The Ways and Whys of
Music + Practice

Table of contents

Erlend Hovland

Erlend Hovland (1963) is editor-in-chief of Music + Practice and associate professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM). After music studies in Trondheim, Oslo, Paris, Basel, and Salzburg, he began his doctoral studies in 1990 at IRCAM, Paris. Hovland continued his research from multiple locations in Europe prior to defending his thesis on the orchestration of Gustav Mahler at the University of Oslo, where he later worked as a post doc. fellow on contemporary opera.

Christina Kobb
Norwegian Academy of Music

Pianist and fortepiano specialist Christina Kobb is currently completing her Ph.D. at the Norwegian Academy of Music. She is the recipient of ‘The Muzio Clementi Award’ (2008) and ‘TICON’ Scholarship (2007), and winner of the accompanist’s prize in the competition ‘The John Kerr Award for English Song’ (2006).

by Erlend Hovland and Christina Kobb

Music + Practice, Volume 1


To what degree do practitioners find their competence and insight reflected in the academic research in music? Probably, we all know the answer to this question, so by dedicating a new journal to practice studies in music, we can help to remedy a situation of mutual alienation between academic and practitioner. In Music + Practice, the right to write and present is delegated to the practitioner as well as to the academic, and we therefore hope that this journal will promote a process of democratisation of musical research. Bridging the gap between the worlds of theory and practice, as well as opening the page for practitioners’ reflections, is of course laudable, but is actually not the main purpose of M+P.

Any new journal needs to present its raison d’être. In M+P, the focus is practice, and along with this, a vivid interest in the specific knowledge that lies therein. Our assumption is that practical knowledge can better explain aspects of musical activity that are hidden from or distorted through the lenses of ordinary music research.

And yet, the academic interest in the non-propositional knowledge of the practitioners is neither new to humanities nor to music research. Most likely, as a reader of M+P, you are already interested in questions related to the knowledge professionals have, to performance practice, or to artistic research. An interest in these subjects can also explain the initiative behind this journal, but they do not necessarily coincide with practice studies as a field of research. We shall now point out some differences that can explain why we had to turn to practice study as a proper field of research.

Three ways to practice

In reading recent literature dealing with the knowledge of practitioners and professionals, one will frequently come across references to Michael Polanyi and Donald A. Schön; two thinkers who have coined terms that are frequently used in the literature, as for example, ‘tacit knowing’, ‘tacit dimension’ (Polanyi) and ‘reflection-in-action’ (Schön). Undoubtedly, both authors have contributed to a general revaluation of the skill and competence of good practitioners. Polanyi’s anthropological discussion of the tacit knowing of a good practitioner, offering both phenomenological and biological explanations, was in many ways groundbreaking, despite its debt to Bergson. Still, from a research perspective, one may conclude that the tacit dimension remains tacit, although more tactfully treasured. And by emphasizing the personalised, implicit, and immanent character of practices, as Polanyi does, one can easily overlook the fact that practices are communicated and further, that they are based on efficient ways of sharing skills and knowledge.

A similar critique is valid for Schön’s thinking. Despite all his apt descriptions of how good practitioners work, it is difficult to see how practice could become a proper area of research. One exception is, however, found towards the end of Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner where he gives the following alternatives for a reflective research:

The reflective researcher may take on the role of consultant to the practitioner. Reflective research may become a part of continuing education for practitioners … The researcher may stand to the practitioner in a relationship of participant observation. The practitioner may take time out to become a reflective researcher, moving in and out of research and practice careers. (Schön, 1995: 323—24).

Even though these alternatives are relevant for practice studies, the problem is that Schön does not expand on how the reflective research could be developed and actually build a body of articulated research and knowledge. So despite the fact that Polanyi and Schön deal with highly relevant issues for practice studies, the utility of their works is less obvious. The strength — and the weakness — of both thinkers is their focus on the practitioner. The ‘content’ of practice, the practical knowledge, remains essentially unexplored. So, in practice — silence still prevails.

