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«AEC Pop and Jazz Platform»

Evilena Protektore and Guna Pūcīte

Creative artist — creative teacher or how to follow modern trends, study more productively and search for artistic solutions

This February, I was lucky to participate in a conference organized by the European Association of Conservatories («Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen» (AEC)) that was dedicated to higher education in such music genres as jazz and pop. This year the theme of the conference was «Creative artist — creative teacher», which fits the context of teaching arts because how would one be able to educate an artist without a creative approach? The conference itself lasted for four days, with the first one serving as a teaser event, a pre-conference, followed with a series of topics discussed more in-depth, and finally with a whole last day dedicated to vocals. Many different issues were raised during the conference; some of them were dedicated to various methods of teaching, some were dedicated more to the social sides of our life, a separate block was allotted to students to establish new contacts and discuss questions they decided were important and then discussed with the rest of the participants. And of course, the conference took place in an online space because it was impossible to meet in person. Still, this format also allowed more participants to apply and for organizers to invite more lecturers and participating institutions to support more of their staff. Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music was represented by three teachers — Inga Bērziņa, Indriķis Veitners and me, and two students — Guna Pūcīte and Vadims Dmitrijevs.

The first day of the conference was officially called «Pre Conference Session», which meant that lecturers presented various questions. All participants were divided into working groups. During some 10-15 minutes, they could express their opinions on the topics and choose some statements that would summarise the overall conclusion the working group would come up with. Of course, such a setup didn’t allow for an in-depth discussion, and no solutions were found, but that wasn’t the goal; this particular event aimed to outline the problems the European educational system might experience in various environments. A more immersive discussion followed in the next few days.

One of the topics that seemed to be very emotional to a significant part of the participants was sexism in higher education institutions. I can’t say that is a problem at our school; our jazz department is very small, both teachers and students know each other very well, work together in and out of school, etc. It is clear to everyone that if a student is accepted into the department, it means he has the right to be there, he or she had earned it with the skill, knowledge, and talent, and gender isn’t a factor here, neither is race or sexual orientation. Our department’s focus is music and works ethics. I wouldn’t be able to explain why this isn’t a problem, but I see how students of both genders (and other factors) interact with each other, and the faculty and my conclusion is that our country is one of the rare examples that have a positive environment and the government doesn’t need to get involved into the process with such regulations as quotas for female composed pieces and such. One of the participants of the conference was from France. He shared his experience with all of us, providing us with examples of how quotas work in his countries — how many female composed material should be present in the curriculum, whether the financial support would be granted to a collective that has no females or LGBT representatives, or if the ensemble is multicultural enough. I can’t say if this approach is good or bad, I have no experience with these kinds of situations, but I have my doubts about the level of governmental involvement in the creative process. Maybe this approach would help someone from the underrepresented communities to achieve more than if there was no such involvement.

I found it slightly more exciting to participate in the following days of the conference because the information provided and the topics discussed were more specific and concrete rather than of an illustrative nature. There were some very noticeable artists invited to participate as lecturers; some of them have become teachers themselves just recently, and I found that very endearing because we could practically see how these artists were coming to grips with becoming more than artists, with now having to expand their skills from self-expression to passing the knowledge onwards to their students. Also, it is always good to hear some fresh voices, it definitely gives long-time teachers a new view on things, motivates them to be more creative, learn something new and exciting. Although the lecturers’ list was awe-inspiring, some left a stronger impression, so I would like to talk about those some more.

The first of the lecturers who made an impression on me was a bassist, composer, arranger, and now also a teacher — Michael League, who’s known to the broader audience by his work with such notable ensembles as «Snarky Puppy» and «Bokanté». Although his lecture was titled «Roots and Re-Invention», the most crucial information gained from him was the importance of giving the students as many opinions as possible, because only the variety of options will help the student choose which one (or a combination of several) might work for him, and thus enabling him to find his own unique voice. In simple words — you have to teach him how to play like Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, Robert Glasper, and others, instead of sticking only with Oscar Peterson. All of these artists are great, each has a unique style, but nobody needs another Peterson, so knowing all these styles will help the student create his own and develop his skills beyond only one thing. In fact, this is the truth we all know very well because you can’t write a book if you don’t know the words, the same logic can be applied to arts. The more words you know, the more interesting your book will be.

