By Dr. Riikka Pietiläinen-Caffrey
“Research as practice” is a term usually applied to performance arts in Europe. It’s a process where an artist-scholar (in this case a musician) explores and experiments with a topic. The end result is a concert or performance instead of an academic paper. It’s also a great way to find collaborative opportunities for your choir. Defining the process will help you justify the costs to your admins. Collaborators can be colleagues, outside experts, and community organizers. You can reach out to cultural bearers, or the term I prefer, “cultural sharers.” Creating these unique experiences goes a long in efforts to recruit and retain. Here’s how to begin.
Talk it out: You don’t have to look too far to find collaborators. Focus on your immediate space: your choir. Questions to ask: Who is sharing this space with you? What assets and experiences do they bring? Next, look outside your “room,” into the campus or school community. Does your school have an annual theme or mission statement? How can you expand on topics or ideas that came from the singers? Are there colleagues who share similar experiences or interests? If topics are beyond your area of expertise or experience, find representation from the community or reach out to professionals in the field. All collaborations will start with research, a process we can share with our students. Once you have your team assembled, discuss and brainstorm together.
Patience: Our brainstorming and “talking out” sessions always include ideas that seem wild or far-fetched. Let them brew for a while, they might develop into usable action items over the course of time. You cannot force a process or collaboration. Find the right people and the project will come together organically. As one of my colleagues always says, “Together we make magic.” In order for magic to happen, you have to experiment. Experimenting is dirty and messy, and it should be. You have to accept that some experiments will not be successful. Without trying you wouldn’t know what doesn’t work.
Flexibility: Life happens, people get sick, there might be a pandemic. You may have to drop everything you were doing, reassess the situation, and start from scratch. Situations change, so make a plan B, and maybe even a C and D. And you may end up doing plan A after all.
Accessibility: Are you programming for the group you have, or the group you wish you had? Accessibility can mean many things, including Is this the music my choirs should be singing at this time? Is this music that speaks to my students? It’s not just about your singers. Examine who your target audience and your community at large are. Who do you want to see at your performances? If recruitment is the goal, the biggest question is who are you trying to recruit?
As a teaching artist, I continually examine my own practices to make sure I reach all of the people in my community, not just people who have sung in choirs before. I believe everyone can sing, some people just have more experience. Looking at our concerts as research practice or creative collaborations will give everyone in our ensembles a space to be an expert. Sharing makes us stronger. Be bold, be curious, be open, and sing.
Learn more about Dr. Pietiläinen-Caffrey at rkpcmusic.com.
Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/wkJsIXgrqAM (or episode 125 on the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast wherever you listen to pods).