09 NOVEMBER 2016

Musicology and Artistic Practice

Musicology and Artistic Practice

The curators from We the Humanities, an online project designed to spread the diversity and value of the humanities, recently asked on Twitter ‘Do think it's ethical to encourage students to pursue humanities PhDs, given the shortage of traditional faculty positions?’ I couldn’t help but chime into the conversation having recently finishing a doctorate in a humanities subject myself. My response: If a PhD is to get a job, no. But to better one's practice and life, you betcha! Allow me to explain. Perhaps one of the reasons why research is often overlooked or not even considered by practicing musicians wanting to deepen their craft is because of the labels associated with the roles of ‘performer’ and ‘academic’. For example, there is often a divide in music departmental staff positions: the performers (many whom are professional orchestral musicians) are hired to teach the ‘hands-on’ instrumental lessons, and academics (who may not always be active performers themselves) teach the historical, compositional and theoretical subjects. While there are always exceptions to this, teaching approaches (theoretical vs. practical) about any given repertoire are generally not taught collaboratively or in tandem as a means to support the end goal of a student’s performance.

It could also seem that the world of academic research, even that branded performance musicology, is far removed from an ‘actual’ performer’s world. A performer’s focus often includes honing the physical and mental skills required to create the music, how the body will engage with the work overall, and how the ‘physical realisation of the work’, will be expressed in the wider picture (Clarke 2002). Additional studies that pull time away from refining the delivery of the work itself in a physical sense might be considered frivolous and secondary to the need for hours in the practice room grafting out technical passages in search of artistic perfection, a recital looming.         

As a way to help bridge the gap between theory and practice when it came to exploring my own artistic output, and as a way to shake off any preconceived perceptions that I had, I decided to use the ethos of the ‘and/and’ model of creativity proposed by Jungian psychoanalyst Pinkola-Estes (2008). In this model, analysis can become a tool to widen the performative nets instead of evidence to dictate a ‘correct’ outcome--a thing is this and this and this. It can be used/not used this way, and this way, and this way. This model is useful in that it acknowledges that musical traditions are fluid, always changing, and cannot be reduced to fit neatly within fixed ‘either/or’ dichotomies. In short, it offers not two unmoveable ‘either/or’ musical solutions, but a series of moveable contexts that can be drawn upon for wider creative pursuits.

Performance musicology research often asks: ‘what do performers do?’ and ‘how do they do it?’. In my own journey undertaking ‘performance musicology’ studying Argentinean tango music, these questions were a springboard in which I was able to come to terms with what I actually did as a flautist, but more importantly, why. My research allowed me the space (and permission) to shape and deepen my own artistic ethos as a musician, one which I had never taken the time to fully explore, or even consider in much of the ‘hands-on’ flute lessons I had undertaken over the decades, much of which focused on the end result of the recital instead. My research journey, which involved time working in cities such as Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, London and Paris, led me to conclude that the most beneficial outcomes for deepening my own practice did not endeavour to answer musicological questions with a ‘how to do it correctly’ but asked ‘how does theoretical analysis create even more possibilities for performance?’*.

At the heart of my own research I found answers for my own practice that has enabled me to broaden my own flute playing quite substantially: classically-trained performers of tango music might engage with fresh, newly inspired ideas by pushing the boundaries of current interpretational processes that currently exist. This methodology has allowed my own artistic practice, teaching and professional opportunities to flourish because creativity—the ‘magic’ that makes a performance spectacular—is solely kept at centre stage inside or outside academic backdrops.

Dr. Jessica Quiñones is an international flautist, performer, teacher and academic based in the UK. Find more of her work on creativity, musicianship and pedagogy at www.JQflute.com or via Twitter @JQflute.



Clarke, E. (2004). Empirical Methods in the Study of Performance. In E. Clarke & N. Cook (Eds.), Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects (pp. 77–102). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pinkola Estés, C. (2008). Women Who Run With the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. London: Rider, 495–96, fn 2.


*Equally, this stance is gaining recognition within organisations in the UK such as the Centre for Classical Improvisation and Creative Performance, the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP) and the Institute of Musical Research (IMR).  Current research by these groups aim to demonstrate the possibilities of radically different readings of scores across a range of instrumental repertoire.