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date: 23 January 2020

Commentary: Musical Creativity as Practice

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents an overview of Section 4 of the Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume 2. It reviews notions of musical creativity and proposes a practice-based perspective for understanding the variegated types of musical creativity. It presents three vignettes showing how creativity in music is rendered differently in different contexts. It argues that in the field of music education, there is a need to promote practices that directly develop creativity. In doing so, individualistic approaches wedded to socio-historical foundations and traditional beliefs (which tend to be independent and autonomous from other fields of music) must be played down. Educators need to promote the power of relationships over individual minds, multiple worlds over singular realities, collaborative interdependence over individual heroism, and dialogue over alienation.

Keywords: musical creativity, music education, music educators

Musical creativity—broadly construed as the exemplary locus of diverse forms of practice—is one of the most prominent yet notoriously contentious phenomena produced in the “field”1 of music education. Arguably the locus of highest value,2 and integrally tied to conceptions linking the individual, society, and culture (and subcultures or neo-tribes), the literature on “musical creativity” largely profiles professional musicians and composers, across high and popular cultures. Nevertheless, the general situation is far from clear. From the perspective of students and teachers, the challenge of musical creativity can be attributed to it being an emerging field of theory and research, and one for which definitions are not only elusive but also contested and confused. Another challenge is the tension between the aspiration to teach students about changing forms of musical creativity on the one hand and on the other the demands made of teachers working in technical standards-driven education who have yet to address the issue of assessing musical creativity directly.3 In this context we begin to grasp some of the most enduring assumptions and canonical challenges that are built into our language and that have shaped policy and practice in music creativity in educational systems. For example, consider the iconic status of “composition,” the reigning focus of the great composers and composition-based approaches to music; whereas, in fact, most of the world's traditional musics, as with the globally spatialized internet forms,4 have not originated through formal acts of “composition.” In order to demythologize the scholarly rhetoric, we need to recognize that it is all a human construction, the product of culture, and accordingly varies from time to time and place to place.

(p. 320) The literature also profiles the assumption that an individual adult's conception of musical creativity may be quite different from what a child or adolescent experiences. Unsurprisingly, young people's conceptions of musical creativity are shaped by the more general process of enculturation through a range of media, through the internet, and in the social contexts in which creative activity takes place as performance practices, realized and remixed in their own right; this may or may not be specific to, or situated in, the worlds of formal music education.

My purpose in this opening commentary is to review our notions of musical creativity and propose a practice-based perspective for understanding the variegated types of musical creativity featured by contributors.

That being so, I shall begin with three vignettes showing how creativity in music is rendered differently in different contexts; I ask, in turn, that every reader test everything that I have to say against his or her own experience. Where the forms of musical creativity are embodied in lifeworld contexts of experiencing “music,” the central issue is how the field of music education applies its own laws of functioning to specific forms of practice, methods, and principles of evaluation of both practice and work produced more broadly in the field of “musicking.”5

What follows are three vignettes, each grounded in lifeworld contexts of distinct forms of creativity in music. Each vignette provides a glimpse, as insightfully explained by Bourdieu in his theory of practice, of “a modus operandi informing all thought and action”; practices are “variably constituted by the fields within which their work is disseminated,” each with its own status, schemes of action, orientations, rules, and code of behavior. Each vignette can be broken down “into individual positions, steps, or moves, practices which integrate all these artificially isolated elementary units of behavior into the unity of an organized activity” (1977: 18); each practice is characterized by the same defining structural logic of differentiation existent in the field, including its links with other fields.

Vignette 1: The Creativity of the (Mythical) Lone Genius

Imagine you've been asked to give an account of your first experience of live opera. Your account details a performance of Wagner's final epic opera Parsifal, which infamously invokes the “total artwork” (or Gesamtkunstwerk) and grandness of the poetic, visual, musical, and dramatic arts, staged and framed by time, space, and spectacle. You provide an “idealized” description of the splendor of the costumes and the sets, the creative expression of “pure” music, which brings more fulfillment than suffering, and you recall how the boxes were arranged primarily to allow you to view one another rather than the stage. All of this impressed you. You recall every detail about the set, its magnificence and complex layers of (p. 321) meaning, and what it was to be part of an audience in the opera house. You paid for a “box” seat—historically, solely an aristocratic preserve and allocated strictly according to rank—and felt delirious with excitement, desiring only to listen with respectful attention; a listening attitude that is, of course, appropriate to “serious” music and shows secular devotion toward the pose of heroic individualism in the Romantic artist. You recollect how the canonical work of opera left you reeling from the valued traditions of such high-level creativity, itself a function of the Romantic legacy. You reflect on the extraordinary creativity of the composer and the cult of the musical genius. You ponder the relationship of the composer to the wider community; the separation of professional composer from “passive” audience and the range of performance practices that have been legitimated by history; the status of Wagner's works, the fixed roles of conductor, orchestra, diva, and how they are all wedded to traditional beliefs underpinned by individualistic assumptions about musical creativity. You ascribe a lot of importance to your knowledge of opera. You speak of the laws of reason, the laws of musical creativity of the period of the nineteenth century, and the diverse subjectivities that emerge from a complex fusion of art forms born and developed within an immutable cultural tradition.

