Thursday, December 30, 2010

Welcome to 2011

Welcome to the Social Psychology of Music Blog for 2011. Contributors to this blog are graduate students at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music. The blog is moderated by Prof. Lee Bartel.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Musical Creativity: A Teacher Training Perspective

Article Review: “Musical Creativity: A Teacher Training Perspective”
Reference: Cohen, Veronika (2002). Musical Creativity: A Teacher Training Perspective. Creativity and Music Education,Willingham and Sullivan (Editors) Toronto: CMEA Books 218-237.
This article is a reflective summary of a course for music students to teach musical creativity. After covering the theoretical groundwork of teaching musical creativity, this course proceeds to explore the pedagogic skills necessary in such setting by pairing the students up in peer teaching and student teaching.
While watching the students in peer and student teaching sessions, the author’s observation focused on the various roles teachers play in their students’ creative process. Creative process awakens and engages a student’s sense of self. It is a delicate proceeding in which teachers have the ability to either inhibit or encourage their students with the slightest gesture or most casual comment.
At the meantime, creative process is not task-oriented, nor is it about efficiency and productivity. Instead, it is based on exposure, exploration, and absorption, which becomes noticeable only in the course of time. Once again, a teacher plays a crucial role in such process and the ability to listen, observe, and act accordingly is indispensable.
Classroom is the starting point of a teacher’s learning process – the more teaching situations I encounter, the more I believe in this thought. Both sides – student and teacher – enter a learning situation with its own personality and background, but the teacher has a guiding hand in identifying the social/psychological aspect of the relationship to shape the pedagogic content of such encounters. While we teachers focus on our teaching materials and tools, we sometimes have little time to contemplate the actual consequences of our teaching. What do we teach, really? What are our students learning from our weekly music lessons? Do musical skills and contents take precedence over personality development? Is there an age limit for personality development, meaning that adult students will be less sensitive to signs of discouragement from teachers? (from my limited experience, adult students are actually more sensitive and personality development is a lifelong process if one wishes and works for it)
Besides exploring the musical world with our students, not getting in their way of learning becomes an increasingly significant task. In essence, we provide an environment of initiation, give guidance and support when appropriate, and take a step back to allow room for our students to grow, as well as for us to observe.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finding the Music 'Within': An Instructional Model for Composing with Children

Article Review: “Finding the Music ‘Within’: An Instructional Model for Composing with Children”
Reference: Morin, Francine (2002). Finding the Music ‘Within’: An Instructional Model for Composing with Children. Creativity and Music Education, Willingham & Sullivan (Editors) CMEA Books 152-178.
Concerned with most music teachers’ lack of knowledge and experience in teaching creative composition at public school classrooms, the author endeavours to bridge the gap by providing a theoretical framework of the creative process, a general guideline for preparing lesson plans, and a sample lesson plan outlining the content, skill, structure, performance, and evaluation of such pedagogic project.
Since parallels between music and language learning have been observed by educators and pedagogues alike, this instructional model for creative composition is based on the innate ability of music to communicate. While students receive information about the structural components – rhythm, harmony, and structure – of music in their education, it only makes sense if they use these components for constructing and communicating personal expressions. When we learn a language, we not only learn to read, remember, and understand, but we also use the language to speak and express our feelings.
As the author points out the importance of establishing a safe classroom environment for experimenting, risk-taking, and making mistakes in creative composition, refraining from imposing teacher’s aesthetic value on the students is a demanding, but significant task. Is it possible to imagine a babbling toddler receiving “language lessons” with strict supervision over the content and pronunciation? How long will its enthusiasm for sound experiments last? When the need to conform to someone else’s value overrides the pleasure of playing and exploring, the goal and essence of creativity is lost.
I remember how I felt when I started learning a second language as a teenager in a foreign country. The fear of making mistakes was overwhelming. When I had the impression of not making myself understandable, I felt mortified and became reluctant to speak. Is it not similar to the inhibition a classically trained musician feels when asked to improvise? The high ideals of performance, combined with lack of exposure, often bring forth silent panic.
As I am learning to improvise and compose with my students, this aspect of music creativity reminds me of what we want to do with music education. Are teachers the guarantors of musical productivity – regular daily practice, performances, and a checklist of books each student has to finish by the end of every year – or human beings who are able to listen, observe, and guide the students’ development in their musical vocabulary? The desire to speak increases with the knowledge that someone will listen. Shall we give ourselves and our students the chance to be their creative selves? We can start with listening.

Mozart's Women: his family, his friends, his music

Book Review: Mozart’s Women - his family, his friends, his music
Author: Jane Glover. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.
As its title reveals, this book provides a social, psychological, and musical account of the families and friends of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Divided into four sections, Mozart’s Women describes Mozart’s birth family, his own family and in-law’s, the interwoven connection between his personal and musical lives, and what happened to these people after Mozart’s death.
As soon as the extraordinary talents of their two children, Nannerl and Wolfgang, manifested themselves, Leopold and Maria Anna Mozart traveled all over Europe to parade these children’s abilities, establish influential connections, and seek opportunities to elevate their family’s social status.
As Mozart stepped into adulthood, his music continued to play a central part in his emotional, social, and creative lives. His encounters with other musicians not only brought artistic inspiration to his compositions, but also provided him with a supportive social network to help him obtain independence from his domineering father and build his own family.
Throughout his life, Mozart’s personal and musical sides interacted without interruption. His emotional relationships stimulated his compositions and his creative outputs altered the lives of those around him. His sister, sisters-in-law, and friends were dedicatees, performers, and champions of Mozart’s music and left their marks in history as such.
Instead of focusing on the creative genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, this book reconstructs the lives of Mozart’s families and friends and invites us readers to take a journey back in time. Rather than describing the man and his artistic triumph, this narrative gives us an idea of how Mozart came to be what he was and more importantly, the impact of his existence on his immediate families and friends.
Originally, my impression of Mozart the man was someone who expired from overwork and exhaustion. After reading this book, the issue of whether talent is a blessing or a curse – for the man of talent and his family – surfaced again. Is talent an individual AND family investment? Where is the boundary between balance and excess and who is to set it? How can siblings handle the phenomenon of genius in the same family? Parents like Leopold Mozart have been and will always be around. As music teachers and eventual parents, we are responsible for choosing the part we want – or not want – to play in such situations.
For me, this book brought up another issue: creativity despite obstacles, against the odds, and as a personality trait. Since it implies resourcefulness, the ability to solve problems, stepping outside the box, and coming up with the unthought-of, it can be applied to all fields of our life. We can be creative not only in composing music, but also teaching, playing, and listening to music. More than by category, label, and format, this attribute can also be identified by its impact on the quality of our daily life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Musical Communication

Musical Communication

Miell, MacDonald, Hargreaves

The article ‘How do people communicate using music?’ by Hargreaves, MacDonald and Miell, provided me with the opportunity to examine the different musical experiences and concerts I have participated in, and the messages I have received . Furthermore, it also allowed me to explore exactly what aspect of the event; the musical material, the performers or the composer acted as the vehicle to deliver the musical meaning intended.

