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Monday, April 24, 2017

On participatory presenting

One of the connections music may make is a connection to time. To the past, to the future. And to the present. When I developed a little model of the functions of music, I called the connection to time 'presenting'. Just a little pun, with a little truth in it.

But now, I want to talk about this other form of presenting: standing in front of an audience and present something you think might be meaningful to that audience. I do that a lot, these days. Tomorrow morning I have to present something called a 'keynote' at the Research in Music Education RIME conference in Bath, UK. I am looking forward to it. I have more time than the usual 20 minutes to explain what keeps me busy: music education and 'idioculturality'. I will try to give a sort of synthesis of the many little building blocks I have been working on those past five years, and hope it works - hope it may be useful and meaningful to the people who come to listen to me. (The doubt about whether I will succeed in being meaningful is part of the package, I know by now.)


Tomorrow morning will be quite a contrast with another experience in 'presenting', two weeks ago. I was asked to tell something about my past research on the functions of music as well as on my present research on a Dutch shanty choir. The context: a music project lasting a few days in which secondary school pupils aged approximately 12-16 years were working on a piece of music inspired by the Mozart Requiem, to be presented at the 4th of May, our national commemoration day.

The project was led by a very energetic workshop leader who knew her business well. I attended  a whole morning and saw her and the pupils at work - and myself, as I joined groups in dances, songs and stories. At some point the workshop leader invited me to tell something about my work. So I sat down on the floor and started talking. I had not prepared a story or a text (unlike tomorrow, when I will actually read the keynote) because I wanted to be flexible. So I began, and then a nice form of interaction started happenening.

Rather than letting me speak for 20 or 30 minutes, after a couple of minutes the workshop leader took over. "You just heard what he said?", she asked the pupils. "Tell me, what does this mean to you?" She turned to one pupil, then another, then another. Then she sent them away for ten minutes in groups to work on their  thoughts in a musical way: "Use the key words and come back with a little piece of music which includes movements connected to the words." They came back, presented, we sat down again, I talked a bit, the workshop leader took over again, et cetera.

I loved this way of working. I wish I could do more 'participatory presentations' like this, in a duo, combining listening, talking, thinking as well as 'musicking'. Don't get me wrong: I also love telling long stories such as the keynote tomorrow, and maybe the concept of the partcipatory presentation could be a bit out of style at a research conference. But the paticipatory presentation format, and especially the duo work involved in it, was really great.

I write 'especially the duo work' because that is what I mean. I could do a participatory presentation on my own - I sometimes do it, more or less. But working in the combination of the researcher and the workshop leader, each bringing in their specialty and improvising something that is 'just right', felt really special.

By the way - the workshop leader is called Hannah Conway. Check out hannahconway.co.uk. Hire her - she's great!

Hannah: thanks - looking forward to our next meeting!

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