Music of the Body: Exploring the inseparability of aesthetic music expression, physiology and technology in higher music education

A 2019 Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education Innovation Grant


Simon Gilbertson,, Associate Professor, Music Therapy, University of Bergen, (Project coordinator)
Signe Bakke,, Associate Professor, Piano, University of Bergen
Davide Bertolini,, Sound Engineer, University of Bergen
Students of the Piano Department, The Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen
Grete Ege,, Deputy Head of the Department of Physiotherapy Department of Physiotherapy, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen
Åse Torunn Bergem Odland, post@studiopilates, (Physiotherapist and Pilates trainer) Studio Pilates, Nordisk Institutt for Fysio-Pilates, Bergen

What this project wants to find out in relation to what has been done before
This project asks, “How can the fields of physiology and audio/video technology combine with music performance education help to better understand the development of individual skills of aesthetic music expression and the body in higher music education?”

This project is interested in how to understand the body in its inseparability from aesthetic music expression. This is certainly no new concern, and the large interest in the topic of embodiment and music has been seen especially during the past decade (Mazzola et al 2015, Hubrich 2016) attests to the topic’s centrality in contemporary research and educational practices. In addition to this, health education for musicians continually highlights the relationship between the challenging and potentially hidden health issues involved in music making (Matei et al 2018), and the essential nature of learning about musicians’ health during higher music education. Although individual aspects of music performance have received attention, including muscle control, posture, breathing and stress coping, this project will explore how teachers and students can use video-supported and physiology informed insights in music performance educational practices.

To contribute directly to CEMPE’s core focus, this project explores effective teacher professional development which has been defined as “structured professional learning that leads to changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes” (Darlin-Hammond et al 2017, p. v). By providing a teacher with an opportunity to engage in professional learning to gain greater understanding of their body in music making at the piano, and assimilating that process with their students’ immersion in video-supported and physiology-informed insights in their music performance skills. It is our contention that this combination of collaborative cross-professional educative processes addresses all main categories of effective professional development in that it is, “1. content focused, 2. incorporates active learning […], 3. supports collaboration […], 4. uses models and modeling of effective practice, 5. provides coaching and expert support, 6. offers opportunities for feedback and reflection, 7. is of sustained duration” (Darlin-Hammond et al 2017. p.4)

Due to the personal expertise of the applicant group, this project will look at the application of the chosen methods in relation to the development of piano performance skills – focusing first, on one teacher’s process of analysis, together with the pianist’s Pilates teacher, physiotherapist and music therapist, and then a student pianist group with the physiotherapist and music therapist of who are particularly interested in physiological and audio/video technological intersections. We hope this initial pilot project will lead to the establishment of further projects with a wide array of musicians and their instruments.

This project builds upon and brings together the learning gained during two earlier CEMPE-supported projects:
 i) Music performance students and educators considered knowledge about physiology to be of relevance and usefulness for them within the topic of music physiology and musicians’ health (Grete Ege, CEMPE innovation grant 2018-2019) and ii) music therapy students’ use of video recording of themselves as a part of their education on music improvisation (Simon Gilbertson, CEMPE innovation grant 2018-2019). By introducing these two areas of expertise into a new, third domain, piano performance studies, the project leads further into cross-professional education and research.

As a novel cross-institutional collaborative constellation, the applicant group is highly invested and motivated to initiate this innovative cross-disciplinary project.

How the project will be carried out
The project will be based on ten collaborative workshops. The first two workshop sessions will focus on the rehearsal of self-selected repertoire by the piano teacher together with the Pilates teacher, physiotherapist and audio and video recording facilitators. The next three workshop sessions will involve the group of pianist students together with the physiotherapist and audio and video recording facilitators.

The rehearsal episodes of the five first workshops will be audio recorded and video recorded in collaboration by the sound engineer and the music therapist experienced in video recording. The video recording resources at the Grieg Academy allow simultaneous multi-camera recording (4-14 cameras) and the audio recording is at studio production quality. Following the music rehearsal, there will be a group discussion of the core aspects of central topics related to aesthetic expression and physiology will be elicited.
The third step of the process is to collectively re-view the audio/video recording of the episode. A stop-go technique will be used in which any of the participants are able to stop the recording at any point to comment or verbally highlight an observation, before the recording is once again set in motion.

During the remaining five workdays the piano teacher, student group, physiotherapist and video recording facilitator will immerse themselves in the audio/video recordings and core themes will be elicited, described, recorded examples will be edited and archived, and literature related to the themes will be searched for and collated. The final working day will be used to summarize the process, generate a conclusion, and identify significant topics in need of future research. Plans for potential continuation of the project and possible collaborative extensions will close the current proposed project.

Time plan
The initial five workshop sessions will be carried out at a regular frequency during the autumn semester 2019 and the subsequent five workdays will be carried out during the early part of the spring semester 2020. The results of the project can begin to be disseminated early summer 2020 onwards.

The project’s relevance for higher music education
By pooling the expertise, experience and inquisitiveness in seemingly distinct professions, this project demonstrates the fluid nature of core topics within higher music education. The project will contribute to increasing the level of knowledge about how the body’s physiology is connected to aesthetic music expression. Equally, the project concurrently adds knowledge and experience as to how audio/video reflection may play a significant role in higher music education.
This project has an additional but slightly more subtle relevance for the development of higher music education. This project is only made possible by the coming together of colleagues converging around a shared interest from the starting points of education, therapy, sound engineering and physiotherapy, so this project aims to inspire the idea of local cross-professional collaboration. This loosens the grip of ‘expected’ collaborative initiatives and encourages collaboration where it makes sense and where it is possible based on the resources, inspiration and authentic interest in a mutual understanding of the needs within higher music education.

Own skills relevant for the completion of the project
Simon Gilbertson has been involved in the use of video recording for the analysis of human behavior and interaction since the early 1990’s (for example, Gilbertson and Aldridge, 2008). He is a member of the TALIDA project, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, UiB.

Signe Bakke is a professional pianist and Associate Professor in Piano at the Grieg Academy. She has been involved in numerous national and international concerts and recording projects.

Grete Ege has taught music physiology at the Grieg Academy since 2004 and has been active as an educator in this field in Norway, Scandinavia and USA.

Davide Bertolini is a professional bass player and sound engineer. He is employed at the Grieg Academy as Sound Engineer and is responsible for all technical and theoretical aspects of audio recording and related technical equipment.

Åse Torunn Bergem Odland is a qualified physiotherapist and certified Pilates trainer. She has experience of working with musicians and is currently working at Studio Pilates, Nordic Institute of Physio-Pilates.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto: CA: Learning Policy Institute.
Gilbertson, S. and Aldridge, D. (2008). Music therapy and traumatic brain injury: A light on a dark night. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Hubrich, S.G.B. (2016). The performer’s body in creative interpretations of repertoire music. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1177/1474022216647711
Matei, R., Broad, S., Golbart, J. and Ginsborg, J. (2018). Health education for musicians. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1137. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01137
Mazzola, G., Mannone, M., Pang, Y., O’Brien, M. and Torunsky, N. (2016). All about music. The complete ontology: Realities, Semiotics, Communication and Embodiment. New York: Springer.