Practice Based Research
Much Taboo About Nothing consisted of a performance, as well as critical reflection of the process and outcomes of the performance, stemming from the initial research questions and aims. The critical account is documented through this online portfolio. The combination of this performance and research is defined as practice-based research, which ‘is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge, partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice’ (Candy and Edmonds, 2018, p. 63). Its focus is on the creative process and work that is produced. Practice and research work together to develop new knowledge in a particular field.
Practice as a term, simply defined is ‘something like, the actual application or use of an idea, belief or method, as opposed to theories relating to it, […] It’s also used to describe an activity we do often or lifelong professional activity’ (Candy and Edmonds, 2018, p. 64). It is more than a hobby or pastime, and more focused on as a lifelong pursuit where we express our creativeness (Candy and Edmonds, 2018). Essentially, it means doing something beyond everyday thinking and by doing this can develop new outcomes.
This creativeness – or more specifically - ‘creative practice’; ‘combines the act of creating something novel with the necessary processes and techniques belonging to a given field’ (Candy and Edmonds, 2018, p.64) and this creative practice has a focus on creating new concepts, as well as the way they have been developed. However, as Candy and Edmonds (2018) suggest, creative practice does not necessarily mean repeating until the required outcome is ‘perfect’, but sustaining considerable effort over time will produce productive work.
Alongside the practice, is the research element; research as a term, put simply, ‘is a systematic investigation to establish facts, test theories, and reach new knowledge and understanding’ (Candy and Edmonds, 2018, p.64). For research to be effective it must be ‘disseminated’, ‘original and ‘contextualised’. Candy and Edmonds go on to say that it; ‘involves seeking knowledge where it did not exist before and is frequently used to denote both a process and a product: the process of seeking out new knowledge and the knowledge itself’ (p.64). This ‘public’ research; that is available for anyone to access, compared to personal research which benefits only an individual, is sought to achieve something new in the world, and the outcomes and methodology expected to be challenged or explored. This development of a broader contribution to knowledge is fundamental in practice-based research and what I intended to do throughout Much Taboo About Nothing.
Practice-based research is not to be confused with the term practice-as-research. The distinction between the two as Candy (2006, p.1) describes is:
‘if a creative artefact is the basis of the contribution to knowledge the research is practice-based’
‘if the research leads primarily to new understandings about practice, it is practice-led’
This is also known as practice-as-research and ‘involves a research project in which practice is a key method of inquiry and where, in respect of the arts, a practice (creative writing, dance, musical score/performance, theatre/performance, visual exhibition, film or other cultural practice) is submitted as substantial evidence of a research inquiry’ (Nelson, 2013:9).
Another term with the same basis as practice-based-research, is arts-based-research, (Leavy, 2015), which is where my project sits. The arts as a whole tap into emotions and can ‘connect us with those who are similar and dissimilar, open up new ways of seeing and experiencing, and illuminate that which otherwise remain in darkness’ (Leavy, 2015, p. iv). This combination of using music as my medium to fulfil that connection - the practice, and developing an understanding of the connection and what outcomes may be produced from the practice, leads to my work fitting under the definition of art-based-research, as the research and the practice are intertwined.
My aims for this project were to show the skills of musicians with disabilities and allow them the chance to be on stage and share their talent, focussing on their abilities as musicians and not their disabilities, as Leavy (2015, p.24) says, ‘arts based practices are often useful in studies involving identity work’. So within this project it was about giving the performers the opportunity to show who they are as individuals and not by a label associated with their disability. I felt it was also important to record the challenges that they may face in the music industry and how knowing this information (such as barriers encountered, and what can be put in place to reduce these) may impact on future projects for musicians with disabilities; ‘one of the most valuable features of art-based research might be its potential for offering very different ways of approaching the most serious problems that we face in the world today (McNiff, 2008, p. 37). Therefore, breaking down these barriers and creating a more accepting and understanding society.
Alongside these aims, I also focussed on my leadership skills as a community musician leading song writing sessions around the topic of taboo in disability, and how to make sure that the sessions were not more facilitator-led or biased in the way that the repertoire was made. Although this aim was primarily focused on the process rather than the show itself, it was equally as important and gave insights into how successful workshops can benefit young people, giving them the best scenario to perform their songs in.
Throughout this project, I have been the researcher, the workshop facilitator, performer, and host of the show. This multi-role concept is seen in practice-based research because ‘typically, arts-based research is embodied and participatory; the researcher must take part in some aspect of the artistic project being studied and engage research participants face to face’ (Cooperman, 2018, p. 20).
Cooperman, (2018, p.21) goes on to say that ‘because the research is creative and generative, the researcher oftentimes becomes part of the research and may play a significant role’. Following this, ‘self-reflexivity becomes an important and ongoing part of the research as it unfolds’ (p. 21) and arts-based research allows the researcher to share this relationship with their audiences who experience their work (Leavy, 2015). It ‘seeks to bridge, and not divide both the artist-self and researcher-self’ (Leavy, 2015, p.3) with the audiences, and those who participated throughout the project. Within Much Taboo About Nothing it was important to collaborate with other musicians with disabilities on stage and throughout the process (such as during the song-writing sessions), as well as gain feedback from both the artists and audience after the show.
Throughout Much Taboo About Nothing it has been important to include my interests and opinions as well as that of the participants involved in the show. However, it was imperative to keep the level of leadership at a steady level and not too hierarchical and thereby ‘replicating systems of power and privilege at the expense of whom we work’ (Cooperman, 2018, p. 21).
Much Taboo About Nothing was designed to enable multiple musicians with disabilities the chance to share their skills as musicians and see more of our abilities as ‘creatives’. By doing this project as arts-based research I have enabled disabled musicians to perform on a platform without their disabilities being placed solely in the spotlight, as well as conducting this research element to support the music industry to be more inclusive for musicians with disabilities.
The majority of the music that was chosen to be performed at Much Taboo About Nothing was a combination of pieces based on disability and other life experiences. It was important to show the variety of music each act portrays; ‘by using music during the representation stage of research, we can affect audience members in new ways’ (Leavy, 2015, p. 127) and hopefully widen the audiences’ expectations they may have of disabled musicians.
Song writing process:
Song writing is a great way for people to express themselves and have a creative outlet. 'Songs can send us to sleep, help us to calm down, songs can excite us and get us dancing. We remember songs and they bring back emotions and memories, we share songs with friends, songs have the power to focus a whole generation' (Moser and McKay, 2005).
As a community musician I have led various song writing sessions with people of all ages and abilities. The process of song writing can be valuable, if not more valuable than the finished outcome of the song.
Throughout this project I have been working closely with Music Spark to write a new song around the topic of disability taboo. To find out how the process developed
As well as song writing with Music Spark I have also developed my skills as a composer on piano. The process for composing songs with Music Spark to solo piano pieces is a very different concept for me. To find out more about my composition development