Musical meaning is an enormous area of study, and again, of particular interest to me in my independent research. Hargreaves, MacDonald and Miell state “Music is a fundamental channel of communication: it provides a means by which people can share emotions, intentions, and meaning. Music can exert powerful physical and behavioural effects, can produce deep and profound emotions within us, and can be used to generate infinitely subtle variations of expressiveness by skilled composers and performers, such that highly complex informational structures and contents can be communicated extremely rapidly between people.” (Hargreaves et. al., 1) I have been exploring the ways in which music can act as not only the platform, but the vehicle for social change, through the identity created by a unifying element like music, and through the powerful communication that music provides. The incredible might of music as a powerful political force has been seen in movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, the movement in Estonia fighting against the Soviet occupation become known as the Singing Revolution. It is also seen in the Music of Resistance-a new six part documentary series which depicts stories of musician fighting repression. It is an incredible set of stories from people fighting for justice and for freedom in all areas of the world and “they are all talented but for them ‘making it’ is not about diamonds and sports cars-it is about radical political change.” One of the most incredible stories tells the story of a nomadic tribe in the southern Sahara; “Once a group of rebel soldiers, training alongside Colonel Gadaffi in Libya, after years of struggle and violence Tinariwen decided to lay down their guns and fight with a different weapon- music.” I find the notion of using music as a weapon absolutely incredible. I find this movement similar to the movement in Estonia in which the Estonian nationals fought for their freedom and their independence through the medium of song alone, with no weapons. It is incredible to think of the communication that occurs through the music alone. In Estonia for instance, the music performed were Estonian national songs. Even as an outsider, listening to the incredible effect of an entire nation singing the powerful nationalistic patriotic songs I was moved tremendously. I did not understand the language, and I was not a part of the struggle. I was not personally invested in the movement, but by the time I heard the singing of 20,000 people, the message reached me, and I was deeply affected. That was one of the first times that I pondered the notion of musical communication through the medium itself. Of course, the effect was felt due to the various factors at play. When I became aware of the movement, it was through the documentary entitled ‘The Singing Revolution’ in which, naturally, the Estonian side is presented, and the material is presented in a very emotional way. However, I really feel that even if I had seen only the singing, I would have been touched, and the message would have been conveyed. I feel that one of the most powerful genres of music is nationalistic, patriotic music. It is composed in a way to evoke emotion, and instill a feeling of unity and pride in all its listeners. Music, especially in terms of nationalism and freedom, under the right circumstances offers the medium for political, social and emotional communication.

Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety

Glenn D. Wilson

One of the aspects of this article that I found particularly appealing was it’s emphasis on not only the social and emotional aspects of ‘stage fright’ or performance anxiety but the psychological, physical and really tangible aspects and the examination of the comparison between fear for one’s physical well being and one’s emotional and psychological well being. The description of bodily reaction compare the symptoms of stage fright to those of ‘any other phobia or fear reaction.’ (Wilson, 229) Those symptoms are outlined as the heart pumping, the release of energy from the liver, the lungs working hards, the stomach shutting down, body fluids redirected to the bloodstream, causing dry mouth and difficulty swallowing, sharpening of vision, sweating skin, and the discharge of calcium from the tense muscles, causing a ‘pins and needles’ sensation. (Wilson, 230) These descriptions offer the scientific support to the emotional feelings that we, as musicians, have all felt at one time or another, and for the majority of performing artists, feelings that we feel regularly. The symptoms are outlined in a way that demonstrates the direct links between the physical reactions a person has when confronted with physical danger and an emotional or social fear. It is interesting to consider the notion that our psyches consider the fear of failure in an artistic performance similar to the fear of physical harm, and therefor our defense mechanisms for both are quite similar. However, in the case of physical danger, the bodily reaction is the appropriate response as the body is preparing itself for a fight or flight reaction, however for most performers, these feelings do more harm than good in terms of the actual product which is the source of the fear and reaction.

These reactions are of course, different from person to person and for each person those same reactions have the great potential to change from day to day, performance to performance.

Personally, I have found that my personal reactions with stage fright have never been incapacitating, or ever so hindering that I was unable to perform. But, it’s interesting for me to consider when this ‘performance anxiety’ manifests itself for me. When I’m performing for friends and colleagues, I am much more nervous than when I am performing in a concert hall with a huge audience. There are two distinct situations which I find particularly interesting. When I was in high school, I performed the Bach a minor concerto with the chamber orchestra at my high school, as well as with the London Youth Symphony. When I performed the concerto with my high school’s chamber orchestra, my anxiety level was extremely high. Many of my friends and one of my sisters were in the orchestra, and many more friends were in the front row of the audience. However, when I performed with the London Youth Symphony, even though many of my friends were in this orchestra as well, I felt more disassociated from the audience and my anxiety level was much lower. The knowledge that I was performing for and with my social circle created a much higher level of anxiety than was created when I was performing for a much larger, primarily anonymous audience. Also, last year I performed Bach’s concerto for violin and oboe with a friend of mine. We got a small orchestra and continuo together, and performed the piece at both of our graduating recitals. However, at my recital (which came much later, and we were both therefore more prepared) I was significantly more nervous looking out into the audience of my family and friends. I suppose that the stakes are determined by the performer, and the level of anxiety then follows.

I feel that in terms of treatment, the healthiest methods would be those of methods like the Alexander Technique. As mentioned, this is not a method which is meant specifically to deal with performance anxiety, but is a method which teaches its’ participants to find different ways of playing, and performing healthily. Having different physical practices to focus on before and during performance can help to alleviate stress through diversion. Performing with beta blockers, though effective have the potential to (at least psycho-somatically) create a dependence amongst it’s users. However, various different mental and physical exercises are always accessible whereas perhaps at some point in a performing career, drugs such as beta blockers might not be.

Gender in Music

Gender and Music

Susan A. O’Neill

The issues raised in the O’Neill article entitled Gender and Music are interesting in that many aspects of musical gendering are examined-from inclusion in musical professions, the historical assumptions about gendered abilities and appropriateness, even to the gendering of the musical instruments themselves. Immediately, O’Neill states “historically in Western culture, men have dominated the music profession and occupied positions of power and privilege.” (O’Neill, 46) Women have been historically restricted from attaining the same levels of musical success as their male counterparts through not only restriction from professional employment, but even being restricted from receiving the same levels of musical education as men. In discussion of gendering and gender differences, it is important to explore the differences between sex and gender. “The category of sex has been used to identify the sex of a newborn infant, whereas the category of gender has been used to infer the social traits and characteristics that are learned through socialization processes.” (O’Neill, 48) Therefore, one must question the differences in sex and gender within music.

