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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On Participatory Presenting II

I like presenting research in front of groups of people. Whether it is a guest lecture at a university, a presentation at a conference, a talk for a local women's society, a class at a school - it is always nice to do.

Basically I work with two formats: either the 'reading of a paper' (so literally reading; a form I had to get used to but I like more and more because it allowes you to be very precise in your words and your phrasing) or the 'guided talk' where the guidance comes from either some speaking notes or a power point which guides you through your message - and leaves room for some extemporality.

But recently I realize that I am more and more attracted to forms of what I call 'participatory presenting'.  I wrote about one form of it before - see my blog on working with music workshop leader Hannah Conway - and now have another, maybe even more 'participatory' example I would like to share.


Every year a festival in the north-east of our province is organized called 'Terug naar het Begin' ('Back to the Beginning'). The idea is that performances are staged in all those beautiful small, mostly medieval village churches in the region. The festival this year had the theme 'And the Other...", and because my inauguration lecture a couple of years ago was called 'De muzikale ander' ('The Musical Other') the organization asked me if I would be willing to do a lecture in one of the churches - the village church of Losdorp (ca. 160 inhabitants).

Of course I said yes - and then started to wonder what I would say. I studied Losdorp a little, and tried to get a little research project running in which all 160 inhabitants of the village would be interviewed about the role of music in their daily lives. Which didn't take off, because I couldn't find enough students to do the interviews on rather short notice.

I also learned that a group stemming from our Master of Music programme 'New Audiences & Innovative Practice' (a programme I helped to develop and consider to be very much the heart of future higher music education) would do three living room concerts in Losdorp. They would interview the 'possessors' of the three living rooms beforehand, ask them about their lives in Losdorp and about music, and on that basis would construct musical pieces which they would play for them in the living room concerts. The inhabitants would choose who they wanted to invite as an audience.

In a talk with the programme leader of the master programme we looked for options to connect the living room concerts in the morningwith my lecture in the Losdorp church in the afternoon. We agreed that the lecture would include short musical intermissions based on the three living room concerts of the morning, and that I would get access to the recordings of the three interviews so I could refer to them in my lecture.

I then started preparing my lecture. In the announcement we wrote about the lecture for the festival website, we had included that I would talk 'about the inhabitants of the village'. That was silly. The danger of having to hand in abstracts before you have worked out the thing abstracted will be familiar to many presenting regulary at conferences, I guess. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that the lecture had to be not about 'them' (who am I to talk about the lives of others?) but about me, about the way I connected to Losdorp, its inhabitants and its musical life in my own idiosyncratic way, and to explain that this is the way people - yes, you too - lead their musical lives. They give meaning to life - including music - on the basis of the web of meanings that develops throughout your life through experiences, through meaningful meetings with others and The Other.

So eventually, there we were. I explained what I had found out about Losdorp, through reading and through listening through the interviews, and how that connected to my life; the musicians played music and in that manner demonstrated what they had found out about the inhabitants of Losdorp they made their music for, through listening to the interviews and connecting that to their own musicianship. So we did the same, in different manner and in different media.

It was all, eventually, about what I call 'idio-culture': that personal, idiosyncratic culture resulting from leading your life in your own context. I only realized that while working on it all. And I realized that the idea of 'idio-culture' more and more becomes a centerpiece of my work - maybe even of my life. It was great to spend 45 minutes talking and playing to an audience like that. I loved the cooperaion with the musicians, and it felt as completely natural - thank you guys!

At the end, someone from the village came to me and said she loved the experience. "And you know what?", she said. "I didn't hear anything new. It was all familiar to me." Although, as a researcher, I am supposed to 'contribute to the development of new knowledge', this was the biggest compliment I could wish for.

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