Analysing-learning-performing: atonal music and students' expectations
This presentation is a brief wander through the ‘Hanging Garden Project’, a multi-stage project I have been working on since 2012. Centred on songs from Schoenberg’s atonal song cycle, Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten (1908-9)—some of Schoenberg’s very first atonal music—the research has encountered the songs from many different perspectives. The central question for this presentation is about students’ expectations, music reading, the role of structure, and the challenges of learning atonal music for students who have been used to a steady diet of classical and romantic tonality.
I will present findings from a case study of a singer tracking her understanding of structure and her thoughts on her process of learning as she prepared Songs IV and V of the cycle for performance. In addition, findings from a study on perceived structure of Song IV (n=26) and findings from a study which tracked what music students’ eyes did when they first saw the written music of Song V (n=54)—a study I undertook in collaboration with a colleague in Psychology, using the Psychology Department’s eye-tracking technology—will all be discussed in terms of students’ expectations and their perception of the structure of atonal music. The future aims of the project, in terms of the music-reading element, include developing a framework of ‘looking styles’, with the ultimate aim of developing tools to help dyslexic music- readers. More general aims include continuing to interrogate the role of structure in the music learning process, what structure actually means in written music (what is structure in written music actually made of?), and challenging the accepted objectivity of the notion of structure when it comes to the processes of performance preparation and how it has been studied thus far.