Vignette 2: The Creativity of Cultural Production

Imagine you've been asked to give an account of your first experience of the megaseller songwriter and performing artist Madonna in a live performance at one of her sellout world tour concerts. The venue is a football stadium. This is a women who has built up a brilliant and durable career and made more money than can be imagined from promoting an image that illustrates how individual and collective identities are constructed and lived out. Your account details her brand, her singing, and her songwriting skills, and you reflect on her ability to constantly reinvent her persona, moving creatively and innovatively through several distinct images, a process that is a necessary part of ensuring her enduring star status. You reflect on the Madonna phenomenon of the 1980s, with her charismatic personality and captivating stage presence, her sexuality and creative character; on how Madonna “wannabes,” with peroxide hair, 1950s sunglasses, and frilly pink dresses and clutching Madonna posters, were prominent among the 77,000-strong crowd at the London Wembley Stadium; a scene that attracts a range of subcultures all of which express new ways of understanding and identifying the relationship between musical taste and identity. In dressing like her, they took on the success and glamour Madonna symbolizes, while identifying with her projected values of rebellion against parental authority. You recall the creative endeavors situated and offered up by a visceral spectacle with an army of professionals supporting the (p. 322) cultural production of meaning that shaped your experience. It is demonstrably a collective enterprise, where promoters, record companies, organizations, designers, producers, and all the creative agents involved in the production are subsumed within the cultural parameters of the domain and the social experiences of the field of popular music.

Vignette 3: The Creativity of the Technosphere

The third experience involves clubbing and the “vibe” at a hardcore techno-house in a city center club in London. You feel comfortable in this club space and fit in with the club culture in a venue that glows in the dark with canvases of surreal landscapes with rising suns and psychedelic snakes. The crowd looks pretty homogenous. They are mostly dressed in a version of the acid house uniform of T-shirts, baggy jeans, and kickers boots. You feel like you belong. You dance to a collage of hip-hop, rap, and urban dance music. It feels cool to dance to music that features (re)constructed repertoires from mixing and downloading internet files conceptualized, gained, shared, and evaluated within the social context in which they musically live. You meet and interact with a practice based around “beats,” that is, musical collages composed of brief segments of recorded sound and dialogue between different points of view. You recognize cuts from unlikely records. This is a technologically informed creative process of hip-hop that takes place in a social context of sound reproduction technology that makes an impression on you. You're transfixed by the complexity of community and interaction and the style mixing involved in its production, made possible with the development of new technologies that lead to different forms of creativity. You engage with a variety of different musical moods by moving between different rooms or floors. The club stages a number of parallel events and as a frequent clubgoer you feel free to move between these events as you please. This makes “clubbing” less of a singularly definable activity and more of a series of fragmented, temporal experiences. Different music plays on different floors. There's a cafe room that plays hip-hop and jazz and then there's another room that has singing of house music; then there's the techno music with a sort of trance techno played upstairs. It feels entirely new, or at least a different type of creativity, which is shaped by practices involving digital recording and sound storage, and the downloading of mp3 files sampled from the internet. The club scene offers a critical space for the young consumer to make choices in terms of what kinds of music is appropriated, how the music is lived out, and what it stands for. It is the enabling context of creative and innovative action of a field in which the cultural parameters of the domain are mediated by the production and consumption of music.