A more institutionalised field of research in music is ‘historical performance practice’, which was deeply imbedded in the so-called Early Music Movement. This field has at least due to its name and fame raised practice as an issue of importance. Now, this is not the occasion to restart the discussion on the concept of authenticity on which the Early Music Movement founded their initial legitimation, a discussion that created frustration over confused mutual misunderstandings between the practitioners and their critics, the latter personified by Richard Taruskin, to whom also the naming ‘The Modern War of the Buffoons’ belongs. To some degree, Taruskin had a valid point when claiming that there could be a reversal of terms, that is, there is simply nothing old about the Early Music Movement, as it represents a modern style of performing reflecting the contemporary taste for metronomical and lean performances. And further, that the use of ‘authenticity’ was a false slogan for marketing this new style of performance by giving it an undue (historic-) moral justification. On the other hand, it was obvious that the use of historical instruments, playing techniques, and instructions, gave new interest and aesthetic validity to centuries of music repertory. And, of course, little did the performers of Early Music care about the philosophical underpinning of the words ‘authenticity’ and ‘intentionality’, for which they were attacked for using wrongly.

Nevertheless, what seems to have escaped the attention of both sides of the ‘war’ was actually the issue of practice. As the intellectual historian Quentin Skinner has argued, when confronted with historical sources, it is tempting to overemphasize familiarity. Instead of asking the question of what is different and estranged to us, the historical sources are too easily adapted to our contemporary views. This is also a description that can point to the interesting question underlying the buffoonish quarrel on authenticity. Because, if the historical sources were simply imported and accommodated to our modern taste, we may assume that the historical practice remained in the blind spot, and not addressed as a proper subject of research. Even though Taruskin seemed partly aware of this problem, his solution, the turn totradition, was not providing any clarity, neither conceptually nor methodologically speaking. Thus, for M+P it will be an ambition to present contributions that drag the historical practice out of the blind spot and let it constructively challenge our contemporary taste and take on music.

Another relevant field for M+P is Artistic Research. Undoubtedly, many studies of musical practices will depend on artistic competence (where the artist ‘makes the difference’), on a research into various forms of creative processes and artistic presentation, or as the art department at the University in Graz defines artistic research ( ‘AR [artistic research] is less oriented toward the result (artwork) but focused on the process surrounding its creation’. Of course, both the activity of the artist, and focus on the process rather than on the result (e.g. artwork), are situated in the core of the philosophy behind M+P. However, the term ‘artistic research’ contains a wealth of differing approaches and definitions, some of them moving more towards the artistic than the researchable, more towards the individual than the shared or shareable. Since it is a research that seeks to articulate a (shareable) practical knowledge that is central to M+P, the scope of the journal will differ from what may be included in the term artistic research. Our aim is the study of musical practices, either they are part of performance, composition, technology, education, or any other relevant fields. It is by addressing the questions ‘what is a practice?’, ‘how is this a practice?’, and ‘what knowledge resides in practice?’ that a new entrance to music research can be found.

Research into practical knowledge will demand different approaches. In many cases, it is through studies of techniques, skills, routines, technology, or even psychology, neuroscience, sociology, aesthetics, and history that we can better gain insight into how a practice works. This is also why M+P welcomes a wide range of contributions, demanding only one thing; that they all contribute to the continuing unfolding of practice in music as a proper area of knowledge and research.

From awareness to allotropes: the content of the first issue

The wide range of questions addressed in M+P explains why the journal is divided into three sections. In ‘M+P Scientific’, we present works that follow academic standards for peer-reviewed articles; with or without the addition of sound or video files. ‘M+P Explorative’ is dedicated to substantial works that may challenge both the form and content of conventional scholarly articles. This section may also include presentations where experiences, experimentations, and reflections on artistic practices are presented primarily in sound, video, or photography. The third section, ‘Reports + Commentaries’, contains contributions extending from scholarly informed reviews and reports to shorter essays and thought-provoking commentaries. So, the variety in genre, form, and content is deliberate. We hope that the possibilities of new technology and the web-based format will be exploited by our contributors, and that the various options will appeal to readers and prospective contributors within a wide range of disciplines and genres connected to artistic practices.

In this first issue, our authors touch on a wide spectre of time, topics, and approaches. Several contributors point out attentiveness, or awareness, as characteristic of a successful practitioner, be it as a guitar builder, a pianist, or a singer in a vocal ensemble. On a philosophical level, Bengt Molander discusses — by way of examples from guitar building and from Casals’ teaching — how knowledge may be acquired in and through attentive listening. As such, he touches on a variety of practices: teaching, performance, studying, instrument building — all of which are essential to the existence and continuation of musical life.

