Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance

Performing in musical ensembles provides a remarkable opportunity for interaction between people. When playing a piece of music together, musicians contribute to the creation of an artistic work that is shaped through their individual performances. However, even though ensembles are a large part of musical activity, questions remain as to how they function. In Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance, Murphy McCaleb explores the processes by which musicians interact with each other through performance.

McCaleb begins by breaking down current models of ensemble interaction, particularly those that rely on the same kind of communication found in conversation. In order to find a new way of describing this interaction, McCaleb considers the nature of the information being shared between musicians during performance. Using examples from postgraduate ensembles at Birmingham Conservatoire as well as his own reflective practice, he examines how an understanding of the relationship between musicians and their instruments may affect the way performers infer information within an ensemble. Drawing upon research from musicology, occupational psychology, and philosophy, and including a DVD of excerpts from rehearsals and performances, Embodied Knowledge provides an holistic approach to ensemble research in a manner accessible to performers, researchers and teachers.


Praise for Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance

"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 has value for both researchers and practitioners, the most prominent result of the discourse provides a new paradigm with which to study ensemble interaction […].

"Embodied Knowledge in Ensemble Performance is clearly and logically written and draws upon an impressively broad range of research and literature to form the premise for the author’s proposed paradigm of ensemble interaction. McCaleb strongly establishes his contention that ensemble performance is distinct from other social paradigms due to music being a singular form of procedural knowledge. His discussion of the use of metaphor and musician-instrument physicality is also a welcome contribution."

- Eric C Melley, Philosophy of Music Education Review


"McCaleb’s book is a timely and valuable contribution to this ever-expanding field, drawing together many of these areas of study and re-examining the assumptions made in approaches to existing research to construct a new framework for examining co-performer interaction."

"This book on embodied knowledge in ensemble performance is a welcome addition to a key area of musicology research and offers some new and valuable insights into co-performer interaction and musical development. McCaleb successfully fulfills his aim of offering an improved, more specific framework, treating co-performer interaction in its own context rather than viewing it from a broader sociological stance, as in previous research. […] Future work in the field will benefit from this framework and the new directions set forth here. With a clear structure, careful introduction to its various concepts, and great depth of inquiry, this is an essential text for scholars of all levels with an interest in ensemble performance."

- Caroline Waddington, Musicæ Scientiæ


"McCaleb identifies critical elements that constitute the phenomenology of playing any musical instrument, develops a new understanding about the information content, and demonstrates how such information content is communicated in performance ensembles. He is at his best in these chapters, skilfully drawing on concepts from psychology, sociology, neurology and philosophy, as well as music theory."

"McCaleb excels in drawing appropriate examples from real situations. It is his ability to refer to real situations of ensemble performance with sensibility, even when the argument is most abstract and remote from music, that makes this book most engaging."

"The book is exemplary in its scholarship and an invaluable addition to the literature on musical performance."

- Mieko Kanno, Scottish Journal of Performance

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