(p. 323) How Forms of Creativity in Music Become the Locus of Significant Practices

At the opera, the image of the individual composer as a “lone artist,” as the genius, dominates. In the constellation of mainstream popular practices, what there is to hear determines what people want to hear, and what people want to hear determines what there is to hear. The street remix, as with the website “ccmixter” (see the Creative Commons website,, draws in the relationships between different musics, all of which exemplify and contribute to a composite of creative performance practices: all bear agency, all contribute to the ontology of the practice; all encompass realities of a social connectedness, a collective identity, and its translation in each location, produced in the intimate interaction of performer and crowd. It's all about how the music derives from a continuous circuit of mediations and translations of human-machine interaction that renders the music creative; there is no original and no copy, only rapidly proliferating, variant versions. The creativity is the locus of significant practices. The practices position the musical creativity within different experiential interests and discourses.

Foucault (1972) delineates discourses as “practices which form the objects of which they speak.” Discourse constructs the topic. Discourse influences how ideas are put into practice. Discourses are practices. Our focus is, therefore, those discourses and practices. The practice perspective has a particular orientation that is quite different from previous musical creativity research because the concept of “practice” is perceived differently and orients people to who, where, and when they engage and how they construct forms of musical creativity. Thus, musical creativity is taken up by each contributor: this adds a new perspective to the critical debate about the possibility of generating new practices of musical creativity and the potential for engaging with multiple creativities in the field of music education.

A Case for Diverse Renderings of Multiple Creativities in Music

We need to acknowledge that what renders creativity in music is changing, complex,6 and multifaceted. We know that what might be seen as being very creative indeed and at the forefront of new musical thought in one “field” (within a social system) and “domain” (within a cultural system), might not be seen as creative in another. But those who are assigned to make judgments about the originality of the many dimensions of music (teachers at the classroom level, governments at the system/policy level, and experts at the cultural/societal level) find that doing (p. 324) so is not straightforward because development and innovation are unpredictable. Another reason why there is little coherence or agreement about how musical creativity is understood is because some musics are seen as going well beyond a single individual's creativity and are very much a collective act, with creativity embodied (i.e., it can be seen) in its production and reproduction.

A Bourdeuian view is that an individual acquires knowledge by being immersed in it via learning and experience and that

the individual acquires a “feel for the game,” a “practical sense” (sens practique) that includes agents to act and react in specific situations in a manner that is not always calculated and that is not simply a question of conscious obedience to rules. Rather it is a set of dispositions which generates practices and perceptions. (Johnson in Bourdieu, 1993:5)

It is not surprising, then, that musical creativity is an educational theme in the field of comparative and international education7 that has been largely ignored. In the International Journal of Music Education, between 1966 and 2010, only 6% of articles dealt with the creativity category,8 as compared with nearly 42% of articles focused on the curriculum and learning category. We have yet to develop a model for the comparative analysis of varieties of musical creativity, let alone distinguish the universal in “musical creativity” from culturally specific influences on our thinking about aspects of musical creativity. Crucially, there is a necessity for documentation (in music education) of emerging practices. In what follows the central argument is for an expansion of the discourse on musical creativity in music education, linking it to the very nature of the creativities of music and music's changing ontology.9

The contributors featured in Part 1 of this volume conceptualize distinctive forms of musical creativity. Accounts of how their respective practices led to distinctive forms of musical creativity arise from projects conducted in England, Ireland, the United States, Australia, Greece, Sweden, Hong Kong, China, Gambia, and the Netherlands. Key terms that reflect diverse practices and distinctive discourse (and possibly shifting ontological positions) include “mutuality,” “shared intentionality,” “self-other sensitivity,” “synergizing relationships,” “social transformation,” and “dissociation” (see fig. 4.1.1) These terms differentiate what renders distinctive creativities in music in different sites of practice.

The aim of this part of the volume is, therefore, to raise fundamental questions about (1) the way we think about musical creativity, (2) the kinds of creativities that emerge in practice that are culturally derived, (3) the cultural and intercultural forces that bring about convergence and divergences in our practices, and (4) the values by which creativity as practice is informed.

 Commentary: Musical Creativity as Practice

Figure 4.1.1 Forms of musical creativity and particularities of practice.

It is necessary at the outset to outline three related arguments that build across all of the chapters in this part of the volume. The first concerns how the concept of “practice” is immensely fertile because it operates on the same principles that unify a multiplicity of discrete works of art or acts across the cultural and social realities that influence our understanding of how musical creativity is experienced. The second argument is that distinctive “creativities of music”10 are comprehended only (p. 325) once one locates the practice because it provides a visible, unifying principle for all the experiences. The third is that this approach has value in highlighting affinities and shifts in the dominant historical forms of musical creativity. The chapters in this part of the volume provide evidence of changing forms of musical creativity.

