Fostering composer voice in tertiary teaching of music composition

Lörch, Lucas ; Huovinen, Erkki

Document Type: Conference presentation
Year of publication: 2020
Conference title: 25th Conference of Nordic Network for Research in Music Education, NNMPF 2020
Location of the conference venue: København, Denmark
Date of the conference: 3.-5.3.2020
Publication language: English
Institution: School of Social Sciences > Bildungspsychologie (Münzer 2012-)
Subject: 150 Psychology
370 Education
Keywords (English): higher education; music composition
Abstract: Introduction and aims. In the literature on the tertiary teaching of musical composition, one important aim of composition teachers can be found, namely helping students to discover their own “composer voice.” According to Barrett (2006), teachers might foster students’ composer voice by helping them to reflect on their artistic identity, by providing them reassurance through emotional and social support, or by encouraging them to take responsibility for their own compositional work. While this provides first ideas on the way in which teachers support students’ development of a composer voice, the exact mechanisms remain unclear. Lupton and Bruce (2010) state that the development of voice is “most underdeveloped in terms of suggesting teaching strategies“ (Lupton & Bruce, 2010, p. 276). Hence, in the present study, we analyze teachers’ strategies to foster students’ composer voice and mechanisms that connect teachers’ actions with students’ development. Method. The participants were eight teachers from six different music colleges in Sweden and Germany. The criterion for choosing teachers was that they taught Western art music composition as the main subject on Bachelor level. The composition programs centrally contained a succession of one-to-one lessons for which our participants were responsible. With each composition teacher, we performed a semi-structured interview of 53–77 minutes in duration. Central questions addressed the activities in the lessons, the development of lessons over the course of the Bachelor studies, students’ problems and progress, and adapting lessons to individual students. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, and their contents were thematically organized in order to identify recurring themes. These were that teachers fostered students’ composer voice, that they gathered and used information in pedagogical interactions, and that they suggested students’ ways how to continue their work. Then, the interviews were re-analyzed with respect to these recurring themes using narrative analysis. Results. The informants reported to gather and use information in three distinct ways in their pedagogical interactions. First, in order to sustain their students’ compositional process, teachers reported to gather information about the musical piece the student is currently writing. Based on this information, the teachers reported to provide methods to the student how to solve specific problems in the emerging piece. We think that this supports students’ development of an individual compositorial practice. Second, in order to sustain the students’ learning process, the teachers reported to gather information on their current style and state of knowledge. Based on this information, the teachers reported to suggest individualized learning activities to the students. We think that thereby, the students gain clarity about their compositional intentions and what they want to tell musically. Third, in order to sustain the students’ self-reflective process, the teachers reported to ask questions on the students’ aims, interests, aesthetic preferences, and sources of inspiration. The teachers reported that this might lead to students’ internalization of self-critical questions. We think that this supports students to engage in an ongoing self-reflective process, which is important for the long-term artistic development. Discussion. Based on our analysis, we claim that there are three aspects to establishing one’s own composer voice, namely (1) writing music and thereby developing an individual compositional practice, (2) engaging in general learning activities and thereby finding out what one wants to tell musically, and (3) learning how to self-reflect to support the continuing search for the composer voice. By comparing statements of different teachers, we found that the conceptualizations of what constitutes to find a composer voice varied individually. All teachers included the first aspect into their conceptualization, but varied in their relative emphasis of the second and third aspects, focusing either on compositional techniques or on the students’ person and selfreflection.

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