The Improvising Musician's Mask: Using Musical Instruments to Build Self-Confidence and Social Skills in Collective Free Improvisation
Ladano, Kathryn Elizabeth
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This study explores the idea that musical instruments can function as masks, allowing for greater creative expression and self-confidence, in the context of collective free improvisation. The use of masks has been well documented in various cultures throughout history and is still used in drama today, including in drama improvisation. Masks have traditionally been used to facilitate a deeper expression of the self. Musicians can use their instruments in similar ways, increasing their level of comfort and allowing for connection and communication with others in ways not available through traditional social exchanges. Through a series of interviews, questionnaires, and performances, thirty young instrumentalists and vocalists participated in this study in order to better understand their relationship to their instruments when improvising. All subjects were under the age of thirty, had studied improvisation in university and self-identified as non-professional improvisers. Through analysis of their recorded performances during the study, interview and questionnaire responses, it was discovered that the vast majority of participants identified with the idea that their instruments functioned as masks. Furthermore, most of these individuals believed their instruments helped them express parts of themselves that could not be expressed through other means. Some also believed their instruments allowed for the creation of a persona, in which they felt they could be someone else when performing. While all participants were accomplished performers in a variety of styles of music, the idea of musical instruments functioning as masks was only relevant to them in the context of free improvisation; they did not feel this same relationship to their instruments when performing any other style of music.