A new model of interpretation and communication for ensemble music-making

Paxton, Joe (2022) A new model of interpretation and communication for ensemble music-making. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The time constraints that musicians often experience, particularly in ensemble settings, leave little space for reflection on how we interact with a score or for philosophical review or investigation of the rehearsal process itself. A theoretical framework is needed. Research shows that we interact with scores and follow rehearsal conventions largely without thinking about them, these customs being learnt and practiced through rehearsals. Research is therefore required into how instrumentalists, conductors and composers work together, and the results of that work, to enable more effective use of rehearsal time and to allow for a wider creative output. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the interplay between interpretation and communication in ensemble music making, to further research in performance studies and, as a result, offer innovative models that help musicians review how they work collectively. Use of the models should aid musicians to work together more effectively with a deeper consideration of their philosophical approaches and roles when making music. Earlier musical communication models (Philip Tagg, David Hargreaves et al.) were largely developed around transmitter/receiver models focused on the musical sound, rather than the complex multimodal nature and the multiplicity of communicative channels required by ensemble musicians, with focus having been centred on solo performance to an audience. Investigations into interpretation have largely been philosophical explorations or empirical research on recorded performances (Hellaby, J 2009). Research into ensembles, and the rehearsal process (Clayton, M 2013. Moran, M 2013, Bayley, A 2009), are relatively new and are focused toward a single aspect of music making, either investigation of the communication or analysis of what is being produced but not combining these approaches. Here the approaches are combined providing a rich data set that underpins the novel models.

This thesis is focused on realisation of scores in the classical music practices today, detailing two case studies of how an interpretation is negotiated and developed by an ensemble; allowing for 4 comparisons to be made between the studies. The first case study, in which I perform the role of conductor, explores the role of an orchestra accompanying an opera group through the rehearsal process as well as performances. The second case study, a conservatoire consort, builds on the methodology of the first, providing a more detailed analysis of interpretation and communication of two consecutive rehearsals of the same piece. Analysis is underpinned by my own expertise of working in a group setting as a professional conductor, singer and violist, genre conventions and the context of the roles therein. A novel methodology has been created to combine multiple analytical tools to enable a more holistic view through intensive analysis of the data captured. Ethnographic research techniques, including video and individual microphones are used to capture a series of rehearsals and performances. Grounded Theory is then employed to code video footage and scripts, in order to identify appropriate areas of investigation of communication; the code established in the first case study is then further developed in the second study. Changes in interpretation are analysed using Sonic Visualiser¹, primarily focusing on tempo and entrainment as accurate measurements of the developing realisation as well as analysis through listening to ascertain changes in dynamics, articulation, phrase ending and other musical features.

Findings show that interpretations develop organically, and refine through repetition - they are never finalised, as they are collectively negotiated in real time. Each repetition of the music is unique, as is each musicians’ perception, depending on their physical location and their response to changes. Verbal communication primarily provides structure and focus to the rehearsal while ensembles use repetition, reinforced with non-verbal communication to negotiate an interpretation and to problem solve. My research shows that repetition is a more effective tool for arriving at an interpretation than extended discussion about intentions. There is evidence that even in ensembles that are operating within the conventions of obeying the score, musicians do not always achieve this, sometimes intentionally but also unintentionally. Using this data, the thesis presents a musical communication model which is contextually driven and reflects the individual music making experience. This later combined with an interpretation framework which considers philosophical approach, performance conventions, ethical responsibilities, as well as the environmental and technical limitations that the performers operate within. Musicians will be able to use models to reevaluate their place in ensembles and to guide and challenge their work.

The thesis provides new models for musicians and reveals a more detailed understanding of the process of interpretation when realising a score. The new models will encourage musicians to interrogate their philosophical frameworks and enable them to consider ways in which to work together more effectively. Explorations into how musicians operate will help to further inform composers about the process that the score they produce will go through. This is a strong starting point of research to help musicians interrogate what they are doing, encouraging the viewing of ensemble music making through a holistic lens by combining multiple methods of analysis, rather than with a narrow focus as has been the norm previously. My case studies focus on singers and instruments. Marking singers’ onsets is a particular challenge when undertaking detailed tempo analysis as the beat does not always match the start of the sound. A method for centring singers onsets on vowel placement has been developed as part of this study to enable tempo analysis and entrainment in a choral setting.

¹ Sonic Visualiser is an open-source application, developed by Queen Mary University of London, for studying recorded music closely

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Music
Subjects: M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > M Music > M0005 Instrumental music
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > ML Literature on music > ML0159 History and criticism > ML0430 Composition and performance
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > MT Musical instruction and study > MT0170 Instrumental techniques > MT0728 Ensembles
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2022 11:37
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:47
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/104816

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