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Késia Decoté Rodrigues is originally from Brazil. She joined Oxford Brookes in September 2014 and her thesis title is ‘For a dramaturgy of the piano recital – an investigation of interdisciplinary strategies for classical piano performances’.
I was in my home country of Brazil, thinking about developing research on interdisciplinary approaches to my piano recitals. I started to search online and found the prospect of the MA in Contemporary Arts and Music, and thought: ‘that is exactly what I am looking for!’
I did my MA in Contemporary Arts and Music here in 2011/2012, and it was just natural to look to carry on my MA research project into a PhD. My MA supervisor is an amazing artist and academic; he was really supportive and insightful, and I wanted to carry on my PhD under his supervision. Additionally, I enjoyed greatly the true closeness and intense exchange between the arts disciplines in the School of Arts, and the unique guideline in our course, which combines freedom in the creative processes with rigorous academic reflection.
I was working with music in Brazil, performing solo and in ensembles, and teaching the piano. Ah, and of course, I was also collecting ideas and organising my plans for my PhD research, besides applying for funding.
As I had done my MA at Oxford Brookes, I was already familiar with the environment, I already knew my supervisor and the technical staff well, therefore I settled in quite naturally. The support and resources available at Brookes have been very helpful, but what makes me more grateful is how willing the staff are to go beyond what is already available, in order to support us in whatever we need. For example, when I started my PhD, we did have an issue about work space in the School of Arts. I saw my supervisor and the administrators really trying to find solutions, and now we are much more equipped with work conditions, with a shared studio and a shared office. Another example: since we don’t have a proper concert hall in the School of Arts yet, the University has always spared no efforts to hire pianos for my research projects, so I can present them with the desired quality. Also, I am so grateful to the librarians; they were always so swift to purchase any books or articles that I needed. All that kind and efficient support has given me the conditions to carry on my research in the best possible way.
My research investigates interdisciplinary strategies for the piano recital, and aims to explore new and innovative ways to present classical music and engage audiences. The starting point of my research emerged from my practice as a classical pianist, from my questions about the conventions of live classical music, for example: the usual lack of visuals in the performance space, and the formal behaviour expected from musicians and audience. Then, in my research, I have proposed to explore ways to shape my piano recitals as a comprehensive work of art, incorporating elements from theatre and visual arts in my performances.
I carry on my practice-based PhD research by developing and presenting experimental piano performance projects. Those projects have investigated specific elements combined in the piano recital, such as: installation, storytelling, lights, theatre, performance art, and dance. Also, I have proposed some challenges to the conventional role of the spectator, for example, by delivering one-to-one performances, and by presenting the piano recital as a kind of promenade performance.
In my PhD final show ‘myths & visions’ the performance started outdoors then carried on indoors, the musical programme was woven with elements from dance (my movements were all choreographed), and the audience was guided by ushers to walk and sit in designated areas at specific moments in the performance. I presented it in three sold out evenings in the Drama Studio. It was reassuring to have such a warm response from both the audience from Brookes and from the external community, who also gave me really insightful feedback. Some audience members highlighted that it was a very original and engaging work; a fresh way to experience classical music.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to engage deeper with the topic that I am so passionate about, and have the support to reflect about it in a very focused way. I think the biggest challenge I faced was the self-discipline aspect, as we are supposed to be independent in our daily research routine. Sometimes the deadlines seems so far away, which can make it easy to get distracted. One thing that helped me was to set smaller and closer goals throughout the process. For example, to set the goal to write papers for conferences, or to target a date to have some work finished.
I am really happy with the research training I received at Brookes. I knew the institution from my MA, and I was very aware that Brookes was the institution where I wanted to continue my research. I really like and identify myself with the combination of great creative freedom with rigorous reflection that we have at the School of Arts. I admire my supervisor very much as an artist and as an academic, and I am so grateful for his generosity, wisdom, and creative insights to my research. And, the weekly PhD seminars in the School of Arts (where we present work-in-progress and receive feedback from our colleagues) has been a privileged forum that added so much to my creative and reflective processes. I only wish I had the opportunity to have more teaching training during my PhD, but this is something that I can try to improve afterwards.
I would like to pursue a combined path: artistic and academic. I want to establish my career as a pianist, developing my interdisciplinary projects involving piano performance. Simultaneously, I am looking forward to keeping engaged in academia and further developing my research.