Performers must face music and write

November 28, 2003

Arts and humanities research chiefs have infuriated musicians with a declaration that their performances cannot be classified as research.

In a paper that seeks to draw a line under the acrimonious debate about what can legitimately be assessed in the field of performing arts, the Arts and Humanities Research Board says that musical and theatrical performances must be backed up by a written record of the research process before they can be considered for assessment.

Michael Jubb, director of policy and programmes at the AHRB, told The THES that music could no longer expect to be treated any differently from other subjects in the way research was assessed.

He said: "In the same way that an engineer who has designed an innovative bridge should not expect the bridge itself to stand as the record of the research and innovation that led to it, a performance or a recording of a performance does not stand as a record of how research was done or its scholarly significance."

But musicians are furious. They say the move could damage their work if too much emphasis is placed on documentation and not enough on the final performance in the next research assessment exercise or its replacement.

Conservatories were "burnt" in the previous RAE, when the UK's three leading institutions fell from a 5 to a 4 rating. Now they could see their research -and their funding - suffer another blow.

John Rink, music professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, said it was not clear where "creative output" featured in the AHRB's proposed assessment system. "It seems almost as if it is only the written documentation that matters to the AHRB," he said.

Darla Crispin, head of the Graduate School at the Royal College of Music and chair of a working group on assessment set up by the National Association of Music in Higher Education (NAMHE), said some of the phrases and arguments in the paper were "unhelpful". "The problem is that documentation does not replace the fact that research is taking place in a performance."

Stephen Banfield, chair of NAMHE and a professor of music at Bristol University, said: "In an ideal world, music would stand by itself, and people would not need assistance from written texts."

A spokeswoman for the AHRB said the musicians' concerns were "flatly contradicted by what we have said in the text".

"We are not proposing that the text should be assessed - the creative output is the key," she said.

"We believe that researchers in the creative and performing arts should... regard it as a scholarly obligation to document and to reflect critically on and review their research processes... we [do not] believe that creative work, however highly regarded, should be seen as constituting an output of research that should be assessed in its own right."

  • Guidelines on improving standards in postgraduate research-degree programmes are stunting growth and damaging standards in music departments, according to the field's leaders. The National Association of Music in Higher Education said this week that the guidelines, which state that a postgraduate research community should be supported only if it has at least five research-active staff and ten research students, have "proved extremely unhelpful" in music.

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