I feel like I began this project as one performer, and I am concluding it as another. I have developed my performing, but I have also developed in ways I wasn’t expecting. Through the research period, I have experimented more and more with musical form, with words, music and performance and their relationship to being a performer. And I have also carried out a performing exploration of my questions both with respect to interpretation and creating presence. This exploration has given me the courage to enter into a closer working partnership with composer Lene Grenager to create a work together entitled Ulvedrømmer. The latter is a work that showcases the concepts and practices towards which I have gravitated during these past four years, and at the same time, it points onwards. This collaboration is a conclusion, but a conclusion that opens up new questions and pathways.
Like William Pleeth once said to me in a lesson: “You have to know the cello with all its paths and byways, all its little bends and rivers”. I sat in his living room again, he was walking across the room to the other side to put some eau de cologne behind his ear. He called me pet. “Give me a new fingering, pet”, “and another one”. “Fingerings are like the soul of the music. You can do it”. ”Would you like to see my Stradivarius?” He took me to the adjacent room where the Stradivarius sat in its case – an impressive sight even though it did actually look like a quite normal cello. I was impressed nonetheless. “Let’s play some more.” His grey hair. His celebrity status: the famous teacher of Jaqueline Du Pré and now he is teaching me?! I feel like I have been transported to another world, an unattainable world. He talked to me as if he’d known me forever, like he really believed I could do any- thing. I tried to stretch my abilities towards his wishes and expectations. He calmed me down, talked me up. And all the time taking for granted that I could do it. And I could! It was as if simply being in his presence made me a better version of myself. He made me do magic there in his living room. I remember walking down the stairs after the lesson, he waved goodbye, then closed the door. I walked down the street into the enormous city, not quite knowing what had hit me. Trying to hold on to the feeling. But over the next week the magic gradually evaporated. The last time I played for him I felt utterly depressed afterwards, with the knowledge that this fantastic feeling of “I can do anything” wouldn’t last and I didn’t know who to ask for help in the aftermath. I couldn’t explain what had happened. I didn’t think of asking my own teacher for help with this. I just kept this faint memory of the fact that I could actually do anything, at least in his house, during those hours.
It is difficult to conclude this project by saying anything categorically about how the listener reacts to the difference in my playing, but I can make assumptions based on comments and feedback I have had and the sense I get of actual communicating with the audience during performances. I conclude after these four years of working, that my work with embodiment, both types of understanding of affect, and creating presence is a way to speak more directly to the listener.
The use of theories on interpretation, affects, developing presence and flow in performance, helps me put words to my lived experiences as a performer, and becomes a help for thinking and reflecting. The theory provides a foundation and an inspiration for my artistic work. The connections between my concepts come from inside my practice, and the concepts help to explain and to convey for myself and others how and why I should bring the body into performance and allow the body to take on a more central role in interpretation. Having words to explain phenomena which I before found hard to find words to describe, has created a better understanding of my embodied knowing and the work I had started.
I felt like I needed to know more about the teachings of Stanislaw Kulhawczuk, to reflect on these teachings by reading critical theory, and to anchor this knowledge and knowing in a broader context. The project gave me the courage to trust the intuition that this could make a difference, and the courage to play with a more personal voice, step outside the conventions and start experimenting within my practice. This whole reflection can be read as an introduction to the final conclusion of my work, which is to be experienced through my musical performances, where all my reflections wrap up into the ephemeral moment of music experience for both the performer and the listener. Developing presence, which involves intuitive, emotional and physical aspects, is a lifelong learning process, and my present four-year project only reflects this work over a limited period of time.
The body is somehow implicated in everything we do, but we rarely speak of this. The classical performing education I received is extremely traditional and conservative. We become highly skilled in performing and recreating written music, but there is not much room for creativity or questioning what we are doing.
I have developed as a musician and artistic researcher, but also as a listener and teacher. I perform music to communicate directly with the listener, as a result of my work with presence as a performer, and my aims to touch the audience affectively. It is difficult to conclude this project by saying anything categorically about how the listener reacts to the difference in my playing, but I can make assumptions based on comments and feedback I have had and the sense I get of actual communication with the audience during performances. The feedback received from members of the audience who approach me after a performance has served as a sort of barometer of my practice. In such situations, I ask them to send me their comments to have an idea of whether my artistic work is leading me in the right direction. One audience member, Ingun Myrstad, describes how the music touches her during my performance of Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje’s To F at the Trondheim Chamber Music festival in September 2015:
I don’t quite know how to explain, but it is very beautiful, a little vulnerable and a little raw. It just hits me. And this feeling I sometimes get, when music touches me, and talks straight to the body, and my thoughts disappear and I close my eyes and take it in. It is incredibly beautiful, and strong! […] Now I am here, in the music, and it is just beautiful.
