How do we describe the term ‘quality’ for the symphony orchestra? The South Netherlands Philharmonic took a first step to explore that issue.

On doing TeaserIt seems to be easy to describe the quality of the orchestra performing a masterpiece. Perfect playing, inspiration, truth to the score etc. But what, if we want to describe the quality of the symphony of an educational project? Does the same concept of quality apply as for the symphonic performance? And if not, what is different? For example, if the orchestra wants to really connect a group of  6 year old children? What defines quality in that context? And how will the concept of quality change when we try to discover new territories? If we want to innovate and renew the symphonic sector?

In order to find first answers to that issues, the players and staff-members of the South Netherlands Philharmonic came together for a one day workshop in the remote town of Roermond, The Netherlands on June 21st, 2017. The session was led by dr. Ruth Benschop, anthropologist and lecturer at the Hogeschool Zuyd in Maastricht. And Ruth choose a very specific path.

Ruth aimed at the individuals within the orchestra and their personal views and experiences. Her question to every member – players and staff was: What was the most significant moment in your life in the orchestra in the last couple of years? She first asked every member to interview himself. To identify the moment and try to describe it. How did it feel? What exactly happend? How did it smell? What did you do (or not do)? Exactly? Do not try to judge or evaluate. Just describe. Members spread over the place and wrote their story into a little notebook they had been given before.

On doing being a stranger

Then the question was repeated. Every musician and staff-member had to choose a different moment and talk about it to a college: the interviewer. The task of the interviewer was to ask for more details, to go deep into the issue and not stop asking. How this should be done was shown to everyone by a showcase-interview. Tijmen Wilburg, 1st violin of the SNPh came to the platform to be interviewed by Ruth Benschop. See picture besides.

And it went on: A groep of three members talked about the same question with again a different moment. And finally some larger groups were formed with about 15 members each to share their examples and choose a person to report some of those examples to everyone.

Ruth’s approach was not so much to find an answer for the orchestra as an entity. She rather wanted to bring out the different qualities that are present in the orchestra: “At the end of the day, instead of knowing the qualities of the orchestra BETTER,  we shall have A BETTER KNOWLEDGE OF THE SPECIFIC QUALITIES OF THE ORCHESTRA,” she wrote.  Through the accurate description of everyday activities we will bring out more diversity and heterogeneity of those qualities.

The workshop – where the individual members of the orchestra went through an experience of meeting him/herself as a stranger – brought indeed astonishing results. Of course, the orchestra was not able to answer the question about the quality of the orchestra. But it came a little closer. The orchestra members highlighted very different moments and tried to describe why and how that happened. This indeed brought to light some very different aspects of quality,  very different from what everyone expected.  The South Netherlands Philharmonic learned that it has got much more layers of quality than the ones everyone thought to be eminent before.

The workshop served as a tool to bring players and members of staff of the orchestra closer together and prepare grounds for future innovational activities. It also served as an upbeat to the Artful Participation project that will be part of the Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music. The notes that have been taken by every individual will be analyzed and used as input for future developments. I will report later about the ongoing project in this blog.

June 24th

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