I believe that in terms of historical restriction and limitations, those restrictions imposed upon women were done for both gender and sex reasons. The sex itself was restricted because of the assumed traits, and expected gendered behaviours. The gender of women is to (historically) be submissive and always composed. To be involved on the public stage in the musical profession would be to challenge and compete with men, to be in the spotlight and to be extroverted. This has historically been unacceptable, and women have therefore been largely restricted in terms of musical participation, and have primarily only had the opportunity to participate in music within the home.

One of the areas within this article that I found particularly interesting is the gendering of the musical instruments themselves. The section of ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ musical instruments (51), found the findings of a research study to suggest that “the most ‘masculine’ instruments were the drums, trombone, and trumpet; the most ‘feminine’ instruments were the flute, violin, and clarinet.” (O’Neill, 51) However, in examining the historical gendering of musical instruments, the violin and flute specifically were considered to be the most masculine instruments-in fact they were considered to be obscene and inappropriate for women to play at all. Later on, O’Neill goes on to consider whether this gendering will continue forever. We have seen that historically, there has been a shift in the gendering of specific musical instruments. However, the process of gendering as a whole still exists. And I feel that in many ways, certain factors will always have a sort of gendered predetermination. For instance, it seems to be a trend that the largest and loudest instruments of a musical family are gendered masculine-eg. string bass vs. violin. In Aboriginal cultures, the music almost always includes the playing of the drum, and the women’s drums are small and handheld, and the ‘Grandfather’ drum is an enormous drum played by the men only. I feel that this gendering represents a trend that will likely not be completely erased, but as time progresses, the specific gendering of musical roles, musical instruments and musical participation.

Identity in Music

What are musical identities, and why are they important?

David J. Hargreaves, Dorothy Miell, Raymond A. R. MacDonald

The implications of identity creation in music are of great interest to me. In my independent research this year, I am exploring the various ways in which music has the potential and the ability to act as not only a platform, but also a vehicle for social change. Specifically, I am examining the ways in which, through a united cultural identity social movements have progressed, and triumphs have occurred. For example, the Estonian people resisting and revolting against the existing Soviet rule, or occupation, and the African Americans living through and fighting in the Civil Rights Movement found their primary motivation, their unifying ties, and their final triumphs through the medium of music. This cultural identity is transcendent throughout all aspects of the movements. Music served a great part of the creation of identity, as is suggested in the Hargreaves, Miell and MacDonald article “What are musical identities, and why are they important?” In this article, the authors speak of the different aspects of identity creation, examining this creation from the angles of music, social and developmental psychology. The work as a whole examines identity in two distinct ways: that of identities in music, and music in identities. Identities in music (here referred to as IIM) “deals with those aspects of musical identities that are socially defined within given cultural roles and musical categories.” (Hargreaves et. al., 2) This speaks to the different identities that are associated with various musics, and the willingness (or hesitance) to associate oneself through music. From there, the article examines Music in identity (here referred to as MII) focuses on “how we use music as a means or resource for developing other aspects of our individual identities.” (Hargreaves et. al., 2)

I found the guest lecturer (Walker's) presentation on musical preference to be of interest for many reasons, but one in particular. It was presented that music served as an escape method, a way of escaping the outside world, and finding solace in the abstract. Oftentimes, those who find themselves on the outskirts of societal conformity find themselves drawn to music of the same level of recognition, acceptability and popularity. The presence of music becomes almost equivalent to the presence of a friend, or a comforting figure, and it’s interesting to think that oftentimes, people choose music who’s reception is similar to their own in terms of social acceptance.

I think another important issue to consider is that of which came first; the associated musical identity, or the music itself? That is to say that oftentimes one can assume what a persons personal musical preference will be simply by examining the way they dress, act, and present themselves to society. This is of course a generalization, but take for instance Rap and Hip Hop. These genres have music have become a societal and cultural group unto themselves. The music has created the culture. There is a mode of dress, of speech, of overall comportment. But did the identity come purely from the music...or did the preexisting identity determine the type of musical preference?

In my opinion, the predisposition for the behaviour has to already be in place, but I believe that music is such a powerful that it has the ability to, in some cases instill that socio-cultural identity, and in many, the identity is accelerated by the music.

As far as my personal identity, I feel that my current social psychological identity has been created in great part by my involvement in music, more so than my personal musical preferences. As far as my musical preferences are concerned, I’ve never really fit into one specific category. Growing up, I was exposed to the musical preferences of my parents, my grandmother, my sisters, and my friends. Through this exposure, I developed a great love for a myriad of different musical styles. But, so much of my life, and my identity has been created due to my musical involvement. My social environment, my academic pursuits, my extracurricular activities, my work, and my volunteer affiliations have all been directed by my involvement in music; thus my identity, or rather all of the separate components of my daily life which culminate to create my overarching identity has been created by music.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creativity and Learning in Hip Hop

Reference: Söderman, J. & Fokestad, G. (2004). How hip-hop musicians learn: strategies in informal creative music making. Music Education Research (6)3, 313-326. doi: 10.1080/1461380042000281758

Söderman and Fokestad set out to observe two hip hop communes (or “groups”, this was the participants' preferred term) in Sweden while they laid lyrics over a pre-prepared beat. Group A was from a Swedish middle-class background and Group B’s members were all from a foreign background (Ghana and Lebanon, with a third member from Switzerland who did not make it to any of the sessions). The focus of their study was the “creative learning process and the meeting between music and lyrics” (p. 315). They also conducted interviews with each group before and after the creative event. The songs were recorded and provided the topic of conversation during the post-recording interview.

Pre-recording Interview
Each group was found to hold differing images of themselves as hip hop musicians. Group A saw themselves as “missionaries” who had a message to relay to the Swedish population about the importance of hip hop. Use of the Swedish language was important in their lyric-writing. They viewed their music-making as a hobby and an alternative lifestyle, and did not consider it as potential career.

Group B, on the other hand, aspired to a career in music, so the entertainment aspect of their work was emphasized. The rhythm of the lyrics as it met with the beat seemed the most important aspect of their work, as opposed to the lyrics themselves. Söderman and Fokestad attributed the difference in career choice and purpose for music-making to the each group’s socio-economic background.

For both groups, however, involvement in hip hop led to a self-monitoring of their progress not only with music but in the knowledge they were gaining about their lives.

Recording Session
The researchers found that each group came prepared with lyrics that were either individually or collaboratively written.

Upon hearing the pre-prepared beat, Group A began writing lyrics, presumably different from those they brought in (not clear from the article), with members helping each other obtain the right flow of words with the underlying beat/music.

Group B used the lyrics they had brought to the studio, and it seemed each person knew the other’s lyrics well. There was no need for this group to prepare as they began rapping right away, incorporating a call and response without much cueing from each other. They were observed to feel the beat with their bodies right away and to add natural ‘ad-libs’ (words added for emphasis while another is rapping). Though Group A also used ad-libs, the researchers did not elaborate on their use of this technique.

