in how much risk-taking the students can handle at a time. Being a more homogeneous student group meant that they felt more able to take risks and venture out of their comfort zones. Interestingly, their reflections on the experience were also richer and bolder. As the project is now being extended for three more years, we will continue to include only students from the classical genre.

For NAM as an educational institution, it is clearly important to give students these kinds of socially and culturally-embedded experiences. Maximizing their impact requires that we develop an increasingly inclusive and open learning environment, focused on being able to embrace conflict and uncertainty and to celebrate personal development and risk-taking. Consequently, the Hammerfest project is now also contributing to more systematic changes in the curriculum, in particular the expansion from a narrow focus on repertoire studies to a wider pedagogical approach that fosters an inquisitive approach to artistic practice, opening up questions about possibilities for making performances and how these may serve as a point of departure for professional practice.

Locally in Hammerfest the project has contributed to increased cultural activity, both during the week of the festival as well as in advance of it. Furthermore, it seems that experimenting with new performance concepts has contributed to greater openness to risk taking and new artistic ideas among musicians and music teachers in the region too. Different people in Hammerfest have reported valuable encounters and experiences through the project, for example being hosts for students, collaborating artistically, and engaging with aesthetic experiences.

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