Another audience member, Linn Halvorsrød, commented in similar ways after another performance. She talks about a shortcut to her heart, which I interpret as the music having a direct affective impact on her emotions:
[…] the tones from her and her cello go straight to my body and spellbind me. I don’t care about why, she just has a short cut into my heart which I am happy about and which always makes me anticipate the next time I have an opportunity to hear her play.
I also want to include a comment from Siri Mæland after a performance of Lene Grenagers Solo suite in December 2015, which indicates that my interpretation can create a feeling of dialogue in the music:
What makes me think there is more than just one performer? On the one hand, a large sound, and on the other I get a feeling you are engaged in a dialogue with yourself – or that you play two melody lines. I discover that I am moved by what I hear, the music touches me in the chest region, I get warm and close my eyes and let myself slide into the music. My thoughts disappear, and I listen with my entire self – I move with the melody and rhythm (without really moving the body, just a feeling of internally moving). Unfortunately it comes to an end. I feel like it’s over too soon.
I finally quote a revue by Tor Hammerø of my recording Khipukamayuk, with music by Lene Grenager, where he comments on what I have worked toward achieving, something unique, full of expression, dynamic, melodic, fascinating and personal:
The result is nothing less than great, exciting and deeply personal […] Marianne B. Lie has both the will and the ability to create something unique […] What I know at least is that both the music of Grenager and the interpretations made by Lie – or the knots she finds the solutions to – are both expressive, dynamic, melodic, fascinating and extremely personal. This is not music I meet every day, this is music I find very challenging and heartfelt (Hammerø, 2016)
I conclude after these four years of working, that my work with embodiment, affects and creating presence is a way to affectively speak more directly to the listener. The thought of music-as-speech inspired by the rhetoric performance practice, which incorporates a more spoken feeling, creates interest and keeps the listeners attention.
In Zen and the Art of Archery the philosopher Herrigel writes about the learning process of the archer: “[…] the desolate feeling that he is attempting the impossible! And yet the impossible will one day have become possible and even self-evident” ((Herrigel, E. (1971). Zen in the art of archery By Eugen Herrigel ; with an introduction by D.T. Suzuki; translated by R.F.C. Hull (Vol. V-663). New York: Vintage books, p. 9)). I sometimes doubted the work I was doing. Was it leading me anywhere at all? But when I now look and listen back to a less introspective former way of performing, I can see that my artistic work has affected my sound and my musical performance. I also listen different today, to myself and to others, and the comments I get from the audience are positive.
I can now interpret with a greater freedom, and I dare to use my personal voice more than before, an inner resource that didn’t always get through to my listeners. Before I started this project, I was trying to be very much in control all the time. Now I aim to work more freely and passionately. I trust my intuition more, and I have an embodied approach to playing, as if the thought and the mind and the feeling from where the music stems come from the center of my body.
The focus has changed from a more theoretical view on the artistic research to an understanding of the necessity to bring my body into the reflections and into my work on performance. Knowing my cello is important, but knowing myself, and knowing how to trust and develop my own knowing is essential for further development.
The researcher’s mentality, approaching a phenomenon with curiosity and reflection, has created in me a better ability to learn from others’ observations without taking a defensive stance – be it after a concert, in discussions or in a lesson. This has also made me ask questions or look at what I am doing without being as afraid of failure as before. The objective distance to my work, through constant reflection, is conceived as a constructive distance and it creates room for experimenting more than in a setting where I felt I was being constantly judged for my personality.
The fact of reflecting on my own practice changes it. It gives me the courage to take artistic risks I would never have dreamt of before. The spiral of development that I described in the chapter on method not only develops the performer as such, but also causes the content and the expression to evolve.