Post-recording Interview
Two members of Group A seemed concerned about their image rather than their music-making, upon starting to watch the video. With prompting from another member, they began to take notice of their actual performance. Finding flow seemed the focus of the conversation, which included being able to decide when to cut off words, or perhaps combine fragments of other lyrics.

Group B let the interviewers know that their third member, who didn’t participate in the recording at all decided to leave the group because “’[he] did not feel black enough…He is from Switzerland and we are from Lebanon and Ghana’” (p. 320). This group tended to talk about the music and lyrics in interaction more than how well they did. They placed much importance on writing lyrics down first, rather than completely improvising them in the moment. According to them, writing the words down before performance allows them to spontaneously change words or syllables in order to fit the beat that’s given them. More so than Group A, members of this group showed a detailed concern for the number of bars in the music, as well as the number of beats per minute they were able to lay over the beat. They were also able to play with the beat more, e.g. rapping off-beat, rather than simply emceeing with it, creating an “alienation to the beat” (p. 321).

Discussion of Observations
The authors took special note of the collaborative nature of communes’ creative process. Though not every member of each group followed through on participating in the recording and interview process, this did not seem to bother other members very much. Someone simply filled the gap.

Lyrics seemed most important and varied depending on personal circumstances. Practice appeared integral to improvement in lyric writing and emceeing, as the groups, discussed their progress.

Söderman and Fokestad found that Group B’s feel for the music allowed for a better flow and control of words, whereas Group A’s focus on lyrics and choice of language (Swedish or English) seemed more controlled by the music.

The groups used a collage technique, wherein each person contributed a personalized part of the lyrics. The listener is then tasked with synthesizing possible meanings generated from the interaction between each person’s words.

This article provides a good platform for social psychological observations on the interaction between group members and the listeners to whom they present their messages. The interaction between members affects the creative space allowed each person, leading to a more conversational approach to composition. The result is an ownership of one’s contribution to the whole product, allowing the group to be honest about their observations and to monitor their progress effectively.

It is also interesting to note that the collage approach accommodates different perspectives within what becomes a whole, unified piece/track. As mentioned, the listener also has a particular function in producing an understanding of the finished work. In addition, (this was not mentioned in the article and is taken from my personal observations of emceeing) I would say that an important aspect of emceeing is being able to generate a response from the audience by effectively taking another emcee's lyrics and responding creatively to them. The whole performance becomes a dynamic process. When this is done in the context of a freestyle emceeing battle, the creative process takes on another level of intensity, with audience response being an integral gauge of skill.

The authors alluded to different ways that cultural and socio-economic groups may use hip hop. It also seems that each group's identity within the genre differs accordingly. Though this observation seems quite astute, the way in which the authors make this connection is unclear. As a result, I'm left wondering why the authors chose two groups who varied according to these categories in the first place, if they were not going to make a more explicit connection. For example, they state that a hip hop is simply a hobby for the Swedish, middle-class group as they “did not have to worry too much about their future income” (p. 317). Without a stated method for determining each group's economic situation, this conclusion simply leads readers to infer that Group B's members, from a foreign background, are from lower-income families. This leads me to wonder how much their interpretations are informed by the interviews with the music-makers themselves, and how much of it is simply a product of their own preconceptions.

Nonetheless, their interpretations are an indication that a social psychological framework is always at work in the way we listen to and observe a musical event. Whether we are teachers, performers, listeners, composers, etc. the musical situation is understood within a context that affects how we think and how we act within it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Understanding Performance Anxiety

Reference: Papageorgi, I., Hallam, S., & Welch, G. F. (2007). A conceptual framework for understanding musical performance anxiety. Research Studies in Music Education (28)1, 83-107. doi: 10.1177/1321103X070280010207

The authors’ purpose was to establish a theoretical framework that may help researchers and educators study and understand performance anxiety in musicians. Their perspective takes into account the individual within a social, temporal context. By their account, performance anxiety is not an isolated phenomenon, experienced only when a performance draws near; nor is it a state that affects people uniformly. Various personal traits that are inborn or that develop over time lead to different responses throughout the performance process.

Their proposed framework consists of three phases that affect one another. With each new performance opportunity, the musician may start Phase 1 in a different state, depending on the outcome of previous performances.

Phase 1 – Pre-performance conditions

Prior to a performance, the musician is found in a personal, psychological state consisting of:

a) Initial conditions
i) vulnerability to feeling anxious – personal traits make one more or less prone to anxiety, e.g. gender, introversion/extroversion, self-esteem

ii) task efficacy – how prepared the performer feels

iii) characteristics of the anticipated performance situation – e.g. who will be in the audience, where the concert will be held

b) Cognitive evaluation of performance situation
The above conditions affect how a performer evaluates the upcoming event, e.g. as a challenge, threat, etc., and makes judgments about their ability to cope.

c) Psychological state immediately before performance
The outcome of the cognitive evaluation will determine the extent to which a musician is motivated to meet the challenge of performance. If there is little chance of coping and doing well, anxiety will likely be high.

Phase 2 – Performance conditions

a) Autonomic Nervous System activation
This refers to the physiological changes that result from a performer’s psychological state during the performance. Medium arousal (not low or high) is the ideal, leading to adaptive (positive) effects. Unfortunately, when a person notices that their state of arousal is not ideal, they may become even more anxious.

b) Effect of arousal on performance
Low arousal, likely caused by lack of motivation to perform well, generally does not produce the best result. High arousal leads to an excess of physical and mental activity, which can become difficult to control. Medium arousal is thought to inject the appropriate level of control and activity, leading to a satisfying performance.

Phase 3 – Post-performance conditions

a) Feedback
The internal and external responses to the performance affect future Phases, and can be positive or negative. Where no feedback is given, the musician will come to their own conclusions.

b) Longer term effects
Positive feedback will likely raise a person’s self-esteem and affirm their ability to perform; the converse is true for negative feedback.

c) Possibility of future success or failure
Feedback and its effects on the musician will influence how future performance opportunities are seen. If failure seems more of a possibility, one will either withdraw from the performance or develop better coping skills. The latter may lead to a more positive outlook and a better outcome.

These post-performance factors may change the performer’s initial psychological and cognitive state as the next opportunity approaches.

The framework proposed by Papageorgi, Hallam, and Welch seems realistic to me, particularly because it accounts for a dynamic interaction between the individual and the social context in which a performance occurs.

I’m definitely not immune to performance anxiety. It seems my very first experience, at the age of 7, may have had some long-term effects. According to this model, the feedback received, post-performance, becomes very important in positioning yourself mentally and physically for the next event. Looking back to my first recital, however, I am led to wonder what made me susceptible to nervousness prior to stepping on stage, especially because I had no negative precedent on which to draw.

