Theses Doctoral

Learning to Listen: Collaborative Approaches to Choral Musicking

Freeman, Robin Jean

Choral ensembles often operate as hierarchical institutions where the conductor maintains a position of control over the musical, educational, and social aspects of singing with little or no input from singers. This dissertation reconceptualizes the choral experience as a dialogical process where conventional boundaries between conductor and singers blur. This study was conducted online with a vocal ensemble of ten experienced adult avocational singers and asks how a collaborative spirit may transform the ensemble, individual singers, and the conductor. Using a critical participatory action research approach, we engaged in dialogue and group problem solving as we created collective and individual musical projects over the course of ten rehearsals. The research design emphasized collective reflection and democratic decision making. This research journey is presented through a collection of multimodal data fragments such as musical recordings, practitioner reflections and collated singer reflections, rehearsal transcriptions and narratives, photographs, and poetry. Informed by decolonizing and post-qualitative methodologies, this dissertation highlights the ethical dilemmas, rewards, and uncertainties of both collaborative research and learner-centered approaches to education.

In investigating how singers might increase their influence within the ensemble setting, we discovered that singers talking back to the conductor set in motion conditions for a choral paradigm that I describe as back talk choral pedagogy. This pedagogical orientation draws on critical and relational perspectives and is characterized by four interconnected commitments: (a) relational accountability; (b) mutual recognition of knowledge; (c) cultivation of a public square; and (d) responsiveness to input. Singer back talk manifested itself in myriad ways, including the reporting of information or observations, sharing opinions and suggestions, directly contesting the conductor, storytelling, and silence. Singer back talk produced noticeable fruits—a culture of shared vulnerability and trust, unique singer contributions, role fluidity between conductor and singers, and choral communion—which positively impacted the learning environment. This inquiry suggests that by centering relational and ethical aspects of musical collaboration, back talk choral pedagogy has the potential to build flourishing, dynamic musical spaces, increase singer ownership, and challenge conductors to expand their teaching practice.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Allsup, Randall Everett
Goffi-Fynn, Jeanne Corinne
Ed.D.C.T., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 23, 2022