This part of the volume does not offer comparative enquiry, nor does it attempt to meet the challenge of comparative practices; it does, however, accommodate studies from across the world that cross the contexts and boundaries of microsytems, where children are directly involved, such as the home or the school (see chapter 4.2), to mesosytems, which reflect the relationships of homes, schools, and neighborhoods in partnerships (see chapter 4.6), and the macrosystem, which reflects the dominant beliefs of a particular culture, such as the belief in the value of creativity in music (see chapter 4.3). Here, Bronfenbrenner's model describes how we conceptualize musical creativity as practice at different contextual levels and social forms. Using the concept of “practice” as an analytical category this part of the volume crosses the boundaries (p. 326) of space and time, transcending the particularity of context because forms of musical creativity are comprehended as practices. These practices embody purposes and values, and reflect assumptions about what knowledge and understanding are of most worth to the participants in the educational setting. Task, activity, interaction, and judgment become the building blocks of “practice” as it unfolds in a particular setting. The journey across this part of the volume provides evidence-based practices situated in, and governed by, space, time, and purpose, in a range of educational settings. Part 1 of the volume includes a chapter (see chapter 4.5) that compares assessment practices at sites in England, Australia, and Hong Kong.

With contributors from Europe (England, Sweden, Norway, Greece, the Netherlands), Asia (Australia, Hong Kong) Africa (Gambia), the Middle East (Iran), and the United States, what singles out these chapters from others in this handbook that might focus on aspects of “musical creativity” is the unifying principle of a practice perspective. By examining the assumptions about musical creativity in diverse cultural sites of practice, we can take a first step in asking whether our own educational practices of musical creativity are justified. This is a first step because it enables us to be reflective and critical about the purpose of musical creativity and our role as music educators. The second step is to ask whether there are better ways of engaging in musical creativity in our teaching and learning. To this end, musical creativity is comprehended only once one locates practice.

Research Perspectives

The argument for multiple creativities in music is informed by Csikszentmihalyi's systems approach to creativity, which posits the ongoing operation of “a system composed of three elements: a culture (and microcultures or neo-tribes)11 that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999: p. 206). In Csikszentmihalyi's Systems Model of Creativity (1999), the real world practices that inscribe different forms of musical creativity are defined by grounding norms that are constituted as practices within social, cultural, and activity systems.12 In other words, creativity matters to different people for different reasons.

This systems model emphasizes the sociocultural factors that, consisting of judgments made by society, comprise the rules and practices set within the domain (a formal body of knowledge such as music) and selected by the field (as the society of experts who are familiar with the grammar of rules for a particular domain (as “garage” is a field in the domain of music). All of this converges and interacts with the individual's creative endeavors.

 Commentary: Musical Creativity as Practice

Figure 4.1.2 Forms of musical creativity and where distinctive practices were located and investigated, developed and applied.

The systems model (see fig. 4.1.2) encourages us to look beyond the dominant discourse, to steer constantly back and forth between these circles (“culture,” “person,” and “field”). As Bourdieu suggests, “practice” is a consequence of “schemes of (p. 327) action and perception, which, never having been constituted as explicit principles, can only produce an unwilled necessity which is therefore necessarily imperfect but also a little miraculous” (1990:13). The practice of creativity, whether in the spaces of music-making, music researching, teaching, or learning, is the locus for social, cultural, and activity systems. As such, creativity as practice becomes an embodied, living space for diverse renderings of creativities in music.

The significance of this chapter is that it provides insight into how manifold forms of musical creativity are observable and are located as practice. The sites of practice featured across this part of the volume include sites in the school classroom, across the community, in cultural settings, in arts partnership organizations, and in teacher education programs. These sites of practice illustrate, as Bourdieu argued, that the ideas, values, and beliefs by which a practice arises involve schemes of action and perception, situated in and governed by space and time. Figure 4.1.2 provides a schematic diagram of the diverse practices of musical creativity as emerge across the confluence of three subsystems (the subsystems of domain, field and individuals are discussed later in this chapter) and feature in this part of the volume. Before introducing the contributors to this part of the volume and discussing how the practices have oriented particular individuals, groups or (p. 328) communities, arts partnerships and programs, we need to consider what we can learn from the literature about how “practice” engenders (and mediates) creativity and how “practice” can be a useful analytical category for making visible what renders diverse creativities in music.