The authors cite previous studies that indicate a predisposition for anxiety in women and introverts. At such a young age, are these traits already functioning to elevate anxiety? It seems more likely that the reason for my nervousness at the time was the realization that about a hundred people (maybe more) were in the audience. The evaluation of the situation, assessed by the 7-year-old me, happened just minutes before the show, leaving very little time for anyone to provide me with appropriate coping strategies. I have no idea what my physiological state was, at least not until my memory lapse, nor do I recall any feedback from anyone after the performance. This perhaps allowed me to exaggerate the negative aspects of my experience, rather than gain a reasonable perspective.

It’s no surprise that I still have to deal with nerves throughout any performance situation. Despite many successful performances since, the possibility of a memory lapse is my greatest fear. I’ve since incorporated techniques to help with this. You can ask me to start at any section of a piece I’ve memorized and I’ll be able to start wherever indicated. I’ve ensured that no matter what happens, I can recover. I find my greatest obstacle now is feeling underprepared---i.e. not knowing pieces inside and out. It’s no wonder I get anxious.

The factors and phases involved in anxiety outlined above are useful in preparing students for performances. It is interesting to observe that some very young students already compare themselves to their peers. I have always been careful not to instill a sense of competition with others, but rather the aim for self-improvement, and yet one of my students declared after performing, “I was the only one who didn’t make a mistake!” I have since discovered that a previous teacher made quite a big deal of wrong notes. I wonder what would happen if this student should mess up. It may go without saying that guiding students through performance preparation is important. It could be easy, however, to neglect the chance for post-performance feedback. Time set aside for this would allow students to describe how it felt to play before an audience, how they think they did, and what they could improve on. Teachers could then catch any exaggeration of errors that would colour students’ recollection of their playing. It would also be a chance to honestly state areas of improvement, together with how this might be achieved.

Despite the difficulty in trying to overcome performance anxiety, it is at least heartening to know that each performance brings with it the possibility of an improved sense of one’s ability to overcome and do better next time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Reference: Kurtz, G. (2007). Adagio and Fugue. Practicing: A musician’s return to music. New York: Vintage Books.

This book is a memoir by Glenn Kurtz, a classical guitarist who, upon graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, realized that he was not cut out for a solo performing career. He gave up his instrument and eventually earned a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University and taught at San Francisco State University. The book is a record of his reflections, as he rekindles his desire to make music.

The book begins with his first contact with music as a child, tagging along with his mother to an outdoor group guitar lesson in which two young men led students through the chords and lyrics of folksongs. The story of his musical life unfolds as he talks about his relationship to the guitar with a focus on his interaction with the instrument in the practice room. Inevitably, his musical experience is significantly shaped by relationships with those around him.

In “Adagio and Fugue”, Kurtz examines the phrase “practice makes perfect.” He has heard this said many times, as a child and as an adult, and wonders what the realization of “perfect” would look like. There also seems to be an added mystique about musical practice, and the discipline required is often marveled at. And yet, as Kurtz observed, people practice all kinds of things everyday---isn’t this what happens when one goes to work , or tries to bake a good cake? For Kurtz, “[d]iscipline is just the outward shape of…hopeful desire” (p. 47). Practice is working toward its fulfillment.

The younger Kurtz found the shape of his desire in a classical guitarist named Andrés Segovia. By the time Kurtz writes this book, he has come to realize that his goal had always been to become Segovia, whose ambition created a place for the guitar in concert halls. Segovia wanted to surpass those that came before him and was not content to play in the usual small venues in which his predecessors performed.

Reflecting on the influence of Segovia on his life, Kurtz shifts the focus of his goals:
The music never became mine because I played it to be Segovia….To be Segovia is not what I want now…Imitating Segovia I never learned what I could achieve. Now, freeing myself from his ideal, I’m forced to conceive a new one for myself. What would it mean for me to play perfectly now? (p. 48 & p. 50).

In reading Glenn Kurtz’s book, which is primarily a reflection on practicing, it becomes apparent that time spent in seeming solitude is not free from the influence of others. The voices and looming figures of family, teachers, celebrities, peers, etc. continue to exert themselves in the practice room.

Kurtz mentioned that he often heard the comment, “practice makes perfect”---something we have all arguably heard. One of my teachers once said that we’ll never play perfectly, but it’s something for which we perpetually aim. Musicianship operates within this classical music framework, with its assumption of a perfect entity continually implied into existence by those around us. In the absence of any concrete, tangible sense of “perfect,” it seems only natural that this quality is sought in another who becomes the person to emulate. As we see in Kurtz’s example, the result is an adoption of someone else’s goals, at times resulting in an inability to recognize and determine ones own objectives.

In a previous chapter, Kurtz describes the experience of seeing Segovia in concert, detailing the attention Segovia commanded despite his memory lapses. His adoration of Segovia is apparent: “The audience lurched upward in adulation….I turned to look at the crowd, taking in the euphoria…absorbing the heat rising from all this applause….At seventeen, how could I not dream this ovation was---or would someday be---for me?” (p. 39). Though Kurtz recognized Segovia’s fallibility, it seemed nothing could blur his image of perfection.

The audience also exerted an influence on Kurtz, as his desire to be Segovia became entangled in the possibility of affecting others, not just to share music with them, but to feel their adoring applause. His practice goals then, in being shaped by the larger-than-life figure of Segovia, are also inevitably guided by the possibility of commanding awe, and perhaps even devotion from listeners.

Each of us likely has a musical figure that we admire for one reason or another. As a young student, I was encouraged to listen to a number of pianists performing the pieces I was studying, deciding which interpretations I liked and figuring out why. It is easy to see how practicing can become an exercise in imitation. When you find what you like, work toward that pianist’s rendition of a piece.

Once evaluation enters the learning cycle, perfecting various styles can become increasingly important. Encouraging a student to participate in competitions might perpetuate this idea, as adjudicators state their interpretive preferences, or make comments like, “You did not play this in the Baroque style,” potentially discouraging creativity.

What is a teacher to do then, in order to allow students to take creative risks while informing them of performance practice? Already, I incorporate unstructured improvisation time during piano lessons, during which students can experiment with sounds, following their own thought process. At times, students are given some structure through the use of an underlying chord progression I provide, over which they improvise a melody.

I am also not opposed to teaching the “style” of a piece, subsequently having a student agree or disagree with the interpretation. “Breaking the rules” in performance is another issue though. Just recently, I overheard some students say that they feel they must play like “the recording” in order to obtain good marks. Determining one’s own unique goals remains a challenge within the widely-accepted norm.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Beat of Boyle Street!

Blog #4) The Beat of Boyle Street!

Lashua, B. (2006). “Just Another Native?” Soundscapes, Chorasters, and Borderlands in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies, 6(3), 391-410.


