At Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, Denmark, a curricular turn has taken place over the last five years. A key element in this turn is establishing artistic development as the pivotal curricular element. In the KUA-class, students meet weekly to present, discuss and reflect on the students’ artistic work processes and products.

Results Students’ artistic research as the curricular pivot

Principal instrument lessons have traditionally represented the curricular pivot of performance programmes in higher music education. However, at Rhythmic Music Conservatory the central educational activity for students on all programmes is the KUA class. KUA is an abbreviation of the Danish term for artistic development work. Learning objectives for the class centre around developing the students’ ability to initiate, develop and perform artistic ideas and productions, contextualise their work and critically discuss and reflect on their own and their peers’ artistic work processes and products. This way, the student becomes an active agent in his or her learning process, making deliberate choices from a number of options and reflecting on and discussing these choices with peers and teachers.

A safe zone for experimenting

The students in the KUA class are exposed to differing views and perspectives on a regular basis. What at one point seemed set and decided is in the next moment challenged and discussed from a number of different perspectives. These discussions take place in what one of the students describes as a ‘safe zone’ where you are encouraged and allowed to fail, to wonder, to doubt, to ask questions and to explore new paths. Students seem to learn and develop important skills by participating in these classes, such as building self-confidence as artists and developing competence in giving and receiving critique, which are important aspects of becoming a successful creative musician of the 21st century.

Teachers as facilitators, mentors, door openers and provocateurs

The teachers giving the KUA classes are all performing artists with active careers themselves. The teacher-student relationship in the KUA class appears to be a relationship between two artists, to some extent comparable to the peer-to-peer relations in the class and at the academy. Still, the teacher is responsible for creating a ‘safe zone’ environment by exemplifying and guiding the class in terms of when to be open and ‘just’ listening and when to give input and critique. Furthermore, it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide the group with an array of artistic, philosophical and methodological inputs for the students to choose from. Richard, one of the students, sums up the teacher’s contribution in the following way:

Because there is a ton of other musicians in history playing differently, (…) generally speaking, teachers here at the RMC (…) lead you in a direction without pushing [onto] you their musical ideals, I think. And then, that’s where creativity starts. For example, [the teacher] doesn’t say: “Go this way or go that way.” Instead he says: “OK, you have those ten ways to go, and you can choose whatever way you want to go.”

The teacher’s task of opening doors and outlining possible options seems to be key in order to develop a feeling of agency in students as well as a feeling of responsibility for their own artistic development.

Students discussing in the KUA-class
Photo: Bjørn Bertheussen

Description A fertile arena for learning

Dialogue as a generator for artistic development

The KUA class is a dialogic forum where students present artistic material to each other and share experiences, observations and critical reflections. The teacher facilitates the dialogue and gives guidance on what to listen out for and how to communicate thoughts, reactions and critical comments to peers after a presentation. This process leads to a constant interchange between the student’s personal artistic practice and the regular encounters with the perspectives of teachers and peers in the KUA class. Therefore, KUA is not only about creating art but also about sharing and communicating one’s artistic ideas and, in doing so, developing these ideas further. In addition, for the students listening to and commenting on their peers’ projects, the KUA class is a fertile arena for learning: through the critical dialogue, differences and similarities are identified, felt, obscured and problematised.

Towards the unknown

Even though ideas of education somehow stem from linear didactics, artistic development is rarely uni-directional and not always just forwardly directed. It’s complicated, folded, and the artist not only develops, he or she entangles and becomes entangled, enmeshed. It doesn’t follow a straight path, and it quickly escapes logics of method. (Kjærgaard, 2018 p. 150, author’s translation.)

The KUA class is explorative by nature, balancing “what we know” with “what is beyond our current knowledge”, as Kjærgaard points out. This implies that we cannot yet know what artistic results the students will end up producing. Rather, the KUA classes should encourage students to do artistic projects that surprise and challenge us. From a conventional schooling and learning perspective, where learning is often perceived as a linear process towards specified learning outcomes, the teacher’s main role might be to apply methods and tools guiding the students towards these goals and assessing whether or not the goals have been attained. In the KUA class the learning objectives include the ability to reflect critically on artistic processes, to give and receive professional criticism, to take independent responsibility for one’s own professional development and to be capable of creating and communicating musical experiences borne by an independent, personal artistic expression.

 

Practical advice Artistic research and curriculum

Artistic research is a core activity for tenured teachers at RMC as it is for many academy teachers around the world. In Bologna terms, artistic research is a pivotal knowledge base for the curricular activities at an arts school. Introducing ‘artistic development work’ (KUA) as a main subject for students means that students and teachers are concerned with the same: developing as artists through artistic research, somewhat similar to a university’s curricular approach to training future researchers. Through participating in the KUA class, students learn to become artistic researchers capable of continuously developing their artistic skills, generating new ideas, pursuing artistic visions, operationalising such visions and reflecting on and evaluating their impact, artistic relevance and relationship with society.

One way to strengthen the relation between teachers’ artistic research and the students’ development of similar competencies would arguably be to have students engage in the teachers’ artistic research activities. How do the teachers at the institution develop new knowledge and skills, and how does this process influence teachers’ ongoing engagement and professional career opportunities? Could the institution apply a similar approach to what the students need to learn through their studies? And could the development of such skills take place in collective, class-like settings where the learning potential of dialogue and exchange of experiences between the students is unfolded? A reflective process on these themes could potentially point to curricular elements that coucld subsequently be developed into academy subjects or electives.

Participants

  • Students at Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen

  • Lars Brinck

    Head of research and development
    E-mail: lb@rmc.dk
    Institution: Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen
  • Søren Kjærgaard

    KUA-teacher
    E-mail: SoerenKjaergaard@rmc.dk
    Institution: Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen

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Last updated December 19, 2018. Photo: Bjørn Bertheussen and Martin Rosenauer Text: Lars Brinck