Assessing quality in socially engaged musical performances

Camlin, D. A. (2018) Assessing quality in socially engaged musical performances. In: Reflective Conservatoire Conference 2018: Artists as Citizens, 20-23 February 2018, Guildhall School of Music & Drama. (Unpublished)


This paper explored some of the practical and philosophical challenges of assessing quality in socially engaged musical performances, and advocated an holistic philosophy of music as a means of resolving some of these challenges. Recognising the functional differences between 'presentational performance' and 'participatory performance' (Turino 2008) goes some way to understanding the complex social contexts of musical performance, but can ultimately result in a polarised perspective on musical performance which is not necessarily reflective of the complexity of 'real life' situations (Camlin 2014). Using case studies from six years of 'socially engaged' (Helguera 2011) performances by third year students on the UK's first BA (Hons) Community Music programme, situated within the artistic programme of Sage Gateshead, this paper drew out some of these complexities, and revealed the need for more unifying philosophies of music which account for such complexity. Rather than more traditional 'recitals' of musical skill, the third year 40-credit Performance Project module requires students on the programme to engage with specific social, philosophical or ethical considerations in curating a musical performance, resulting in a wide range of 'socially engaged' performance events. Responses have ranged from participatory performances in schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities; a one-day community folk festival; an installation celebrating the musical faith traditions of the diaspora of Ap Chau island; collaborative performances with service users of mental health organisations; a Blue Light Choir to support the wellbeing of emergency services personnel; as well as more traditional showcase performances within Sage Gateshead's International Jazz Festival (GIJF). Artistic Citizenship (Elliott et al. 2016) provides a valuable philosophical 'lens' through which to view this complex and diverse range of responses, as does the author's philosophy of 'music in three dimensions' (Camlin 2016a; Camlin 2016b) which advocates a dialogic 'creative tension' (Bakhtin 1981; Wegerif 2012; Camlin 2015) between the aesthetic, praxial and social dimensions of music as a way of reconciling the apparent differences between them. Hence, quality in situations of musical performance cannot be understood in absolute terms, but rather is contingent on the situated social context/s which give them meaning (Camlin 2014).

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