This article was written to outline the dynamics and theoretical constructs that underlie The Beat of Boyle Street, an in-school recreation-based project that teaches inner-city, at-risk youth to make music using computers and audio production software; the article discusses soundscapes created by youth participating in this project. The author, Brett Lashua, used The Beat of Boyle Street as a site for his doctoral research. Most of the participants are Aboriginal “at-risk” youth, ranging in age from 14-20. The soundscape examples in the paper show how young people a) use and negotiate popular culture, b) politically use and contest city spaces, and c) act as “border crossers”. As the author puts it, “these points call attention to the power of popular cultural practices as leisure and provide insights for working with young people in recreational contexts”.

The article describes three different soundscapes that students involved in The Beat of Boyle Street have created. The article seeks to understand the “poetics and politics of soundscapes”, essentially what the soundscapes say about young people’s experiences as representational texts, and how the soundscapes are made as lived practices within particular power relationships (politics). The author examines these questions using a cultural studies approach. Through music, The Beat of Boyle Street opens up a politicized space for representation and recognizes the value and importance of difference. Author Brett Lashua offers a theoretical framework for his paper, including in it social/cultural dynamics explored by Fiske and his notion of popular culture, Frith who noted that there was no such thing as the passive consumption of music (1983), de Cetteau who claimed that consumption is a symbolically creative, artistic activity (1984), Rojek who refers to the tactics that consumers use as “the capacity to play with the codes of consumption and subvert them” (2000), and Dimitriadis who looks at semiotic approaches to studying popular culture (2001). The practices and values of The Beat of Boyle Street have many of these theories embedded within the projects. The Beat of Boyle Street starts by using the investment that young people have already made in popular music, dance, and dress, and allows youth the space to create music in an atmosphere that values and support the gifts and talents that they bring to the project (Lashua, 2006). The project, which is still a vibrant, active part of the community in Edmonton, involved two groups of five students for each of the four terms that compose a school year (10 weeks per term). Each group met during four 80 minute periods per week.

Another dimension to the theoretical framework around which this project is based involved the notion of “Popcultural Chorasters”, derived from Plato’s term “Chora”, which he defied as the space between being and becoming. This term was used to represent the space that gives birth to the lived experiences of human beings, as it is open to many possibilities (Wearing & Wearing, 1996). One of the soundscapes that Lashua described is used as an example of the notion of the choraster, in that the woman who created the soundscape brought meaning to the space by using her own position in her own culture.

Soundscape #1: This soundscape was created by a young man named Shannon who created a freestyle rap about the various subway stations he was passing by. He addressed racism and expresses himself through this medium. An excerpt from his rap:

Scrub with a bus pass, scrub with a bus pass, yo, scrub with a bus pass,

Yo that’s me, that’s me, yo that’s me, six foot three treaty Cree in the goatee,

Known around with my flow from the 780.

Scrub with a bus that’s me, bring it back like that .

Getting mental with the pencil, heard all around Central, evidental ,

’cause I got mad skill , heard from Boyle Street, and I Human, and Churchill

when I thrill, spill, over the off the top,

Going to your cranium, like I be speaking Ukrainian, but how can that be when I’m

Aboriginal - Canadian?

Soundscape #2: “Christine” created soundscape #2 which began as a field experiment about who would say hello in response to her. She and Brett walked through malls and through streets, talking about how we look at and perceive others. She wrote a soundscape poem reflecting how she felt about being judged based on her appearance. She claimed that people probably thought she was “Just another Native”. Through her poem, she established her positionality within the space she was operating, the city space. Christine used her poem to outline her questions and opinions about identity as well as meaning construction. She viewed people in a certain way and created meaning for herself by positioning herself in a particular way, as well as acknowledging how she felt people viewed her. There is a significant tension with regards to identity in that she is constructing it largely on the basis of other people’s perceptions however; “doing” of the soundscapes” through her poem and “doing of her appearance” through her clothing (Lashua, 2006) allowed her to negotiate issues of difference. Here is as excerpt from her soundscape poem:

People look stressed, busy, and tired . . .

They’re in their own thoughts . . .

Walking up the stairs . . .

Childhood memories . . .

Different nationalities . . .

But no one’s saying “hello” back . . .

Childhood memories . . .

They probably just think:

‘Another Native’ from the way I’m dressed.

Soundscape #3: This soundscape was created by Bryan who was caught between a history of familial problems including crime and alcoholism, and a desire to learn and grow out of and away from these extrinsic conflicts. He asked Brett many intriguing questions about why he needed to go to school and whether the soundscape he was creating qualified as music. His soundscape highlighted many issues around ideological issues of race, masculinity, alcohol and drugs, and education. There are also examples of indications of the ways that racist ideology works when conflict arises, specifically in regards to how Bryan thinks people view him, and how he counters it. Here is an excerpt from Bryan’s spoken-word poem:

Woke in the morning, about 8 o’ clock,

Had a cigarette, then caught the bus

It was cold and raining

Two stupid little guys were looking at me and seemed like they wanted to start some

shit because I’m a _____, and they got on my nerves . . .

I had to keep my mouth shut ’ cause I was on the bus and didn’t want to get booted

off . . .

They probably thought I was some sort of bad Indian

Or some shit . . .

Analysis and Application:

Lashua sees the process of young people sampling and remixing music as a metaphor for how they construct and are constructed (in terms of identity) by the culture around them. Their soundscapes work within a scope of politics of representation; there are politically complex effects of representation within their worlds and within broader social worlds. Ultimately, hip-hop, the basis for many of the soundscapes created may become a powerful expression of being Native, and a hopeful celebration of culture, youth, and survival. This project can offer ways for the youth to move from terms like “bad Indian” or “just another Native” to terms like Aboriginal storyteller, choraster, and producer.

The insights provided by Lashua through his extensive work with the many young people involved in the project has provided a unique lens through which to examine political issues surrounding youth including identity and racism. I have found it particularly critical to my understanding of allowing autonomy within the learning process. So often, we assign content and ask for answers, a process which is restrictive and lacking in creativity. What I learned (amoung many things) from this article was the power of opportunity and the power of observation. There is a plethora of material available throughout the city in its “natural” form. The opportunity for self-expression and exploration of ideologies and constructs at work emerges from providing youth with the chance to autonomously engage in what is going on all around them, as exemplified in this study.

Lashua closes his article by pointing out that “soundscapes are stories partially told, yet they must additionally be heard”, so I am attaching the link to The Beat of Boyle Street website. I hope you get a chance to enjoy some of the work these young and talented people have put out.


Bennett, A. (2000). Popular music and youth culture: Music, identity, and place. London:


de Certeau, M. (1984). The practices of everyday life. London: Routledge.

Dimitriadis, G. (2001b). “In the clique”: Popular culture, constructions of place, and the

everyday lives of urban youth. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 32(1), 29-51.

Fiske, J. (1989). Understanding popular culture. London: Routledge.

Frith, S. (1983). Sound effects: Youth, leisure, and the politics of rock. London: Constable.

Rojek, C. (2000). Leisure and culture. London: MacMillan.

Silent illumination: a study on Chan (Zen) meditation, anxiety and musical performance quality.

