Roger Graybill

Facilitative Agency in Performance

The last decade has witnessed a burgeoning of research on the embodied and gestural aspects of musical performance. Whether these studies draw on the analysis of video recordings or on first-person accounts by performers, they implicitly attribute to the performer an agency – i .e., the “ability or capacity to act or exert power” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012) with respect to the instrument.  This talk, however, focuses on a different kind of performance-related agency, which I designate as facilitative agency, to be distinguished from the primary agency alluded to above.

Facilitative agency (FA) refers to the performer’s ability to project an awareness of multiple temporal spans in the music – both past and anticipated – onto his/her present consciousness (see Lewin 1986). Unlike primary agency (PA), FA is not directly observable by an audience, since it is enacted in the performer’s imagination. These internal processes bear marked similarities to ‘audiation’ (Gordon 2007), but I propose that FA is ultimately grounded in a musical understanding that is rooted in multiple modalities: not only aural, but also kinesthesic, oral (through singing), visual (through notation), and conceptual. Here my talk takes a pedagogical turn, advocating for musicianship training in which these modalities of ‘knowing’ are gradually internalized and integrated by the student. The developmental goal is to acquire a deep – i.e., embodied - musical understanding, which in turn provides the ground for effective FA.
The final portion of my talk refines the notion of FA by comparing it with PA. First, while a student gains competence in PA through instrument-specific training (i.e., in the studio), increasing competence in FA follows a trajectory away from instrumental specificity towards the internalization/integration of multiple modalities. Second, FA – true to its name – ‘facilitates’ PA in real-time performance by activating within the performer’s consciousness a heightened contextual awareness that informs her performance decisions.