Ines d’Avena listens, too. In her CD review, she listens for the performers’ intentions and their interpretive choices, and she asks what we as listeners want from what we hear. As performers, what are our arguments for recording at all? Pianist Alessandro Cervino approaches interpretation in a practical way, directing our awareness towards the physical movements on the instrument allows us to verbalize our interpretive choices beyond what is notated in the score and beyond those famous composer’s intentions.

Although they often could, neither Frank Havrøy nor Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart discuss every performance choice with the composer. In his article, Havrøy draws our attention to how the a cappella singers’ responsibilities exceed the instructions — and possibly even the considerations — of the composer: even in a piece of modern, non-tonal music, intonation choices depend both on the focus of the individual members and on how they ‘construct tonalities’ together — aspects certainly demanding highly developed ‘listening awareness’ between the singers.

On the other hand, Malcolm Bilson, doyen of the Early Music movement, does care about what the composer wrote. In fact, the title of Bilson’s newest DVD is Performing the Score, which indicates how he sees expressivity as so intrinsically tied to the piano model in question that performing on the wrong instrument may preclude you from being true to the composer’s pen. In her playful and informative ‘Dialogo’, Stefania Neonato ‘dialogues on’ the early history of keyboard teaching. And the replicating process inescapable in the production of new fortepianos is the topic in the film reviewed by Shuann Chai; thereby granting the keyboardists more than their fair share of this first issue.

But there is no reason to group the texts according to instrument only, as keywords and relations can be spotted crosswise between sections and beneath the surface of the table of contents. As for many of the contributors, the performer-composer relationship is a challenging theme, a theme that is tackled head-on in the article written by Jeremy Cox and Darla Crispin: imagining the performer as the composer’s (or the music’s) advocate, such advocacy is not bound to one form, or ‘allotrope’, as the authors prefer to term it (alluding to a common property with many chemical elements). Relating to the essential discussions of music and meaning, and of Werktreue, the authors suggest a model of use for performers and artistic researchers.

Werktreue takes on a different shade of meaning when going so far back in time that a score in our modern sense simply does not exist. Can a historically informed performance take place when there is hardly any information available? Penelope Turner oscillates between original notation, concert performance, and her own experience in her review of a recently completed edition of organum duplum.

Finally, Yves Knockaert and Wivine Decoster present vocal productions centring on nineteenth-century lied. Not only are the performers almost inescapably — and erroneously — tied to the stage in their envisioning of lied performance, but so also is the audience.

These are therefore some of the positions and insights discussed in M+P, and the inspiring processes we went through together with the many contributors to this first issue is a strong indication of the usefulness of a journal dedicated to practice studies in music.

History and acknowledgement

During the last six years, there have been several attempts to create a journal within the European network MIDAS (Music Institutions with Doctoral Arts Studies). These attempts cohered at a MIDAS meeting in Amsterdam, 2008, in the initiative to create Music + Practice as an online journal. The initiative was further developed in the next MIDAS meeting in Sweden 2009. Even though the MIDAS network has been replaced by EPARM, the initiation of M+P has been facilitated by the assistance of members of MIDAS. Many thanks to all the former MIDAS members who have contributed to the creation of this journal.

Soon after the initiative was launched in 2008, we saw changes in institutional relations, as well as the arrival of new web-based journals dedicated to artistic research. This compelled us to reflect on both the content and the philosophy of the journal. A period of research followed, in which the potentiality of both artistic research and practice studies were reconsidered. (Some of this reflection is presented in the article ‘Turning to Practice’ in this first issue). By turning with commitment to practice we have targeted an underdeveloped area that can have a beneficial impact on how we understand music. We are also confident that artistic research is best defined as an umbrella term covering a wide range of more distinct branches of research. Some of these will deliberately blur the rigid distinction between artistic and academic research. At least, this is the intention behind Music + Practice.

At the end of this editorial it is imperative for us to thank The Norwegian Academy of Music for having supported, financially and otherwise, the creation of this journal. We must also thank all the contributors for their patience and their willingness always to respond swiftly and enthusiastically. And not least, we must thank Dr. Alexander Refsum Jensenius who has participated actively in the creation of this journal and has demonstrated an admirable disrespect for any obstacle. We would also like to thank Anders Tveit who has helped us hugely with finding solutions to both foreseeable and unforeseeable technical problems.