This article published by “Psychology of Music” 2008, features a study by P. Lin (Columbia Universit), J. Chang (City University of New York), V. Zemon (Yeshiva University), ad E. Midlarsky (Columbia University). The purpose of the study was to investigate the effect of meditation on musical performance quality, and on performance anxiety. The hypothesis was that practising meditation would lead to control anxiety resulting in better performance quality. The literature review establishes connections between performance anxiety and other types of phobias. It also enumerates the usual strategies used to cope with performance anxiety such as drug use and relaxation techniques. The Chan meditation technique applied to an experimental group in the study aims at experiencing life fully as it unfolds—moment by moment. This is referred to as silent illumination.
Opposite to the hypothesis, the results of the study found that the experimental group performance quality increased as the anxiety level increased too. The researches then speculate on the correlation of the variables. Furthermore, the details of the method admit great inconsistency in the application of the treatment. Overall, it is not clear to me what the study argues. However, the fact that such a study took place did trigger some thought in regards to the issue of performance anxiety.
I notice in the study is that the meditation technique was never part of the practise routine of the musicians. They did probably practise meditation before practising music, but meditation was not embedded in the music practise time, combined with musical activities as intrinsic components of the items in the musical exercises. We don’t seem to realise that the way we practise, or the way we encourage practice is anxiety provoking; we don’t realise that performance anxiety is in part the result of how we teach and practise. This separation between what we uncritically assumed to be correct (i.e.: practise), and what seemingly out of the blue creates a conflict (i.e.: performance anxiety), could be compared to an obese individual jogging daily basis to lose weight, without changing an unhealthy diet. I observe that many of the issues that music education aims to address are applied as “ad on” as opposed to change. In the case of the study mentioned above, the practise habits remained the same with the ad on of meditation. I suspect, and I have proved it to myself, that in order to rid the player form anxiety, there must be a change in the relationship with music, that is the daily practise and beyond.
In our practise habits we tend to resist change a great deal. Practising performance, with increasing levels of pressure such as performing for teacher, then to colleague, then to family, then to friend, then to concert hall, then on TV, does not address the reason at the bottom of the problem. It is a similar approach at increasing the number of hours to develop more technique, when the reason for ineffective technique may be bad posture, lack of concentration, or tension. My theory is that we do not practise performing on daily basis. What I mean by practising performance, I don’t necessarily mean practise in front of someone else. I believe that the intelligent pedagogue has to identify which cognitive and mental faculties are necessary for successful performance, and then, through different strategies, those faculties need to be addressed, exercised and assimilated on daily basis. For instance, one faculty that we seldom include in practise routines is the full minded playing. Kenwood Dennard, to whom I have referred to in the past, suggests 15 minutes of daily practise with 100 per cent focus of mind; this is practising the state of mind we use in a performing situation. Even if we perform for a friend we would be using that mental state that would be unprepared. Another quality we do not practise is the cancellation of the inner dialogue. From the readings, it becomes clear that the inner negative mental dialogue with one’s own minds (“I am about to make a mistake”) is very common—I thought it was just me. By performing in front of people more and more, all we do is exposing ourselves to the mental dialogue more frequently to the point of becoming familiar with the malfunction, but I ask the intelligent pedagogue, what are we actively doing to remedy this problem. I do disregard more public exposure as a solution. From the ones I have tried that are effective I can mention engaging the mind in a musical task such singing the lines or humming the rhythm. The mental dialogue is a diversion of attention, therefore practising attention is an important item in the routine. The performer need to find ways to keep the mind engaged in activities that bring the focus into the music.
I can say now, that when I perform my best is indeed in front of an audience; this is also in part because I came to understand that the most important element in a performance is indeed the audience. I think that the N. 1 problem with performance anxiety is the presence of the ego. As a music educator, the hardest obstacle to teach, and for the student to make progress is the student’s ego. In fact, many of the affirmative thinking recommended but some of the meditating techniques I would argue would have counter-productive effects because they are ego-reaffirming. For instance, a visualization of a successful performance, leads the performer to see himself as a successful performer not connected to reality and to who he is, but rather to who he wished we was, i.e. his egotistical image of himself. The reason why live performing is anxiety provoking, is because the performer is not using the performance as a means to communicate with the audience; in fact, the anxious performer misuses the performance to satisfy his ego, making a bunch of innocent people sit and watch how well—or not so well—he can do this or that. What the anxious performer seeks is not rapport with the audience but approval. I think that music education needs to develop an approach to performing in which several forms of live performance accommodate for the varying levels of personal maturity of the performer. As educators we need to develop other aspects of performing in performers such as establishing rapport with the audience, and enjoying the attention of an audience through strategies that are well paced, increasingly graded, even removed from musical material. As instrumental teachers we spend the time working on the technique and the expression of the music; none of that teaches performance. We assume that because we know the music we can perform. Nothing more far from the truth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Look in the mirror. Are you a teacher or a performer?

Roberts, B. (2004). Who’s in the mirror? Issues Surrounding the Identity Construction of Music Educators. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education (3)2.

This article was based on a lecture given at Richland College, Dallas, Texas.

It opens with two versions of an introduction given about Roberts. The first focuses on his career as a music educator---where he teaches, publications. The second focuses on his career as a performer---where he studied, recently performed works, where he has performed. The latter he mentions because “most musicians tend to believe only other musicians about musical things” (p. 4). This sets the foundation for the main concern of the article, which is the process of a willing identification of students as music teachers.

He is particularly interested in “how [a student] convinces [oneself] and others…that [one] is a musician” (p. 3) and how you or I might come to convince ourselves that being a teacher is a desirable way to describe ourselves.

Role identity is therefore of primary interest. Executing acts as a musician or teacher is what defines one’s role as a musician or teacher. So, if I want to call myself a teacher, then I should teach. This label is one that he has found, through interviews with music education students, to be a difficult one to accept, because of a need to support the part of one’s identity that is a musician.

According to Roberts, the music school community plays a very important role in identification. To begin with, music students already feel bound together and separated from other university students because of their pursuit of musical studies. Roberts further identifies sub-groups within this community and looks specifically at music education majors and performance majors. Groupings are further reinforced by the fairly inflexible set of courses set by the institution. The result is a tight-knit group in which “differences between members are stressed [italics in text]” (p. 12). This usually leads to perceived, and perhaps exaggerated, differences in performing ability, such that performers are defined to be superior to those in other programs.

Difficulty arises when students with an interest in other areas of music maintain a desire to develop as performers. According to Roberts, “students report frequent examples of members of faculty treating those ‘non-serious’ students with disdain or worse” (p. 13).