The problematic nature of musical creativity affects how it is studied as well. Values spill out untidily at every point in the analysis of musical creativity, and one of the abiding weaknesses of much mainstream research is that it tends to play down their significance in shaping and explaining observable practice. Depending on whether scholars are allied to psychology, sociology, or humanistic disciplines (such as art history, aesthetics, or criticism) they start from different premises. This extends to the ways they formulate questions related to musical creativity. Because the subject of research is itself a matter of debate between competing intellectual orientations, researchers differ among themselves in the ways they view society, social actors, and processes. Added to this lack of consensus is the problem that musical creativity is conceived differently and constructed differently in different historical practices. We know music creativity arises within and depends on the conventions (ways of doing something) and the legitimating frameworks of specific public activity—such as the way composers and players use conventional patterns of melody, harmony, and rhythm to create emotional tension and release, and thus musical meaning.

Whether within a particular kind of context in which the artist positions the output of creativity and creative action (such as Western classical, funk, rap, or reggae) or within the microcultures of the family, classroom, studio, street, or playground, the context for musical creativity arises from within different sites of practice by specific public activity and the application of tools, technologies, rules, and rituals.

Research evidence is still patchy. Researchers use different paradigms to explore features of different types of musical creativity, often in isolation. As with general creativity, several literature reviews of musical creativity research exist. (See, for example, Burnard, 2012, 2007, 2006, and Hickey, 2002, for some of the latest reviews; Webster, 1992, for an earlier review; Deliège & Wiggins, 2006, for a comprehensive discussion interwoven with a distillation of literature in which musical creativity has been construed, constructed, and contested from early childhood through to adulthood.) They bring together musicians of various kinds and people in education, artificial intelligence, philosophy, sociology, psychology, neurosciences, and psychotherapy and provide a variety of perspectives, methods, and goals to examine music creativity.

One of the first scholars to describe and develop a social perspective on creativity, Amabile illustrates the social influences on creative behavior. This perspective includes attention to the cognitive aspects, personality, motivation, and social influences on the creative process. Amabile is also the first to investigate how these factors influence the different steps in the creative process. For Amabile (1996) creativity is the creative production that emerges in a five-step process, namely (1) problem or task identification; (2) preparation; (3) response generation; (4) response (p. 329) validation; and (5) outcome evaluation. Further, the creative process interacts with task motivation, domain-relevant skills, and creativity-relevant skills. The methods and criteria for assessing musical creativity and agreement on what constitutes domain-relevant skills in music remain elusive and highly contested.

The common ground among these social perspectives, however, is that they are based on the conviction that creativity is vital to all societies, to all fields, domains, and cultures, and should be investigated to reveal their complexity, diversity, and integral cultural location. Social perspectives on music education are not, as some have suggested, “just political”; they represent the lived meanings of musical culture and communities. Interestingly, both Csikszentmihalyi and the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu investigate the relationship between creativity and cultural evolution. Inspired by the process of species evolution, a “confluence” of three subsystems emerges. These are: (1) The domain, which includes a set of rules and practices. Any culture is composed of thousands of independent domains, and most human behaviors or activities are affected by the rules of some domains. (2) The individual is the most important subsystem from the psychological perspective. The individual makes a novel variation in the contents of the domain, and the variation will be evaluated by the third part of the system, which is the field. (3) Fields are held by various gatekeepers, such as experts and scholars, who have the rights to choose which variations can be preserved in the domains. Csikszentmihalyi (1999) takes the position that creativity means “the ability to add something new to the culture.” The creation by an individual must be “sanctioned by some group entitled to make decisions as to what should or should not be included in the domain” (p. 205).

The sociopersonal perspective on creativity, as espoused by social psychologist Amabile (1996), suggests that creativity arises in all people, including children. Amabile provides us with a componential model of creativity in which a number of components converge. These include social environment, task motivation, and intrinsic/extrinsic rewards, in conjunction with domain-relevant skills (music aptitude, experience) and creativity-relevant skills (fluency, flexibility, originality). In groundbreaking work, Hickey (2002) has newly adapted Amabile's scheme and applied its tenets to creative musical thinking in the context of musical composition with children in the classroom. From this wellspring of ideas come new ways to view the musical creativity of children and young people. What remains unclear is what counts as specifically musical creativity in teaching and learning contexts in which it is conceived and communicated.

