Healy, Kristine (2018) Imagined Vocalities: Exploring Voice in the Practice of Instrumental Music Performance. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

To play an instrument in a way that is considered “vocal” has been an emblem of artistry for instrumental musicians in the Western classical tradition for centuries. Despite the ubiquity of vocal references in the talk and texts produced within this community, there is little consensus as to what vocality means for instrumental musicians, and few questions are asked of those who claim to advocate for a vocal style of playing. Whilst vocality for instrumentalists has been dealt with in existing scholarship through discussion about the emulation of specific techniques such as vibrato and portamento, by investigating the principles of rhetoric and their relationship to temporal and articulatory issues, and in philosophical commentary on vocality as an ideal to which instrumentalists aspire, attention has not yet been paid to how “voice” is produced and manipulated discursively by instrumental musicians in the social contexts of their professional lives. Therefore, this thesis explores some of the ways in which instrumental musicians construct vocality in contemporary discourse about the practice of performance.

In this thesis, a series of excerpts from pedagogical texts on instrumental music performance written in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries is presented to illuminate a discussion about vocality that has long been ongoing. Subsequently, a discourse approach is taken to the analysis of transcribed excerpts from four audio-visual recordings of instrumental masterclasses, alongside additional excerpts drawn from interviews with instrumental musicians and a variety of other contemporary texts. During the analytical process, two interpretative repertoires—recurring ways in which instrumental musicians construct vocality—are identified: the knowing voice and the disciplined voice. The discursive actions facilitated by musicians’ employment of these repertoires are examined in relation to the discourse excerpts.

In response to this analysis, three claims are made. The first is that vocality is polysemic: it is constructed according to the social context and action-orientation of the discourse in which it is embedded. The second is that vocality is linked to the reproduction and naturalisation of normative musical practices. The third is that in musicians’ talk and texts, the construction of musical ideas is entangled with the construction of identities, and stories of voice provide especially rich material for authoring selves in the context of the masterclass. This thesis calls for expert performers to acknowledge, question, and engage critically with the ways in which they produce and perpetuate musical principles in their day-to-day practices, and for them to make space for developing musicians to do the same.

HEALY, KRISTINE Final Thesis.pdf - Accepted Version
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