There are all sorts of interesting indicators that our discipline-specific thinking in the arts is coming unstuck. What the gatekeepers among us used to call distinct art forms like dance, music, theater, and visual art are becoming dialects of a common language, and those dialects are blending in compelling ways.
What brought this back to mind was the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s work with choreographer Liz Lerman — who created movement for the musicians as they performed an orchestral work (see video below or on YouTube). This is likely an outlier, and we shouldn’t expect a major trend toward choreographed orchestral performance. But it’s a pretty cool way to beg some questions:
Why do orchestral musicians need to sit still, essentially bolted to their place on the stage — particularly when the music is so driven by motion and shifting interplay between different instrument groups? Why must dancers be silent as they perform to music played by others? Why can’t an effort to make music performance more ‘visual’ also include insight from visual art, as we’re seeing in the extraordinary New World Center?
But the question that’s nagging at me the most these days, given where I work, is this: Why do we continue to silo arts majors by discipline in higher education? Technical excellence and specific context for each discipline certainly require the silo for at least some of the time. But retaining those silos outside their utility is actually quite damaging.
Musicians should know how to move — how to use their bodies on-stage and off in ways that support their craft and their health (and yes, Feldenkrais Method and Dalcroze Eurhythmics have been doing this for decades, but are still strangers to most higher education programs). Dancers should know how to play, or sing, or speak in ways that help them move, but also ways that help them work across disciplines and explore their aesthetic vision — even if it’s mostly rooted in movement. Visual artists should explore space and time in ways that performing artists understand those dimensions. And everyone should understand the elements of visual aesthetics, proportion, scale, balance, and harmony (in every sense of the word).
Regardless of our discipline, we are all in our bodies. And our bodies move, and sing, and speak, and see, and breathe, and play — as individuals and as communities of bodies. Increasingly, I’m meeting students who understand this, and want to explore expression beyond their primary discipline. We make it hard for them to do that in higher education, and in the professional silos we’ve built in the arts.
Let’s make it easier.
Ann McCutchan says
“But the question that’s nagging at me the most these days, given where I work, is this: Why do we continue to silo arts majors by discipline in higher education? Technical excellence and specific context for each discipline certainly require the silo for at least some of the time. But retaining those silos outside their utility is actually quite damaging.”
Thank you for speaking my mind, as well as yours, Andrew. I trained in dance as a child, went on to more than thirty years of training and professional performing as a musician, and at the same time grew into a writing life. I’ve taught in two universities that welcomed my abilities and creative projects in music and writing with cross-departmental appointments, but am now, unexpectedly, teaching in a silo. How I wish I could join students from across the disciplines in just one course! But my suggestions were shot down early. (If I’d offered a heavy tech component, it might have gone differently, I suspect.) The key to innovation within the system lies with administrators, I suppose, but many of them were trained in silos and don’t think outside them. I’d love to take part in a longer conversation about this, but will sign off here. Thanks again.
Robert Moon says
One of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced in a live classical concert was Gustavo Dudamel’s first appearance in San Francisco with his Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela when, after the first encore, they ripped off their black tuxedos and underneath was their colorful country outfits and they started to play and dance at the same time. It was electrifying and the audience went literally nuts! Of course, musical theater has done singing and movement for years. And what about marching bands? One of the keys here is in academia, where, because professors have been trained in silos, the majors offered students continue to be siloed. But, since this blog is read by lots of academics, go to it and at least try to change this!!!
dorothy gunther pugh says
Andrew, this reminds me of how you and I touched upon the subject of a number of people who teach or fund art, but often from on high or in that silo. I suggest you and some like-minded academics devise a course where students can spend time at arts institutions that are committed to cross pollinating. I have professional dancers and choreographers who have worked with chefs to create new work, on the stage and on the table, with architects to investigate their ideas about concepts of space they find intriguing, with urban poets and hip -hop artists and young step-dancers to explore similarities or broadening movement, with particular art pieces at local museums, and we are planning to embark soon on a project where artistic staff will work with professors, musicologists, historians, etc. to explore the riches of the Mississippi River basin and its cultural migrations and geographic formations. This is just to name a few. Both Rhodes College and the Memphis Chamber of Commerce are involved, and there will be more. And, we now have launched an expanding program with our community centers to do our part in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic. Life never gets dull!
Constance E. Barrett says
One of the things I feel particularly bothered by is the fact that in most high schools in the USA (public, anyway), it is almost impossible for children to take both music classes and fine arts classes. It is one or the other, or the child risks not getting all the academic credits s/he needs to graduate. This is a travesty.
Kay Hooper says
Quite interesting! IMHO, the reason why disciplines are so isolated from each other is due to the insecurities of the teachers and administrators, echoing Ann McCutchan’s sentiments. It is so much easier/secure/protected for teachers in institutions to do what has always been done in the way it has always been done. Going off the rails is dangerous in a lot of institutions. As an Alexander Technique Teacher, a Licensed Andover Educator™, and an author on sensory training for musicians, I have bumped into the silos many times. I have a graduating senior pianist whose ability to play whole phrases got better and better the more she got involved in swing dancing. Her ability to carry a pulse through a Beethoven sonata movement was strengthened by learning the Lindy hop. I heard and watched it happen, so no doubt in my mind that there was very successful transfer of learning.
David Wolfson says
There is a book coming out next year from Routledge that addresses these issues both from the performer’s and the teacher’s points of view. It’s called “Integrative Performance: Practice and Theory for the Interdisciplinary Performer.” The author is Dr. Experience Bryon. Here’s a link to the page on Amazon.co.uk :
Anne L'Ecuyer says
Here’s the video of the performance (in addition to rehearsal above). Kudos to conductor Jim Ross who conceived this project!