It feels like I have been wearing an armor built through all my classical education. I was so afraid of doing something wrong, afraid of showing who I am, in case someone would use it against me. I was afraid of others seeing the raw me. When I started developing through this work it felt as if I opened the armor while playing and what came out was honest and vulnerable. It feels like I am showing my inside, all of me, who I am. But I can use it in the music, creating a more direct emotional link with the listener. The audience tell me they have been touched by my playing, and that is the goal! And it is also more exciting for me. It feels like I have a better contact with the instrument, the music and myself – I get a feeling of flow when playing.
I remember my first internal exam at Barratt Due Institute of Music. I was so filled with emotions. I played it all out, felt like I did everything. But nothing really came out the way I wanted it and my body did not do what I told it to do – I was too nervous. But I still felt like my emotions were showing through everything. But from the comments afterwards I realized that the jury had not understood this, and thought I wasn’t very emotional. My body and “armour” was restricting the emotional experience coming through to the audience.
The performative analysis, like Bania’s affect analysis ((Bania, M. (2016). Affective Enactment. Paper presented at the International Musicologist Society, Stavanger)), of the compositions helps me make decisions on interpretation, and it then becomes easier to define how to shape the music in the musical performance. Professor of music Robert Woody in The relationship between explicit planning and expressive performance of dynamic variations in an aural modeling task ((Woody, R. H. (1999). The Relationship between Explicit Planning and Expressive Performance of Dynamic Variations in an Aural Modeling Task. Journal of Research in Music Education, 47(4), 331-342.doi:doi:10.2307/3345488)) claims that research on aural modelling suggests that musicians who deliberately plan expressive parameters may be more likely to realize their plans during performance, and they play the features in a more pronounced manner than otherwise.
My project addresses the critical issues of musical rules and freedom of interpretation, connecting this to an embodied understanding of performing. The historically informed performance movement, with its focus on the historical genres of baroque, classical and romantic music, have for me opened up potential links to contemporary music. I believe that the knowledge of historically informed performance practice has the potential to infuse music with a more subjective expression and freedom. The achieved awareness of the musical rules can establish new possibilities for creativity.
I asked probing questions about interpretation and now suggest another approach to the ongoing international debate on interpretation, especially with respect to contemporary music. I also see it as relevant to classical or romantic performance practices to reflect on the possibly stale role of the performer. By looking into and reflecting on these issues I also lay the groundwork for other performers who are interested in exploring these traditions and thoughts in a contemporary context.
An important focus in my project is the inner work or world of the performer, of creating presence in the moment within and around the performer. I am, of course, also aware of the physical performance in the room, how I use gestures, movements, and how I look at the audience, are important parts of creating presence on stage. In the classical concert tradition, there is little emphasis placed on the performer’s actions on stage as a part of the concert experience.
The representation and recreation of a work of music have mainly been what interest musicians within the classical art music tradition. I think that there are so many overlooked possibilities within the interpretational choices of music, and of course this can also be broadened by looking at the visual, theatrical and physical aspects of a stage performance, and the potential of the musician to be truly performative. Alwynne Pritchard in her two works, Hospice Lazy and We, Three makes us, Alpaca Ensemble, experiment with, challenge and explore the musical scene producing works with a clear multi-communicative character.
Is there room for failure and risk? According to the traditional view: In classical music there is not – a failure is just a failure, which does not leave much room for experimentation. A researching mindset would experience mistakes as the possibility for something new and inspiring to occur. What if we were to see failure as a stepping stone? Would we maybe not be so afraid of taking risks?
In my work with this inner presence and speech, the need to experiment further has arisen – to implicate myself even more as a creative performer in the work. From this came the performance Ulvedrømmer, with texts written by me and music by composer Lene Grenager. Ulvedrømmer, is an experiment and a reflection on the process of being a performer, communicated through an artistic medium instead of in written form. With this material as a basis, we have created this performance touching on existential issues of being a performer, an interpretative performer, of being, and dreams. It is not a narrative, but a poetic and reflective view intermingled with dreams and nightmares. I experiment in using the room, movement and voice. It is tightly tied up with my reflections, and it is also introducing new artistic parameters in my performance, showing a way forward from this artistic research project. Creating and maintaining presence have more challenges in this setting, but it has developed during performance presentations I have done through my artistic research practice, in conferences and symposiums.
I am not an actor, and I do not pretend to be. But when I experiment with using words, movements, and the room, I am exploring physical and theatrical potential. In our con- temporary world, the art and theatre worlds challenge the conventions in performing and presenting works, while the classical music scene is still rather conservative.