Music and Lifelong Learning Research Symposium 2016

  • Rineke Smilde (Speaker)

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


    Improvisation and identity in community music: reflection of the self and the other. This paper addresses the multi-faceted aspects of improvisation and its connection to identity. Biographical research which was conducted into the relationship between the lives, education, and career development of professional musicians (Smilde 2009) showed the huge importance of improvisation: as a way of self-expression, as an educational tool and as a strong means to deal with performance anxiety and stage fright. Improvisation turned out to be connected to musicians’ identity, both personal and professional, and relating to expressivity, musical communication and conversation, social learning and a sense of ‘ownership’. Musically, the concept of sound served as a strong metaphor for identity. In addition, an ethnographic research conducted into the project ‘Music for Life’ of Wigmore Hall Learning in London (Smilde, Page & Alheit 2014), where musicians work collaboratively in music workshops with people living with dementia and care staff, shed light on the use of improvisation as an expression of the identity of ‘the other’ (i.e. the person with dementia). The ‘applied’ or ‘person-centred’ improvisation used by the musicians, reflects the identity of the other. It is, according to a musician involved, “all about your observations about that person, rather than about what you’re creating” (ibid). The practice of finding the person behind the dementia through applied improvisation can be underpinned by the view of Georg Herbert Mead (1934) on Identity, who distinguishes between the personal ‘I’ and the social ‘Me’ and points out that both aspects are “essential to the self in its fullest expression” (p. 199). In this sense, improvisation becomes a means of communication that connects the personal with the social.This paper will reflect on improvisation as self-expression and as expression of another. Drawing on the work of Georg Herbert Mead (‘Mind, Self and Society, 1934/1967) it will show that the first and the latter are closely interconnected and are therefore highly meaningful in community music. Paper will be presented at the 2016 symposium in Ithaca: Music and Lifelong Learning Symposium. October 2016
    Period15 Oct 2016
    Event typeConference
    LocationIthaca, United StatesShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • music
    • musicians
    • communities
    • improvisation
    • identity