By: Aoife Kavanagh
Article Title, Issue and Volume:
Researching Music- and Place-Making through Engaged Practice: Becoming a Musicking-Geographer
Special Issue – Fieldwork in Geography
What is the main purpose of your study?
My study aims to understand how music-making and place-making influence and relate to one another in three Irish small towns. These towns are known for their vibrant and diverse music scenes, and have rich histories of established musical ensembles, artists, festivals, and community practice. I work with a broad range of musicians of all ages, genres, and musical backgrounds, including community musicians, professional practitioners, audiences and members of the public, to explore their everyday experiences of making music in places. I aim to understand how their places and communities form supportive and nurturing settings in which to build musical practice, and in turn how their musical work gives back to their places and communities.
I combine my professional musical practice with geography methods. In some cases, I collaborate with musicians in performances and rehearsals, while in others I attend their performances as an audience member, or analyze their musical works. The second part of my methodology is the creation of large, collaborative, participatory maps to chart the musical lives and stories of musicians I meet in each place.
What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
Through working with practitioners, community ensembles, and members of the public, I explore how places provide (or do not provide) opportunities for meaningful and engaging artistic experiences. This includes available musical events to spectate at or participate in, opportunities for learning or sharing music, and venues and resources for music. I can understand how existing provision, for example in artistic funding, might or might not be as effective as it could be, and what could be improved. I also learn about what challenges musicians might face, and how they work to navigate and overcome these challenges. These strategies can help to inform the work of practitioners and community organizations in other fields too.
In participating in my research, musicians share their memories, experiences, and opinions, shaping the story of their own places. These musicians may rarely have been given the opportunity to discuss music-making or share their stories before, and I have discovered some wonderful and poignant musical stories that I would never have heard otherwise. My research also provides a framework which could be used in any environment or setting to empower and engage with communities on-the-ground. Their valuable and meaningful on-the-ground experiences and perspectives may inform better practice in the future.
How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Existing work on art and artistic practice in geography has been biased towards visual experience and visual art in some ways, and my work responds to this. Work on music in geography has examined a range of themes, for example the economies, networks, and place-marketing of music, and music’s influence and part in building identity and belonging. However, there has been less emphasis on understanding active and everyday processes of music-making as they play out in and influence places, and my work responds to this. My perspective, as an active professional musical practitioner, expands existing work on music, combining a variety of perspectives, as performer, facilitator, analyst, and audience member, which are not combined in previous studies. These perspectives emphasize the emotional, affective and memory-making side of musical experience, which enhances work on this area in geography too.
What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
- The spaces in which music-making happens in the places I studied are varied, diverse and sometimes very unexpected. For example, while formal music venues such as theatres were important spaces for music, so too were schools, hotels, pubs, commercial and industrial sites, and outdoor spaces.
- I got a strong sense of the importance of the non-musical parts of their musical experience. For example, musicians viewed their musical participation as a way to socialize and meet new people, to relax and participate in a hobby, to learn something new, or to contribute to their communities. Though they expressed their pride in their musical achievements, the ways in which they themselves could develop as human beings was just as important.
- There is a wide and complex set of connections at play in building musical practice in a place. While we might expect to learn that other musicians, artistic administrators and funders, and musical audiences are important to sustaining musical practice, we might less expect to hear about formative connections with local businesses, sports bodies, tourism bodies, and charities.
- Online presence, especially through social media, is essential for sustaining and expanding professional musical practice, especially in places like the smaller places I studied. This is not difficult for younger people, who might use social media in their own lives anyway, but can prove challenging for musicians who are less familiar with them.
What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
From a methodological point of view, my study considers how a practitioner-geographer approach might be developed effectively by geographers, which may allow them to explore topical aspects of everyday experience in geography, such as the embodied, sensual, emotional and affective, in new environments or settings. My study offers a possible framework for participatory action research projects and collaborative, empowering, and engaging research experiences more broadly. My research contributes to the ever-expanding body of work on artistic and creative practice and experience in geography, and on the processual nature of place-making from a critical humanist perspective.
How does your research help us think about Geography?
My research prompts us to consider how studying place and place-making through embodied artistic practice can enrich and broaden geographic perspectives and approaches. It similarly shows that practitioners and artists outside of geography play active roles in geographic processes, and can benefit from collaboration with geographers to expand and develop their own practice. Geographers are equipped with a rich repertoire of skills and theoretical knowledges to work effectively in collaboration with practitioners and organizations beyond the discipline and academic environment. Geography is also open and broad enough to make room for and learn through cooperative, collaborative processes that enrich work in and beyond the discipline.