A famous singer, composer, producer, and a long-time colleague of Michael League — Magda Giannicou, has raised some vital questions in the context of the pandemic and the ability to exist as musicians teachers in it. One of these questions was whether a student (or a musician, or a teacher) can live in the digital world and whether he or she would be able to present himself to the public. Of course, the pandemic made us accept the reality of online teaching, but Magda’s story made us realize that it’s not enough just to find a quick solution to the problem of not being able to meet the student in person for the lesson, but also that we need to continue developing these solutions, look for ways to make online teaching more exciting and maybe then the result would be so good, that a student would be able to show his creation to the world and use it to showcase his creativity. The example she provided won’t come as a surprise for a lot of artists — while working on her latest album, Magda has promised the audience to provide a music video to every track. Everything was planned out, arranged, and ready to go, but suddenly one of the sponsors drew out of the arrangement, and Magda found herself in a situation where she had to provide something with close to no funding. The solution was simple — DIY («do it yourself»). Some loft or an apartment of a friend was turned into a filming set, the decorations were both handmade and borrowed from friends, lights and filming equipment were also provided by friends, and many volunteers reached out to help. The result was a low-budget production that looked very nice and enjoyable. This story made me think that dire circumstances catalyze creativity, but that’s not all of it. This story proved that you could do a lot yourself; you just have to be creative and persistent, not afraid to experiment, and always be eager to learn something new.

If we look at the situation we find ourselves in right now, then it’s apparent that it’s past time we learned how to create video material for ourselves because even before the pandemic hit, we started drifting towards the digital world, and the internet is overflowing with information, both visual and audial. It is evident to me that it’s not enough to publish an audio track anymore, it has to be accompanied by a video, because that’s what people want to see nowadays, and a beautiful picture will more likely attract the attention of the consumer, rather than a still image with some music playing over it. Maybe it would be helpful to music academies to start teaching this kind of thing? There’s plenty enough free software available for artists to use, and modern smartphones are equipped with good cameras, so why not? That would help the students to advance in their careers.

Other lectures and presentations were also engaging and exciting. I will be waiting impatiently for certain research to be published, concentrating on different techniques a vocalist uses in one tune, how the singer switches from one to another to achieve the artistic goal. Anka Koziel gave a beneficial lecture on working with a microphone and how to choose the one that suits your voice best, that is something every vocalist should definitely know. A lot of helpful advice was given by Benny Greb on how to make your practices more productive, from Melissa Aldana on the importance of transcriptions in jazz music, from Nadine Deventer on what modern music festivals look for in an artist and a lot more. I am delighted that I had the chance to participate in such an event, and I really hope I will have the opportunity to do that again, it is imperative to teachers to always try and find new ways to help their students in finding their own voices in music.

Guna Pūcīte, JVLMA student, jazz vocals

Publicity photo

For four days in a row, the AEC «Pop and Jazz Platform 2021» conference provided the opportunity to participate in an exchange of experiences, information, and contacts. The conference gave us the chance to listen to lectures from such noticeable artists and artists/teachers as Michael League, Magda Giannicou, Benny Greb, Melissa Aldana, Maria Pia De Vito, Cristina Zavalloni, and others, and also to participate in discussions and find out how students and teachers from other European schools thing and maybe find something that we could incorporate in our own curriculum and daily life.

During this conference, I’ve made some discoveries that are worth thinking about and sharing with others; also, some helpful advice on productive practicing, self-evaluation during the study process. Based on a study presented, I’ve found out how the jazz sound is made and what it means, heard some stories and experiences of some creative projects that were organized online and how and what technical solutions were found, gained some inspiration concerning low budget projects with close to no funding. I have also once again realized that it is possible to find your own voice through learning traditional music genres and going back to the roots and how much the globalization of the education system makes you pay more attention to the constant development and the collaboration of both sides, how the focus of studies shifts from the result towards process, from hierarchy towards cooperation and so much more.

Because the AEC organization is very interested in the students’ point of view, we had an opportunity to participate in our own session where we were able to discuss the topics dedicated to our future — what could be improved, what needs to be improved. And since most of the students were representatives of the vocal arts, it was only natural to concentrate on that, and we concluded that it would be preferable to learn singing through the understanding of how our bodies work, how to use specific vocal techniques, and how the voice box works in these techniques; and only then turn to a certain genre, like jazz, pop or classical singing, thus we, as vocalists, would be more versatile in the sense of genre, since all these techniques would only enrich our vocabulary and help us develop as professionals.

Also, we have concluded that there needs to be a platform for students to showcase their musical achievements, receive feedback from our peers and colleagues, where the environment would be safe, and where we could look for new collaboration opportunities outside of our countries. This idea is already being brought to life, and very soon, in April, the most active students will get the chance to participate in an online discussion session.

Another idea was that the ERASMUS program could expand and create a short one or two-week-long project, where the students could participate in an exchange between European schools. The students were very excited about this particular idea, in their opinion this would give more students a chance to participate in an international experience and broaden their professional horizons and provide a chance to get closely acquainted with various schools and teachers, where they might choose to study in the future.

I also had an opportunity to connect with the students who participated in the AEC «Pop and Jazz Platform» and ask them questions that weren’t discussed during our official time together and also to connect with the main lecturers of the conference.

All in all, conferences like this are crucial because they allow the participants to exchange experiences, create new connections, broaden horizons, and be a valuable input into the professional future. Finding like-minded colleagues and active musicians in other European countries is precious.