Bridging the Music Performance Gap

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Presentation Description

This is a presentation that Composer Travis J. Weller and Dr. J. Pisano presented at the PMEA 2009 Conference. Titled: Bridging the Gap Between the Composers, Audience, and Performers. It details the thought process of the composer (compostional intent), the educational benefits of bringing a composer into the performance venue, and the technology that can make this types of opportunites happen "virtually".

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Slide 1: 

Bridging the Gap Between the Composers, Performers, and Audience

Bridging the Gap Between the Composers, Performers, and Audience : 

Bridging the Gap Between the Composers, Performers, and Audience 2009 PMEA Clinic –Dr. J. Pisano and Travis J. Weller

What this session is… : 

What this session is… About a qualitative study that considers the educational impact of bringing composers into our performance venues –whether physically or “virtually” A look at the communication that exists from the composers to the audience A discussion about the RICH HERITAGE of our instrumental music ensembles A glimpse of the thoughts of students as they consider their role as performers A dialogue with the composers as they talk about “compositional intent” An “out of the box” idea that allows for a more immersive educational experience

Why does the original thought behind a composition matter? : 

Why does the original thought behind a composition matter? Without getting too philosophical, it matters because it was the wellspring from which the composition sprung. Composers write because they have something to say; they have something to communicate. Their writings embody thoughts, emotions, concepts, as well as complex mathematics. In essence, they write to be HEARD. All music is some form of communication. Even John Cage’s famous composition, 4’33” was meant to be “heard” AND… what a discussion that started!

Communications flow as it relates to a typical instrumental music concert or performance… : 

Communications flow as it relates to a typical instrumental music concert or performance… All musical performances have three necessary components to them. In an abstract form, each component may be thought of as a sub-part of the greater whole of a complete communication dialogue…. …a dialogue between the composer, performers (conductor and musicians), and the audience.

The Composer as the author and originator of thoughts and ideas… : 

The Composer as the author and originator of thoughts and ideas… No matter what reason a composer may decide to put “pen to paper”, their works are a product of their experiences, beliefs, surroundings, and creative ideas. A composition may convey a concrete thought such as the liberation one’s country, an emotional thought such as the liberation of one’s heart, or a spiritual thought such as the liberation of one’s soul. The composer is literally morphing and crafting a conceived idea into a musical existence.

In what way are composers able to communicate their thoughts through and about their compositions? : 

In what way are composers able to communicate their thoughts through and about their compositions? Without musicians to perform their music, the composer is silenced before they are ever heard. The composition itself will speak to the performers and through them to any listening audience…but is the composition itself (the written music) conveying the entire original intent of the composer through its native musical language? …MANY TIMES, CONDUCTORS NEVER UNDERSTAND THEMSELVES THE INTENT OF THE COMPOSER AND A CHAIN REACTION OF MISCOMMUNICATION AND LACK OF INFORMATION RESULTS.REALITY CHECK: How many of your ensemble students are able to tell you anything about a piece before the read about it in the program notes or, possibly, hear them for the first time at the concert? Do they remember the composers? If they liked a piece –are they able to connect with it and explain why?

The Performers as a communication conduit : 

The Performers as a communication conduit The conductor of any music ensemble has many responsibilities, perhaps greatest of them all is the responsibility to the composers of whose music he or she is conducting. The conductor becomes the chief arbiter and mediator between the composers and the audience; the performers become the voice and the dialog is only complete when it heard by the audience. In a sense the conduit of information from the composer to the audience is analogous to the nature of the existence of a “sound” itself…

The existence of sound and the conduit of a musical performance : 

The existence of sound and the conduit of a musical performance The conduit needed for sound communication: It must be originated and generated though vibration It must travel through a medium It must be heard So… if a tree falls in the forest and nobody was there to listen, did it make a sound? Was some type of communication established aurally? The conduit of a musical performance: A composition must be originated and generated by a composer It must travel though a performance medium It must be heard So, if a composer writes a composition and nobody is there to hear it (or perform it -since they would hear it) did they really communicate with anybody? Sure -maybe it was a cathartic exercise!