Roberts then highlights the idea of “status points”, which are used by students to establish themselves as musicians within a hierarchy. To succeed, the “points” are gained by:
    a) attaining good marks in school
    b) going to a top-rated school
    c) being involved with classical music
    d) being a senior student, particularly in a performance program (in certain schools, seniors and/or those in performance are given priority in ensembles, for certain roles, etc.)
    e) playing a particular instrument
    f) studying with a particular applied music teacher
    g) involvement in the right type of ensemble (if an audition is required, more points!)
    h) being in a particular program (since performance programs provide more opportunity to perform, this is at the top)

The result is that being a music student is still equated with being a musician, and usually, this means being a performer. Of course, not everyone is as concerned with becoming a performer. For those in this situation, others impose the label, “non-serious musician” (p. 24).

For the music education student, being labeled a musician is continually sought. As a result, one’s music teacher identity becomes secondary, and sometimes, of little importance.

Upon entry into the teaching profession, music teachers are less able to identify with the teacher group as a whole. Roberts therefore concludes that the music identification process is “like a war, where the teaching self and the musician self battle it out for control over the person” (p. 38).

Thinking back to undergraduate auditions for music education and performance programs in various schools, I realize that I primarily thought of myself as a pianist who had many years of studio teaching experience. By the time I started my Music Education Degree, I had already taught for 10 years. I had not differentiated between the two supposedly separate identities of performer and teacher.

In fact, upon entering the program, I didn’t think that I was any less a pianist, until I started to get the impression that as a music education student, not everyone thought of me as equally capable. Despite being admitted to every program to which I had applied, I suppose being away from music studies (I completed a different degree before this) had already made me a bit self-conscious, because I started to wonder whether I could really play at all.

A particular classroom experience is still vivid…
The teacher asked for a sight-reading volunteer for a rather easy piece. Upon calling on a student, the teacher asked, “Are you in Performance?” Turned out the student was in Music Education. “Can I have someone in Performance?” was the next question.

With less time to practice as a result of course work and a demanding out-of-school job, I became more and more disappointed with my music-making. The hesitation to call myself a pianist began, aided by the exacerbated feeling that I was also becoming a non-musician in others’ eyes. Though I never hesitated to say that I was in Music Ed, I didn’t enjoying feeling compelled to choose a camp, so to speak. I was also starting to realize that expectations surrounding my playing were now lower (or at least that’s how it felt), though perhaps consistent with the short lesson time span. For someone that loved both to play and teach, the tension was not easily assuaged.

The influence of the music community, in my case, and apparently in the case of the many students interviewed by Roberts, is profound. I am still asked who I studied with, and reading through concert programs, apprenticeship under certain teachers is still an important part of bios. These big-name teachers are those who are themselves incredible performers, with a reputation for producing other incredible performers.

Interrogating the student teacher experience is rightfully seen by Roberts to be important, as teachers will likely propagate the same identification process in their students.

There is a positive side to all this, of course. I find that I am always mindful of why I choose to teach and why I choose to play. Not that this mindfulness allows me to define my identity in any simple way (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to accurately label it. Maybe I don’t have to, except on a business card). But it does mean that when I teach, I am aware of the messages I might be instilling in my students.

Blog #3) The Rex: “Where Jazz Lives”

Blog #3) The Rex: “Where Jazz Lives”

In the (almost) heart of downtown Toronto, the small, unassuming, quiet corner of Queen and St. Patrick Street hosts some of North America’s best and brightest jazz folk on an (almost) daily basis. The Rex Hotel, established in the late 80s is a “retro-chic” play on the standard, be-boping, horn-wailing jazz establishments found in New York City, a prime stomping ground for jazz and jazz artists throughout the 20th century and to this day. In the style of New York City’s Birdland and 55 bar, The Rex strikes a wonderful balance between laid-back artists and high-energy performances. The dimly lit, frequently packed bar features a tiny stage in the front on the right. Musicians often spillover onto the floor in front and sometimes off to the side near the door. The second floor features a number of guest rooms, as it is in fact a hotel.

The music is incredibly broad ranging, featuring styles that stretch from hard bop to acid jazz. There is often pop-flavoured jazz, vocal jazz, rhythm and blues, and big band jazz. Inherent within the structure of the establishment is an apprenticeship model based on early jazz clubs like Birdland, where younger musicians would come in to learn by watching the seasoned musicians play for hours. Eventually, the younger musicians would (if they were lucky enough) be asked to come up onstage and join in. Many seasoned jazz musicians frequent The Rex including teachers at institutions such as the University of Toronto and Humber College. Often, these musicians bring their students to “jam” on Monday nights, the night specifically designated for musicians who attend these institutions. Other times, a big band will be arranged in which seasoned musician and amateur student will be playing side-by-side. I see this as following the traditional model, which taught musicians such as John Coltrane (who learned from Charlie Parker) and Wynton Marsalis (who learned from Art Blakey) how to play. Although traditional in this sense, the modern aspect of this practice comes through in the extremely wide range of musical genres heard at the Rex. Many varieties of instrument groupings, ensemble sizes, and musical styles are found on any given day.

The social nature of the establishment is evident in that the community is very tight knit, yet very welcoming. Many of the players know each other, or have studied under the same teachers. Although a large number of the players leave the city (oftentimes to go to New York to study or gig), they frequently perform at the Rex when they are back in Toronto. This consistency also contributes to the familiarity of the place.

Atmospherically, the Rex is very intimate. Dark, sometimes crowded, but always laid back, the unassuming exterior and informal interior mirrors the outward attitudes and appearances of many of the musicians. The walls are covered with pictures of jazz legends past and present, and many of the photos were taken in the Rex itself. The space is slightly crowded but very cozy. Midway through a set, the musician(s) will generally hang out in the crowd and mingle, and typically the musician(s) know many audience members. As the tip jar floats around in between sets, the musicians often joke around about need for generous contributions as they are in need of bus fare. All of these facets of The Rex contribute to its intimate atmosphere.

The commonly prevalent gap between performer and audience that so often surfaces in Western classical performances is all but eliminated at The Rex. Whether it is because the stage is so close to the seating, or because most of the time the performers know many audience members, or whether it has to do with the more relaxed and acutely unique energy of the music itself, the performers are very much a part of the audience, and the audience is infused within the performance. The standard acknowledgement of a soloist’s improvisation allows the audience to interject and permeate the divide between the stage and the seating, allowing for a more intimate relationship between the two “social classes” that surface as a result of the stage set-up.

The Rex offers the traditional features of a classic jazz bar, but with just enough informality to make it genuinely intimate and inviting. I argue that it is one of the most “authentic” jazz spots in Toronto, as it invites the blurring of the lines between performer and audience and between teacher and student. The Rex, with its apprenticeship-based structure pays homage to the jazz greats of the 20th century, and invites young and upcoming artists to add to the tradition without any fear of straying too far from it. The opportunity for eclectic new styles is ample, and the support for young artists is immense. Students frequently pack the bar just as much if not more than seasoned jazz lovers and professional musicians. In an age where jazz is being institutionalized and “Classical-ified”, the Rex fights back and opens its doors to allow for free-flowing, improvisatory and extremely varied creativity, a tribute to the art form itself.