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Finding my voice: an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological investigation into the relationship between performers’ speech and musical expression

Wang, Y. (2020). Finding my voice: an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological investigation into the relationship between performers’ speech and musical expression. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)


This thesis presents an interdisciplinary and multi methodological investigation into the relationship between speech and musical performance, precipitating a personal exploration of the complexity of individual musical expression and its ties with the identity politics of Western classical music.

This research evolved in two stages, beginning with an interdisciplinary analysis of the relationship between speech and music through literature review and quantitative empirical experimentation. Drawing on empirical methodology from existing interdisciplinary research, I conducted a comparative study of the speech and musical performance characteristics of classical pianists with different native languages. Results seemed to suggest that native language may influence the musical expression of performance to a certain extent. But they also suggested that timing variability as an element of expression is highly individual, may affect both speech and music, and may not necessarily be expressed equally in both. This study also afforded an opportunity to clarify and disaggregate different systems and parameters involved in individuals’ expression, both in speech production and musical performance, one that may be useful for further research in the area.

The second stage utilised a qualitative research method to reflect on the results of the experiment, as well as on my own musical practice and personal experiences: autoethnography. Departing from a review of ethnographic research on East Asian musicians in the Western classical music industry, I discovered that my personal experiences of straddling two different cultures have impinged on—and arguably left under-developed—my sense of identity and ‘musical voice’. Finally, I argue that my own understanding of musical expression has been shaped by established discourses that may no longer align—if they ever really did with the current multicultural reality of ‘Western’ classical music.

This thesis contributes to original research in the growing field of artistic and practice-based research in music performance, as well as in those of phonetic science and cultural studies. At the same time, my work has been a personal journey towards a deeper understanding of the complexity and tensions between expressivity, authority, and identity within a world of mixed and overlapping cultural parameters. I hope that this study may be illuminating to those embarking on similar journeys, as well as to those responsible for preparing the way for the very many still to be undertaken.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of WANG DMus Final Thesis.pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
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[thumbnail of WANG DMus Recital 1ST] Video - Accepted Version
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