Authentic Performance

This week ABC Classic FM is running through The Classic 100 ten years on. As well as playing music there are some great discussions around each piece chosen. On Tuesday Christopher Lawrence and Emma Ayres discussed the merits of live recordings compared to studio recordings. They discussed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 1 in D. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted this performance.

Christopher and Emma’s discussion prompted me to think about parallels with training and competition in sport. What constitutes authentic performance in sport? Like music, the live dynamics of sport deliver particular configurations of activity, technical virtuosity and tactical efficiency. There is pace, rhythm and tempo … but no going back.

Sri Lanka’s victory in the first one day cricket international against Australia at the MCG is a great case in point. Notwithstanding all the training and practice that occurs, counter-intuitive outcomes are always possible. Whichever way you see it Sri Lanka snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and in the wonderful binary world of win-lose Australia snathched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Do we look to captains and conductors for performance or do we need a much wider sense of teams and orchestras? What are the conditions that render the fidelity of transfer from practice to live performance? Where does mental rehearsal fit in?

Some references:

Alexandra G. Sotiropoulou and David B. Fleming (1983) Comparison of acoustic experience of studio recordings and live concerts.

J M Beaubien and  D P Baker (2004) The use of simulation for training teamwork skills in health care: how low can you go?

Neil Charness and Michael Tuffiash (2008) The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance

Marko Rodriguez et al (2009) A Grateful Dead Analysis

Photo Credits

Listening to Street Musicians

Cricket at the MCG


False Relations and Muscle Memory

Emma Ayres introduces some fascinating themes in her Classic FM breakfast program. Two days ago I was listening to a Thomas Tallis composition (Honor, virtus et potestas) on her show after which she discussed false relations:

A false-relation is nothing more than a chromatic contradiction between two notes in a single chord or in different parts of adjacent chords. Within the confines of academic tonal theory this is considered a “syntax error” but it has been used throughout the ages by composers for expressive effect; a sort of a musical poetic license.

My take on what she was saying was that the listener can be surprised or have attention changed by false relations.

With my interest in the links between different kinds of performance I was intrigued to listen to Emma Ayres’ discussion of muscle memory during the same program. She was exploring ideas around how one returns to a musical instrument after decades away from it. She noted the research in sport on practice, expertise and its application to music.

Her juxtaposition in the same program of false relations and muscle memory prompted me to think about the guided discovery possibilities of play and the structured learning opportunities provided in a developmental and personal training program.

I do think the lessons we can learn from composition and performance of polyphonic music can help us explore individual difference. I wondered if acts of creativity or inspiration in sport might be a form of false relation. Contemplating the potential of muscle memory has important implications for how we plan for and support motor learning.

I realise I need to go back to Edward Thorndike‘s work now to look at his theory of learning. In particular:

  • Readiness
  • Use and disuse
  • Belongingness

What a surprising journey one radio program can initiate!

Photo Credit

Two men on a Northwest Aircraft

Stongfjorden Songlag

Training to Perform: what athletes can learn from musicians

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Last night I was driving up to Sydney and listened to Amy Dickson’s arrangement for soprano saxophone of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto. Her performance reminded me of a point made by Emma Ayres in her program about Amy’s practicing routines for circular breathing and her interview with Amy (11 September 2009).


This NZ news item described Amy’s creative achievements:  Transcribing it (Philip Glass’ 1987 Violin Concerto) meant converting the soloist’s double-stopping into arpeggios, although there are “no more than 10 bars to do in the whole concerto”, she told the New Zealand Herald. “The most important thing was those endless notes that go on and on,” she says. “Which meant I had to learn circular breathing so I didn’t leave any of them out.” The result, said Herald reviewer William Dart, was that Dickson blended cunningly into the orchestra around her “creating the illusory textures ideal for minimalist music”.

This is the kind of dedication to which athletes aspire and coaches laud.

Elaine Page has some great observations about performance in her conversation with Margaret Throsby. I particularly liked her discussion of a performer’s access to video and the use that can be made of video.

Both musicians highlighted for me that our discussions of performance in sport and the evolution of a language about performance must be located in the performing arts.

The narratives we use for performance has been an interest of mine for since my time at Dartington College of Arts in the late 1980s.

Photo sources:


Amy Dickson Twitter