Studies over many years have shown that creativity assessment is an important aspect of music education and that attention to improving creative practice can enhance the learners’ achievements and musical development. Both Webster (1992) and Hickey (2002) introduced ways of researching this. We have, however, yet to agree on the practice of assessing creativity in the field of music educational assessment, whether as practitioners, researchers, or policy-makers. The entire process of creativity assessment depends on what criteria or measures are selected. These, in turn, are dictated by the answer to the fundamental question: If musical creativity (p. 330) exists, what matters in the assessment of musical creativity in music education? This question is addressed in chapter 4.5.

Bringing all of this together, we see that there are a number of unanswered questions: Is there an ontology (or are there ontologies) of music creativity on which we might construct a theory of practice or practices? What if music creativity was no longer based on premises relating to composition and composing, performance and performing, and listening, and was understood, instead, in terms of specific practices? What are the indicators of a new proliferation of practices articulated within the discourses of creativity in music education?

Outline of Part IV

Indeed, if we are to understand and acknowledge the situated forms of practice that constitute distinctive musical creativities, then we need to do more than present a context where rules of thumb shape daily practice. Rather, we should realize that practices do far more than provide information: they also shape people's understanding about what is important to musical creativity, what musical creativity is, and who learners are as contemporary musical creators. As John-Steiner (2000) put forward in her theory of “family collaboration,” generative ideas emerge from joint thinking and from sustained, shared struggles to achieve new insights. This is precisely how the contributors of this part of this volume went about framing and structuring a shared focus on unlocking diverse modes of creativity: intercultural, empathic, communal, and collaborative. In this way the section offers unparalleled grounds for rethinking creativity itself.

What follows in this part of the volume is focused on the ideas, concerns, issues, and assessment practices of multiple musical creativities.

This part of the volume begins with a chapter (chapter 4.2) that challenges the domain's dominant paradigm, which views musical creativity as an individualized process. The practice of empathic creativity is illustrated and theorized on in chapter 4.2 by colleagues Ian Cross (England), Felicity Laurence (England), and Tal-Chen Rabinowitch (England). Drawing heavily on theories from psychology and social psychology, they outline the sociality of musical creativity, using accounts of structured musical group improvisation and collaborative song composition to illustrate empathic creativity as practice. The practice explores issues of shared intentionality, imitation, entrainment, disinterested pleasure, flexibility, and ambiguity. The emergence of empathy is illustrated by the use of music practices to enable young children to develop a sense of empathic community.

Informed by the work of Russian philosopher and pedagogue Lev Vygotsky, intercultural creativity features dimensions that include process, interaction, and mutuality. In chapter 4.3, author Eva Saether (Sweden) and contributors Alagi Mbye (Gambia) and Reza Shayesteh (Iran) describe a particularly interesting (p. 331) approach, through border crossing and breaking down barriers, to creativity as culturally embedded practice. This chapter gives us privileged access to some of the ancient values of the Mandinka society involving acceptance, openness, exclusion, and inclusion. In the Gambian example it is the tension between exclusion and inclusion that acts as the catalyst to create something new. Creativity is established in cultural relationships using reflection and analysis, which gives clarity to the relationship between cultural meaning and creativity practices. Saether develops a theoretical framework for the practice of intercultural creativity by drawing on Vygosky's concept of “dissociation” to describe how we, as human beings, need to break the natural association of elements to create new variations, with a view to understanding the past in relation to a possible future.

In chapter 4.4, coauthors Eleni Lapidaki (Greece), Rokus de Groot, (Netherlands) and Petros Stagkos (Greece) provide an account of a practice of communal creativity, which is concerned with how university students work with high school students at “high-risk” schools. The work illustrates how undergraduates implement the model of normal skilled practices accomplished in everyday life to enable the school children to be creative in music; they do this by developing practices that form the objects of which they speak: communities. The practice of communal creativity is lodged in the assumption that when we begin to explore creativity that arises in the mutuality of conversations, things begin to change. We are invited to reconceive the classroom as a subcommunity of mutual learners who adopt ways of developing real world practices in relation to contemporary social realities. Communal creativity is defined by grounding norms and has to do with the means by which university students are inducted in the ways of a “profession” and a mutual learning culture that fosters situated learning, agency, and collaboration.

