- Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance by J. Murphy McCaleb
J. Murphy McCaleb’s Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance explores how musicians interact and share information while performing, specifically within unconducted chamber ensembles. The book is a direct outgrowth of the author’s doctoral dissertation and follows a similar format. Beginning with a presentation of four essential research questions, McCaleb continues with an overview and justification for his methodology, followed by case studies, conclusions, and foundations for further research. The four questions McCaleb seeks to answer with this volume are: How do musicians interact and share information with each other while performing? What is the nature of the information being shared in ensemble performance? To what extent does the musical content being performed affect the ways it has to be physically created by musicians? How does the physical relationship between the performers and their instruments relate to communicative and interactive processes of ensemble performance? After an explanation of methodology, McCaleb devotes a chapter to each of the four questions. The substantial and excellent review of literature is distributed throughout the comprising six chapters, providing a natural connection between case studies, previous research, and resultant conclusions. While the author suggests the book [End Page 103] has value for both researchers and practitioners, the most prominent result of the discourse provides a new paradigm with which to study ensemble interaction, but contains few practical suggestions for performers, leaning heavily on previous research. McCaleb’s work will most directly benefit other researchers and music education theorists.
The volume spans 140 pages, including an index and bibliography, as well as an accompanying DVD. The DVD includes video examples of rehearsals and performances for two ensembles that served as subjects of the research case studies: the Boult String Quartet, the premiere student quartet at the Birmingham Conservatoire (where the author was completing his doctorate), and The Supergroup, an ensemble that performs free group improvisations. The author is himself a member of The Supergroup and serves as “a reflective practitioner, assuming the roles of researcher and musician” (p.16). While his research methodology is pluralistic (though decidedly qualitative in nature), the employment of action research, wherein the “people being studied become part of the knowledge creation process,” is a prominent element in his method (p. 13). This is one area where McCaleb’s perspective is both powerful and open to debate. One of the central and strongest premises of McCaleb’s work is that music is a singular form of procedural knowledge. Because the nature of procedural knowledge at some level defies linguistic translation, the perspective of performing musicians is a critical element to any phenomenological study of musical performance. The author acknowledges that this raises questions of subjectivity and works to incorporate empirical methods such as “observation, interviews, literature review, and case studies” to counter the more subjective methodology (p.15). McCaleb’s multifaceted approach to research is for the most part highly effective, but at times the anecdotal tone of his first-hand descriptions of musical experiences can soften the force of his premise.
Based on the concept that music is a form of procedural knowledge, McCaleb posits that communication among ensemble musicians is first and foremost musical. In order to illustrate this, the author explores other common models used to study interaction between musicians. In this review of other research studies, McCaleb is most effective in pointing out the inadequacies of applying other models to musical ensemble interaction. The linguistic model, which seeks to correlate physical gestures with speech patterns, remains inadequate to study communication between instrumental musicians. Previous research investigating the gestural model, while focusing on instrumental music, is preoccupied with emotional content, primarily between performer and audience, and does not approach the question of what and how communication occurs between performing musicians (pp. 27–28). Based on the inadequacies of other research [End Page 104] models, McCaleb seeks to establish a new paradigm of interaction entirely independent of social models and based solely in musical performance (p. 7).
This points to an important area of research that McCaleb largely neglects: the neuroscience...