Exploring the ‘I’ in musician: investigating musical identities of professional orchestral musicians
Renfrew, Mary Claire
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The lived experiences of professional orchestral musicians are under-‐researched by scholars in both music and psychology, who are interested in the world of the professional orchestra and the careers of classical musicians. Framed within a Social Constructionist paradigm, the research in this thesis is concerned with investigating the subjective meanings and individual experiences of a group of ten classical orchestral musicians. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was the methodological framework chosen to design and analyse a set of open-‐ ended interviews with the musicians, which allowed reflexivity and flexibility throughout the research process. Three superordinate themes were identified from a close reading and IPA analysis of the interview data: ‘Musical Foundations’, ‘Struggle: “The Never Ending Quest”’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’. ‘Musical Foundations’ examines the process of musical identity construction for the ten participants, from its early beginnings in childhood, through adolescence and their time in the professional orchestra. Different facets of musical identity construction are outlined and becoming an orchestral musician is viewed as essentially a social process shaped by social interactions, building on a sense of possessing certain ‘innate’ characteristics. ‘Struggle: ‘The Never Ending Quest”’ illustrates the challenges the musicians encountered within the profession and the impact that being a professional orchestral musician had on other aspects of their lives (e.g. personal and social). The fear and conflict the ten musicians experienced is outlined and how the musicians coped and ‘survived’ within the professional orchestra is demonstrated. In addition, the central importance of the identity of ‘orchestral musician’ within the participants’ lives is illustrated. The last theme, ‘Thank You For The Music’ outlines why the musicians continued within the profession despite the struggles summarised by the previous theme. This chapter highlights the autonomy and control the musicians felt they gained within their orchestras and the physiological and emotional connections they experienced with both the profession and classic music itself. Common to all three superordinate themes is their reported power struggle between the musicians and the orchestra, and between the individual and the collective. Another common issue was how central the identity of ‘orchestral musician’ was for all participants, impacting all aspects of their lives. The professional musicians constructed, negotiated and maintained their musical identities in accordance with both their own expectations and those of the classical music genre itself. The research in this thesis raises awareness of the importance of the orchestral musician identity in the musicians’ lives and how an understanding of this can help gain an insight into other aspects of the participants’ lives. Recommendations are made for further research regarding: the lived experiences of classical music students, investigation of current teaching practices in conservatoires and further exploration of the professional structures within an orchestra.