Turning to the context of creativity assessment practices, in chapter 4.5 Samuel Leong (Hong Kong, China), Pamela Burnard, (England), Neryl Jeanneret (Australia), Bo Wah Leung (Hong Kong, China), and Carole Waugh (England) show evidence of a wide range of practices for assessing creativity in music from three international contexts. While forms of assessment (particularly the use of exemplar tasks) evidence commonalities, the historical, political, and cultural contexts do not. This is shown in the wide range of discourses and practices in which students’ creativity is positioned, regulated, judged, and valued in music assessment. The authors raise some of the professional issues with which music teachers and learners are confronted, largely those concerned with interpretation of children's and student's creative work. Teachers are concerned with getting their children or students to develop personal responses and conduct personal investigations; equally, however, teachers are expected to initiate students and children into conventional practices and techniques. In many ways these aims seem to be irreconcilable on the one hand but inevitable on the other. Is it possible to reconcile the idea of developing self-expression and originality with cultural determinism?

In their contribution on arts partnerships, chapter 4.6, Bernadette D. Colley (United States), Randi Margrethe Eidsaa (Norway), Ailbhe Kenny (Ireland), and Bo Wah Leung (Hong Kong, China) describe separate projects in which young (p. 332) people come together with teachers to work together with artists. This chapter is infused with sociocultural dimensions of learning in music. It shows how the interrelationship between the individual, the subject discipline, and the context created by bringing artists into the educational sphere to work with children and students leads to collaborative creativity. All four projects are compositional and invite the writing and production of operas or choral-orchestral works. The partnership practice is described as “a process” that underpins “a focused collaborative cultural venture synergizing relationships that likely would not have otherwise occured, as shown in chapter 4.6. Practices are defined by grounding norms and the construction of partnerships. These are the means by which partners adopt and adapt particular cultural ideas and routines for collaboration. The partnership practice mediates collaborative creativity.

What Is Most Notable about a Practice Perspective?

This part of the volume offers a unique opportunity to understand new ways of thinking about, and engaging, children and young people in contemporary forms of musical creativity. Each chapter demonstrates that creativity relates not to a fixed external referent in the world that exists prior to the process, but to the construction of a scheme of actions (i.e., a practice) that is socially and culturally mediated. Each chapter establishes both practical and theoretical grounds for the description of complex and innovative/productive/generative practices in creativity.

The sites of practices involved a variety of settings as the locus of the musical creativity. Figure 4.1.2 illustrates the multiple modes of creativity in which practices were located and investigated, developed and applied. For the individual persons, such as teachers, learners, artists, and researchers involved who were familiar with the social expectations of the field and the cultural parameters of the domain (music), it was from the interdependence of the structures, the domain, and the field of music that the modes of creativity arose.

The following chapters indicate that mapping the character of practices surrounding the creation and production of music requires the boundaries to be moved to acquire the breadth and depth needed for comprehensive enquiry. To better understand these practices we need to invest more time and energy in research and in documenting and disseminating our findings to wider audiences. This is important, for the experiences we have in our studios, communities, organizations, institutions, and cultures are of the kind where mind and matter merge. Making and creating music remains an iterative and strategic encounter that comprises a creative coalition of individuals, ideas, and actions. It (p. 333) is messy, mindful, and magical. But it is not mysterious. Rather, it is an activity that requires us to work against those theoretical, social, and political boundaries imposed on music that keep it outside the mainstream of research and enquiry. We need to reimagine how creativity is rendered differently in different musical sites and take the opportunity to articulate what our practices of musical creativity have come to mean in our own personal and professional lives (through the processes of cocreating, cowitnessing, and coconstructing). We need to explore how existing practices favor Western art music and why educational practices in music have a tendency to be wedded to sociohistorical foundations, traditions, and restrictive beliefs (i.e., myths) about music creativity. While we are not advocating abandoning the traditions historically associated with musical creativity, we are suggesting that music creativity manifests itself differently in different spaces. It thus requires a different learning and teaching environment—and assessment model—than one in which outcomes are biased toward the security of tradition and specified practices, skills, and techniques. Moreover, as a group of researchers, musicians, and educators we must present our practice perspective on musical creativity and argue for the centrality of real-world practices and against evaluation systems wedded to fixed pedagogic traditions. Reflecting on the manifold emergent practices of musical creativity, and their assessment, affords us an opportunity to develop new ideas and advance our visions of what musical creativity is and can be in the future.

In the field of music education, we need to promote practices that directly develop creativity. In doing so, we need to play down individualistic approaches wedded to sociohistorical foundations and traditional beliefs (which tend to be independent and autonomous from other fields of music). Our practices need to promote the power of relationships over individual minds, multiple worlds over singular realities, collaborative interdependence over individual heroism, and dialogue over alienation.

