Sheila Guymer: Genre as frame in elite performers' interpretative decision-making 27:55
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 9, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Sheila Guymer (conférencier)
This paper presents some key results from a doctoral study undertaken by the author into elite performers’ decision making. Professional concert soloists spend many hours developing and refining their performances via a complex process of decision making. In creating their interpretations, they draw on both the ‘fact-oriented, declarative knowledge’ of traditional musicology, and their ‘action-oriented, procedural knowledge’ (Cook 2014: 333) acquired through decades of training and experience. Some performers aim to pass on the fruits of their experience to students, and it is in the lesson studio that performers most frequently and openly share their concepts and processes in both the literary and aural/oral strands of the Western ‘art’ music tradition.
This study draws on over 20 hours of ethnographic lesson-interview material collected by the author (herself a professional pianist) in one-to-one lessons with four elite fortepianists (Malcolm Bilson, Robert Levin, Tom Beghin, and Bart van Oort). The data was analysed using techniques of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, complemented by analysis of the interviewees’ commercially-released recordings. The study also referenced the interviewees’ published research.
The lessons focused on Classical Viennese repertoire, including Mozart’s Sonata in B- flat major, K. 333; Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob: XVI: 52, and Beethoven’s Sonata in E, Op. 109. These sonatas cover a period of significant change in piano design (1783-1820), and provide an opportunity to explore not only three significant works of the Classical style, but also how these fortepianists respond to difference instruments and editions. As Daniel Bangert (2012: 1) points out, ‘the complexities of musical decision-making are brought into focus by considering historically informed performance (HIP), in which performers must reconcile extensive historical and contemporary writings on performance practice with their personal judgement.’ In other words, HIP performers regularly negotiate the tensions and connections between their declarative and tacit knowledge in their interpretative decision- making.
To date, much of the focus of analytically driven studies of performance (as distinct from studies in historical performance practices) has been on nineteenth century piano music, or fundamentally shaped by late nineteenth-century conceptions of the performer’s role, especially in matters of expression and analysis. In empirically driven studies, the kinds of tasks that performers are often asked to do may be considered contrived or limited, compared with what performers normally do, and this kind of research design may (albeit inadvertently) skew the data. Also, there has been a focus on student performances that arguably cannot penetrate to understanding the concepts and processes used by experienced, elite musicians. Studies undertaken by or with professional performers rarely include in-depth, comparative analysis of the interpretative processes used by several elite musicians; or else focus on interpretations of shorter pieces rather than of the complex, large-scale works (such as complete sonatas) often programmed in solo recitals.
This project explored such questions as: How do professional performers draw on their ‘informed intuition’ (Rink 1990)? How are various kinds of declarative knowledge, such as those presented in analyses and historical treatises, used by performers? What do scores signify to performers interpreting them? How do the affordances of specific instruments, or the social contexts and acoustics of different performance venues, influence their decision- making? How do they analyse another’s performances, as teachers do frequently when providing feedback to their performance students; and what does that feedback reveal of their own priorities, values, and perspectives in the interpretative process? What does the lesson context demonstrate about the dynamics between the literary (including scores) and the aural/oral in the practice of Western art music?
This paper focuses on two important results of the study: (1) it suggests that musicologists use a model of ethnographically-realised sensemaking (rather than conventional score analysis) as an analytical basis for researching performers’ decision making; and (2) that genre is a significant but generally overlooked consideration in performers’ interpretative processes. Particularly, I argue that elite performers use concepts of genre (and generic references such as topics) as expressive frames. The finding that expert decision making in music uses conceptual frames correlates with studies of expert decision making in other fields; for example, Gary Klein et al (2007) proposed what they call a data-frame theory of sensemaking. In brief, their model suggests that expert decision makers infer (usually from incomplete, but rapidly comprehended data) a conceptual frame by identifying within the data a pattern with which they are familiar. That category or frame both conditions what other data is identified, and the resulting choices of action; albeit that over time, the ‘first choice’ may be refined and perhaps even replaced, although replacing a ‘first choice’ frame is rare with experts. Indeed, the rapidity and accuracy with which experts choose a frame may seem like intuition or ESP. Klein et al argue this is because a key difference between experts and novices is that experts have a much richer and more nuanced range of frames that they can identify; in other words, experts are ‘primed’ by prior experience to recognise and act on particular frames. Because experts have knowledge of many more frames, they can identify what features in the data are relevant for their choices more accurately, more appropriately, and much more quickly than novices.
This paper suggests that elite performers use concepts of genre as frames in their decision making processes, and the author will discuss examples from the lesson-interviews. While conceptual framing is discussed in such studies as Chaffin, Imreh et al (2003), the specific role of genre, and the links between genre and musical character have not been sufficiently explored. By comparison, the topical variety of the high Classical Viennese repertoire selected for this study affords rich opportunities for discussing genre and generic references.