With the FormingPerforming project I’ve explored the complex processes involved in learning a new piece of music, and I have used my own practice as a research object for the project.
I was lucky to get access to a work of high quality, which had not been recorded before: the Danish composer Paul von Klenau’s Piano Concerto from 1943. Probably as the only living Danish pianist I have previously performed piano music by Klenau, primarily his f – minor Sonata. The concerto is from the same period as this sonata, which gave me a good starting point for my work. (See About Paul von Klenau)
So: On the one hand, the work was completely “virgin” and therefore a very suitable material to use for exploring my work processes from “scratch”. There was no previous performance history to which I could relate and which could affect my understanding of the piece. I also expected some elements to be of an unfamiliar technical or musical nature, so that I had to find new ways to work with them without taking advantage of previous experiences from other piano works. On the other hand, the work is traditionally written, so that I still could use much of the embedded experience, that I have achieved through my many years of work on the piano.
With the easy access to video and audio documentation, performing artists have gained an eminent tool for self-development. But we have just started scratching the surface of these possibilities. It is common for classical musicians to record concerts as well as to “play through” in the practice room and record it, but I do not know of any examples, where musicians systematically have documented their practice in order to reflect on it.
Thus, I simply chose to record my practice on the piano concerto with a good quality video camera (A “Zoom Q3”). I did not record all of my practice – the resulting workload would be far too big – but smaller parts of it with the duration of 5-10 minutes. Since the goal was not only to document, but also to develop my processes, I watched the videos straight away and wrote down my observations. The idea was initially to initiate a personal process where I could both consciously identify aspects of my practice (how do I actually do?) and improve it (how can I do it better?). (See About recording yourself)
Later, I have had good experiences by showing these videos to others and discussing them, both with colleagues at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and others who work with artistic research. I have also used the recordings in several group lessons with my piano students as a basis for discussing how to practise.
A selection of the videos is available on YouTube. This e-book contains my reflections and realizations from the project and it is filled with specific links to these videos. I expect to record the piano concerto at the label “Dacapo”.
A great deal has been written about the various aspects of practising on a musical instrument, and in recent years the area has begun to expand. The literature is primarily divided into two categories:
Scientific research on the subject, typically conducted by musicians in collaboration with psychologists, brain researchers, sports researchers etc. The results here are scientific articles and the content is generally not widely known in the professional music world. Here the practice of musicians is an object of the analysis and understanding of other fields.
Professional musicians´ books, articles or websites with ideas, methods and generally good advice on the subject. These are typically experience-based and the way of communication is good in line with the core of the traditional way of learning a musical instrument, which is “the good example”. These materials exist in quite large numbers, but I do not know many musicians and music students who orientate themselves in these examples of “best practice” on a regular basis Perhaps because of insecurity in changing their own practice which has already shown good results.
With the project’s starting point in artistic research, I thought it interesting to try out a third approach. By opening up my own practice, it might be possible to create a mediatorial tool, which could not only begin my own reflection but also in a very direct way might inspire others to ask similar questions about their own practice. In this way, the project may also be of interest to other than pianists or professional musicians. Reflecting in a critical manner on your own artistic processes is, after all, crucial to all art forms. (See About practice)
This e-book, which is an important part of the project’s presentation, relates both to my videos and to the reflections I have made in the process. It will probably be of immediate interest for other professional musicians and music students. But at the same time, I have taken advantage of the possibility of – in a general way – putting words to the central part of the development of the knowledge base for a classical musician, which the practice constitutes. I have often had the experience, that many people, even within the art environments, are not fully aware of what actually takes place during the many hours in a classical musician’s practice room. I have even encountered the view, that the strong restrictions that we have on our artistic expression, because of the stringency of the notes, can lead to a kind of unreflected reproduction of the work, which at best belongs to the past and, at worst, can’t be called real art at all. That this is far from the truth, I hope my project may help to show. (See About Interpretation).
Finally, I have also tried to find examples in more traditional fields of research, which my reflections could be inspired by. I have looked widely into theories of cognition and learning, but instead of continuously referring to many different sources, I have chosen to concentrate on a single researcher, Marc Jeannerod. In the section About scientific research, I justify this choice.
Also, the form of the final presentation is a point by itself: The links directly to relevant places in the videos remind us, that while the reflections have a linguistic expression, the practice is not language-based and I think that the two types of human behavior have to be in dialogue with each other, if you are to gain new insights in this area. At the same time, the many links in the text to my own experiences are both a guide to the reader, but also emphasizing the non-linear nature of the project. The reader can follow different paths in the text, according to her interest – or she can read it from the beginning to the end.