Why should this type of communication this matter to band directors? : 

Why should this type of communication this matter to band directors? The rich heritage that our instrumental ensembles have is a direct result of the body of literature (compositions) created by past and present composers. Band Directors are/become the heritage bearers of instrumental music. Looking to the past to preserve our heritage: We would not have the instrumental ensembles of today without the composers that created the music for them to play. Looking at the present: If we believe in this heritage, we will continue the musical conversation of composers, past and present, though performances of their works. Looking toward the future: We must seek music that is in the spirit of our heritage and contributes to the continuation of the musical conversations that composers will have with future listeners.

Other than the music itself, how do the performers find more information about compositional intent? : 

Other than the music itself, how do the performers find more information about compositional intent? Many composers write their own program notes and detailed descriptions about the piece in the score. Many conductors and musicians are able to have discussions with the composers about their compositions. Often, these discussions are written into various forms and become a valued reference that helps us better understand the original compositional intent of the music. Composers, many times, are able conduct their pieces themselves and/or pass on additional information orally both to the performers and the audience. .. THIS SCENARIO IS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL INVOLVED.

Making more opportunities for these “GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES” by incorporating technololgy : 

Making more opportunities for these “GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES” by incorporating technololgy Most schools do not have copious amounts of money to invest into the typical cost of bringing a composer into school program for rehearsal or to direct a concert. However, by integrating certain type of technologies into the performance venues (such as a band concert), we open an entire world of collaborative educational experiences at fractions when compared to some of the non-technological alternatives. In a first of its kind (we believe) in May of 2008, at a high school band concert in Mercer PA -IP-based computer video-conferencing technology was used to “SKYPE” three composers into a live performance venue to talk about their pieces being performed at the concert. This concert was an “out-of –the-box” idea to create a fully immersive and complete conversation between all participants, the composer, the conductor and the performers, and the audience. Not unlike having a composer physically at the concert, we were able to have them present in a virtual from with two-way visual and audio communications.

The educational impact of these types of “Golden Opportunities” from the eyes of our student performers: : 

The educational impact of these types of “Golden Opportunities” from the eyes of our student performers: “The performers and the audience need to hear the composers’ point of view to better shape their view of the performance. I think the composers needed to hear how their music was being interpreted and how the audience received their work.” “By introducing the audience to the composer they [the audience] may better understand the story that is trying to be told…if the performers have fully developed understanding of it -it will be easier for them to retell the story.” “The concert was a learning experience of what the background [of the piece] was and what the composer thought. It showed me that composers create music for a purpose.” “I didn’t realize just how much of the composers feelings carries through to the audience and to the performers. I sometimes think it gets lost in the translation.”

From the vantage point of the performers continued... : 

From the vantage point of the performers continued... “It’s always neat to see people who create things – I always think of authors, painters, and composers as dead.. but then you have to realize that a lot of the creators are not [dead]. It made the composers more real to me.” “As performers, we can better understand and appreciate WHY they wrote the piece, hopefully the audience can see where we both are coming from.” “You can get a better idea as to the composers feeling toward the piece that the audience would not have understood.” “It was nice to be able to understand why the piece was written and what certain parts (melodies, harmonies, rhythm) of the song represents (to see a different point of view). “I think the composers convey a message to the performers who then convey the same message to the audience”. I think the SKYPE cast made the concert much more interesting and immersive to the audience.

From the composers viewpoint: what is gained by these types of golden opportunities? : 

From the composers viewpoint: what is gained by these types of golden opportunities? Thoughts from composer, Brian Balmages: “It gives them a first-hand glimpse at the composer behind the music. Not just a name, but a face and a personality. Since the point of music is to communicate intent, it is always extremely helpful for the ensemble and audience to have additional insight into the composer himself. Very often, we program music with no knowledge of the composer whatsoever. In some cases, directors research the composer to come up with a bio, but very rarely does the conductor, ensemble, and audience all have an opportunity to ‘meet’ the composer.” Thoughts from composer, Scott Watson: “Many parts of the music making process can be tied to a face: the conductor/director, the players, etc.  The composer is the most abstract, so this process [brings] us "down to earth" and into the performance.”

