WRoCAH Small Award Blog Series
This collection of blog posts shares the innovative and productive ways in which WRoCAH students have used the Small Awards scheme. Click on any of the names below to see how Small Awards have helped with these students’ research projects and/or professional training.
Art Gallery Research Trips
My Life in Small Awards
Silk Screens and Wobbly Pots
School of Music, University of Leeds
Earlier this year, I received two small awards from WRoCAH for trips to the University of Oxford to take part in two phases of a Master’s project investigating the effect of facial gestures in performance of solo classical piano music, for both performers and audiences. The project was run by Karl Lutchmayer, one of my former teachers at TrinityLaban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. As a friend, I was made aware of the dissertation project via social media. It struck me as the perfect opportunity to test the progress of the second case study piece from my practice-led PhD on the performance practice of Stockhausen’s piano music, so I volunteered to take part, submitting funding applications for my travel costs to WRoCAH.
On the first day of the study, I recorded Stockhausen’s Klavierstück I at the newly-opened Clore Music Studios of New College (I actually made the studio’s inaugural recording, which was an unexpected honour). I wasn’t told anything about the nature of the experiment prior to the recording. It was only halfway through the subsequent interview that Karl revealed the focus of facial gestures in performance. The video camera facing me now made a lot more sense! Prior to this, he’d shown me contrasting videos of Lang Lang and Arthur Rubinstein playing a famous piece by Franz Liszt, asking me to comment on their use of facial and bodily gesture. Once I’d been made aware of this focus, we looked over the video of my performance, noting that I generally avoided use of facial and bodily gestures, with a few notable exceptions. I was then asked to give a second performance of the piece, attempting to eradicate the few gestures that remained, while considering the effect on my playing. Ultimately, this made little difference to my performance, perhaps because the piece required such a high level of rhythmic concentration in the first place and was relatively fresh in my fingers, but also because playing without gestures seemed to be my default approach.
The second day of the study consisted of two concerts, given alongside the other participants of the project at the historic Hollywell Music Room in Oxford, including some friends from Trinity that I hadn’t seen in years. This time I had to prepare two pieces from scratch, deliberately performing one with facial gestures and one without in each of the concerts. I chose Stockhausen’s Klavierstück V and Debussy’s Danseuses de Delphes, with facial gestures for the former and none for the latter. It was a very unusual way to give a concert, and a totally novel experience for me, but overall, I was pleased with my playing and the day went smoothly. In fact, I found the experience of playing Klavierstück V with additional facial gestures surprisingly liberating, allowing me to focus on expression and communication with the audience, at the cost of absolute accuracy. What differences do you notice in the two videos?
For the practical element of my PhD, I’ll be making recordings rather than giving concerts of the Klavierstücke. In terms of day-to-day practice, this can lead to a lack of direction and motivation, without the pressure of a performance deadline. In this respect, Karl’s project came at the ideal time – something I was quick to highlight in my small award applications. Having been through this process, I now feel confident in my performance and understanding of Klavierstücke I and V, which is one less thing to worry about as I tackle Klavierstück X this year. The experimental aspect of the project and follow-up interviews also gave me a lot to think about. Prior to participation in the project, I hadn’t considered the effect of facial gestures on my interpretations of the Klavierstücke, or the impact of these gestures on audience perception. This has led me to consider new avenues of research, which I’ll be carrying forward as my project progresses.
These were unusual small award applications, highlighting the benefits of thinking outside the box and taking opportunities as they come, knowing that WRoCAH will be there to support you (provided that you can demonstrate the benefits for your research). It’s always important to remember that small and large awards are funded by the public and shouldn’t be taken for granted. With this in mind, I always look for the cheapest travel option, which more often than not is the coach. I’ve recently added a National Express young person’s coachcard to my young person’s railcard – a bargain at £12.50 a year. The actual process of applying for small awards can also be productive, forcing you to think about the real justification for your application. Ultimately, this is great practice for the lifelong reality of funding applications in academia, promoting good discipline and forethought at an early stage.
I’m very thankful for WRoCAH for making these trips possible. They were fun, thought-provoking and highly beneficial for my project. They also gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research of a respected peer and reunite with some old friends. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more opportunities in the future.
To read more about Gabriel’s PhD project, ‘Irrational Nuances: Expression, Interpretation and Performer Agency in Serial Piano Music‘, visit the WRoCAH Research pages.