The innovative conservatoire seminar is always such an inspiring space to inhabit. Over three days key members from various European institutions gather at Dartington Hall to share practice and ideas creating a vibrant and supportive community of practice. In this positive place, fear is cast aside and experimentation is encouraged.
I find that this kind of coming together of artists is inspiring and helps me rethink and refresh my practice. From my experience I know how easy it is to feel really inspired by this artistic community for a few days and then return to a world where real life dominates and where inspiration and new ideas are no longer prioritized. So, this time, I’ve decided to keep a journal tracking what I consider to be the most important breakthroughs from a very personal perspective. I imagine that each of my colleagues remembers the events differently, because we can apply our findings to our practice in such a different manner – necessarily therefore, this record is extremely subjective and makes no claim to be an accurate diary documentation of the event. I hope however that these musings might encourage other practitioners to attend ICON the next time round and hopefully to develop some of the ideas that I capture here.
The seminar is based on the idea of student as learner – an issue that has long preoccupied me. Underlying all seminars is the concept the teaching and learning is perhaps best experienced as a collaborative process. Undoubtedly this is a more challenging and uncomfortable approach for the teacher – it is however also immensely reward for both teacher and student. Discomfort then was a concept explored throughout the seminar. Here we confronted the concept of teaching, how we teach and what happens when musicians start to teach. Following on from that, the key question is – how is this experience, creative in itself, then fed back to our own practice? And by pushing the boundaries when trying to answer this question, some very illuminating insights might occur. Reflection is a key part of this process; at the end of each day participants were given the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and to capture and crystallise them in interactive and multi-dimensional journals.
Some of the most inspiring group work occurred when we were asked to think about metaphors that characterise our experience as learner and teacher. Metaphors were used in order to enable colleagues to articulate their learning and teaching experiences. The discussions were characterised by openness and honesty. All activities were designed to enable us to learn more about ourselves and to enable us to share experiences. Role play brought useful teaching/learning experiences to life.
Asked to provide a metaphor for my learning experience, I picked the backpacking at 18 metaphor. I have often characterised my teaching style as democratic and essentially an empowering of the student. To my mind this backpacking metaphor captures the freedom, curiosity, energy, innocence, open-mindedness that one can bring to learning. In my experience, freedom in learning is not to be taken for granted. A key point for pause here is whether all students are ready for freedom. Students have very different personalities and highly differing needs. As a teacher (or facilitator – however I choose to characterise my teaching) I need to be aware and response to all kind of learning needs. I also think it’s part of my role to encourage students to think about their learning in a different way. The 1-1 and small group teaching situation is sometimes a lot more challenging than other ways of imparting knowledge. The one thing that I always seem to come back to in training sessions such as these is the importance of the question and its role and potential in a teaching situation. (I will return to this in a later post.) Is the 1-1 teacher a keeper of tradition? Some students think this is the case. But a more productive approach could be to envisage the 1-1 space as a collaborative space where different cultures meet, develop and feed each other. This is not to say that the teacher is not to offer advice on how to problem solve etc. There is surely room for both in a studio situation and both teacher and learner can benefit from opening the space up to different approaches.