From the composers view point continued…, : 

From the composers view point continued…, Thoughts from composer, Andrew Boysen: “I always think it's a great opportunity when students and audience both have the chance to actually meet and interact with a live composer. Many don't consider the fact that most of these are "real," living people.”

From the composers: What connection would you like to see made consistently between your music, the performers, and the audience? : 

From the composers: What connection would you like to see made consistently between your music, the performers, and the audience? Brian Balmages: “ It all comes down to musical intent and the ability to convey the inspiration that was behind a piece. The way I see it, a conductor first must choose a piece of music that he/she finds inspiring. - students then need to see this inspiration pour from the conductor. In theory, the students then absorb the same energy and passion for the music and reflect that back onto the conductor. The entire experience then is communicated to the audience. I sometimes relate it to a 3-D movie… instead of just watching it, the goal is to immerse the audience within the music so they are no longer just the audience. It becomes an experience instead of just a concert or a performance.”

From the composers: What connection would you like to see made consistently between your music, the performers, and the audience? : 

From the composers: What connection would you like to see made consistently between your music, the performers, and the audience? Scott Watson: “I always champion the collaborative process, both during a commission/rehearsal/preparation and at the performance…Skype was [a way in which I could be] real [part of the process].” Andrew Boysen: “I think [these] experiences [are] absolutely wonderful… Skype [is] a really cool way to interact with the students and the audience. In general, I  think the most important thing is that the conductor have some feeling of responsibility to the composer, so that those result in an honest communication of the piece to both the players and the audience.”

Internal conversation intensity of a performance may tell you how well the composers intent is being understood: : 

Internal conversation intensity of a performance may tell you how well the composers intent is being understood: During the performance, a number of “internal communications” also begin to take place: The conductor reacts to the performers playing The performers react to the conductors intensity…seeking inspiration and confirmation The audience reacts to the performance though active or inactive gestures or other communicative expressions The performers react to the perception of the audience The conductor reacts to the audience, and so on. ***The composer is not an active party to these types of communications and many times never knows if his/her message was transmitted fully…

The Composers get a chance to listen to their own communication: : 

The Composers get a chance to listen to their own communication: All three of the composers insisted that they remain “online” during the performance so that they could hear the realization of their communication. All of them remarked as to how well they believed their pieces were interpreted. A conversation fully realized:Toscanini, Verdi, and The “Four Sacred Pieces”

Incorporating technology to make your own “Golden Opportunities” : 

Incorporating technology to make your own “Golden Opportunities” Free, two-way audio and video computer-based software such as SKYPE easily affords band directors the ability to perform these types of experiences. Depending upon your computer network and guidelines, you may have to enlist the assistance of your technology coordinator in this process. In addition to the free SKYPE software and an Internet ready computer, you will only need a LCD projector system, microphone for talking, and a webcam for each of the participants. Most schools have the required hardware available or can easily obtain the necessary items. *Experts into the classrooms…

Our setup… : 

Our setup… Because we integrated our setup into the auditorium sound system, it was necessary for us to have some additional sound mixers…

A view from the audience… : 

A view from the audience… This is a photo of the setup 30 minutes prior to the concert.

The composers “live” during the concert : 

The composers “live” during the concert Dr. Andrew Boysen, Dr. Scott Watson, and Mr. Brian Balmages.

Conclusions: : 

Conclusions: It is important to realize that a conversation exists between the composer and the audience and that we must make opportunities to allow for this type of discourse. The educational benefits of this type of usage of technology allowed the exact type of educational benefits to all those involved in the performance as if the composers were physically present at the concert. Technology should be incorporated when it can enhance the educational experience not when it creates confusion or simply is used for the “sake” of technology integration.

Conclusions : 

Conclusions By using technology in this setting, we were able to provide an “out-the-box” musical connection for our students, ourselves, and the audience that would have not been possible otherwise. It is our hope that music educators will consider this type of solution and continue to create other similar solutions as a means to bridge the gap between the composer, the performers, and the audience -and allow future generations of musicians to hear the conversations created by composers that have defined the heritage of the instrumental ensembles.

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