Reflective Questions

  1. 1. How do communal and collaborative, empathic and intercultural creativities in music interact and feed each other? Can people be trained in these forms of creativity? How can we promote and develop distinctive forms of musical creativity in music education?

  2. 2. How do individual identity and group identity develop within a practice perspective for music creativity in education?

  3. 3. What are the problems that teachers face in the practice and assessment of distinct forms of creativity?

  4. 4. The route that is taken for assessment might well depend on one further question: What (or for whom) is the assessment for?

(p. 334) Websites

See the Creative Commons website,, for the relationships between different musics, all of which exemplify and contribute to a composite of creative and performance practices.

See Kerry Chappell's website,, for a further conceptualization of creativity as individual, collaborative, and communal conceptions of creativity in dance education.


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(1.) The concept of “field” is informed by Csikszentmihalyi (1999), who advocates a systems model of creativity, which is best understood as a confluence of three factors: “domain,” which includes knowledge, values, a set of rules and practices; “individual,” who makes a novel variation in the contents of the domain; and “field,” which involves a community of practice that is held by gatekeepers such as experts and scholars; traditionally, in music education, it is teachers who control the knowledge within the domain of music. In The Field of Cultural Production (1993) Bourdieu describes the idea of field as consisting of a “separate social universe having its own laws of functioning” (p. 162). A field is made up of specific forms of practice, methods, and principles of evaluation of both practice and work produced in the field.

(2.) Certainly from the perspective of the dominant discourses, as argued by Becker in Art Worlds (1984), Christopher Small in Musicking (1998), and Cook in Music: A Very Short Introduction (1998), among others.

(3.) We have yet to align the definition of musical creativity and its value in the curriculum with its teaching and assessment (as reported in chapter 4.5).

(4.) Globally spatialized internet forms include digital and mobile music, their social networks, and the fluid roles in contemporary popular musics between musicians, DJs, and audience. See the website “ccmixter,” for example, which declares itself “a music sharing site featuring songs licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up or interact with music in whatever way you want . . . [and then] upload your version for others to . . . re-sample” (, accessed March 2010. See also Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir (, filmed March 2010, posted April 2010) involving 185 voices from 12 countries that join a choir that spans the globe: “Lux Aurumque,” composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre, merges hundreds of tracks individually recorded and posted to YouTube. It's an astonishing illustration of how technology can connect us. What we also see is the use of YouTube as a means for pooling talent, getting free audio feed without having to call auditions locally and pay for professional talent to make a recording.

(5.) “Musicking” is a term coined by Christopher Small that encompasses all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to an mp3 player to singing in or along with a band or choir.

(6.) We know which musics retain the power to fascinate audiences through centuries, why some musical structures engage our creative capacities as listeners and others don't; but the boundaries of individual and collective authorship have blurred, and we need to understand why the practice of improvised electronic musics is considered creative in one context, while in another context it is not.

(7.) The field concerns the distinctive features of, and relationships between, comparative education and international education. The fundamental characteristic of comparative education is comparison (e.g., cross-national and within-countries comparison). International education, in contrast, by definition requires a crossing of national boundaries in which practitioners and scholars undertake research on educational work in countries other than their own.

(8.) The creativity category included “composition, compositions, composing, composers, improvisation, original.” The curriculum, learning, and culture category included “teachers, teacher education, training, pedagogy/teaching, learners/students, multicultural, intercultural, cross-cultural.”

(9.) Ontology is the study of the nature of being. The shift from a realist ontology (which sees reality as something which exists “out there”) to a “relativist” ontology (which sees multiple realities existing as personal and social constructions) is characteristic of how we come to understand multiple music creativities.

(10.) “Creativities of music” was a phrase first coined by Bj·rn H. Merker (2006:25) in expression of the argument that “musical creativity cannot be defined without reference to the diversity of performance-based forms of creativity.”

(11.) Terms used by Andy Bennett to describe the sociological study of the relationship between youth, music, style, and identity (see Bennett, 1999).

(12.) I have included “activity systems” as a newly introduced dimension involving individuals or subgroups who challenge the assumptions and norms of previous practice by means of “reflective appropriation of models and tools for working on an object, raw material or problem space at which the [musical] activity is directed” (Engeström, 1993:240).