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LOVE AT FIRST SOUND: Engaging with Western classical concert audiences through improvisation

Haustein, P. (2022). LOVE AT FIRST SOUND: Engaging with Western classical concert audiences through improvisation. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)


This artistic practice research project explores re-introducing improvisation to Western classical performance practice as a musician (cellist and ensemble partner/leader). Improvisation was part of concert culture and performers’ skill sets until early 20th century. Historical accounts as well as recent studies indicate that improvisatory elements in the programme may contribute specifically towards the audiences’ experience of enhanced emotional engagement during the concert. The investigation follows four concert cycles of artistic practice of the researcher, who seeks to gain solo and chamber music improvisation techniques (both related to and independent of repertoire), conduct ensemble improvisation rehearsals, design concerts with an improvisatory approach and reflect on interactions with audiences after each concert. Data is collected through use of reflective diary, video recordings, measurement of sound parameters, questionnaires, a focus group, and interviews. The performer’s empirical experiences and findings from audience research components are reflected upon in an autoethnographic, narrative frame, and interrogated to better understand the (1) rehearsal and planning processes that enable improvisatory elements to return to Western classical concert experience and (2) the emotional experience and type of engagement that occur throughout the concert experience for both performer and audience members. This motivation informed the development of a concert model, in which the performer designs and presents a program of solo and chamber music repertoire and improvisations, as well as engages in spontaneous exchange with audience throughout the concert (including improvisations based on audience suggestions). In designing concerts, inspiration was drawn from historical concert culture, where elements of risk-taking, spontaneity and audience involvement (such as proposing themes for fantasies) were customary. The research identified features of ensemble improvisation, such as empathy, emergence, mutual engagement and collaborative creativity, that became mirrored in audience’s responses, generating higher levels of emotional engagement, empathy, inclusivity, and a participatory, co-creative experience. Similarly, the performer’s experience of highest risk-taking and moments of flow often corresponded with audience’s experience of most emotionally engaging moments of the concert, regardless of ensemble size, program, event, and audience. Examining interactions between all involved during the concert revealed that performer-audience impulse exchange occurred on multiple levels of awareness and seemed to build upon each other, resulting in particularly strong experiences of both performer and audience’s engagement.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
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