A Flute Maker/Player Dyad
The following essay – A Phenomenological Study into the Experiences of a Flute Maker/Player Dyad – was completed by Elizabeth Petcu in May of 2002 as a final semester essay that she undertook to gain her Masters Degree in Music Therapy from the University of Limerick. The flute maker/player dyad that Elizabeth chose to observe as the subject for this phenomenological study was made up of Martin Doyle (flute maker) and Desi Wilkinson (flute player).
Elizabeth Petcu is herself a distinguished flute player who held the position of Principal Flute with the Radio Telefís Éireann Concert Orchestra for over 25 years. She has recently released a solo flute music album, Just Me, and is the director of the three piece music ensemble Rune.
Image right: Martin Doyle (flute maker), Elizabeth Petcu (essayist) and Desi Wilkinson (flute player).
Please note: A Phenomenological Study into the Experiences of a Flute Maker/Player Dyad has been published on this website with the kind permission of Elizabeth Petcu and may not be copied or reproduced in any form without her permission. Elizabeth Petcu's contact details can be found at www.elizabethpetcu.com.
A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY INTO THE EXPERIENCES OF A FLUTE MAKER/PLAYER DYAD
by Elizabeth Petcu
'a flute to suit'
This study is an attempt to shed some light on the experiences of a flute maker/player dyad. The flute maker and the player were interviewed separately before the instrument was completed. A phenomenological approach was used to distil the essences from the interview transcriptions. The opportunity for feedback from the participants was included in the design. Themes which emerged from both interviews are presented and discussed, and summarised in the final section.
Introduction – the background to the project
Discovering a flute maker's workshop in my local town a few years ago enabled me to combine my lifelong fascination for woodwork and wood turning with my love of flutes and flute playing. Under the allure of the atmosphere in the workshop and listening to the philosophising of the maker, caused me to be curious about the 'ingredients' contained in the instruments. I wondered if the experiences of the maker, as he worked, could be converted into a more tangible form. The phenomenological approach, also recently discovered, suggested itself as being a possible way to reveal the powerful, unspoken psychological processes and energies which I could palpably feel in the workshop.
If I could sense these energies, I wondered whether the player might also be aware of them in some way. As Bruscia points out, the purpose of qualitative research is to bring the unconscious to consciousness Bruscia (1996). This was one of the reasons why I felt that a phenomenological approach would suit the information I felt might emerge.
Benezon believes that an instrument maker who is aware of his own sound identity may make instruments well adapted to his intended player's creativity Benezon (1997). This statement could be an attempt to include the less tangible ingredients which might be contained in the instrument. He goes on to acknowledge that three individuals are needed for music making: the instrument maker, the player and the listener.
I decided to pursue these ideas through observing the coming to life of one of the most special flutes in the workshop at the time. This instrument was to be a silver-keyed, simple system, cocus wood flute. Exploiting the idea that qualitative inquiry uses purposive sampling enabled me to choose participants I felt most likely to serve as the best informants for this particular study Amir (1996a). The designated player offered me much thought-provoking material in his interview.
Kenny (1996) identifies the aims of research to be: to learn, to understand, to improve, to change and to grow. These aims could also be considered to form a large part of the preoccupations of instrument makers and players. By choosing the word 'dyad', which I heard for the first time in a music therapy context, I thought that I might perhaps discover links between the therapeutic process and the process of instrument making and playing.
I might just as well have chosen the word 'triad,' since I involved myself so totally in the process. Husserl referred to this as 'trading places.' The philosopher of science, Polanyi, put this another way:
All knowing is personal knowing – participation through indwelling.
– Polanyi & Prosch (1975)
Learning through self-discovery is emphasised by Forinash & Gonzales (1989). They declare that attempts to make knowledge impersonal in our culture have split science from humanity.
In empathy, while maintaining one's own position as researcher, one gradually allows oneself to feel one's way into the other's experience Churchill, et al, (1998). Parallels can be found in existential therapy, which can be seen as a collaborative adventure in which both client and therapist will be transformed if they allow themselves to be touched by life Corey (2001). Also shared by phenomenological research and existential therapy is the use of the self.
Bruscia (1996) advises that researchers may need to be aware of any counter transference issues which might influence their work. To prevent any unhelpful counter transference issues arising, I have honestly declared my stance in an attempt to create an awareness of this possibility both for my own sake and for the sake of the reader.
The Phenomenological Approach
As the condensation which forms on the inside of a flute after playing could be considered the distilled essence of the flute player, so phenomenology may be thought of as the study of essences Merleau-Ponty (1962). Growing out of the philosophical schools of Heidegger, Husserl and Sartre in the early twentieth century, phenomenology is a research method which allows the researcher to distil experience as it is lived. As announced by Husserl in 1900, phenomenology was a radical way of doing philosophy. It was conceived to bring philosophy back from abstract metaphysical speculation and into contact with concrete living experience Moran (2000). Rather than being a search for the truth, phenomenology aims to provide meaning and relevance for experiences, simply because they exist Forinash (1995). A phenomenologist tries to understand a thing on its own terms – resisting interpretation Ansdell (1995).
Sartre believed that knowledge may represent a multiplicity of perspectives and not a unified, single truth (Moran, 2000). He argued that anything perceived is perceived by someone and that perception is directly related to the perceiver. Kenny takes this idea a step further when she allows for multiple perspectives within the one person's perception.
Although I define, I am, as well, repelled by definitions, attempting to embed ambiguity, leaving room for life. – Kenny (1996), p.61
Qualitative research (phenomenology, in this case) allows for ambiguity, it respects the uncertain Amir (1996b). The importance of the perceiver is also acknowledged by Husserl when he spoke about reflection time, the depth of response accessed by the researcher through the time allowed for reflection.
Through reflection, instead of simply grasping the matter straight out – the values, goals and instrumentalities – we grasp the corresponding subjective experiences in which we become 'conscious' of them, in which (in the broadest sense) they 'appear.'
– Husserl (1929)
The word phenomenon in the Oxford English Dictionary is described literally as a thing that appears, or is perceived or observed. In a more philosophical sense, the word takes on and extra layer of meaning – that of which the senses of the mind directly take note. This reiterates the importance of the researcher's mind as a measuring tool in this type of research.
That phenomenological research is subjective can be honestly admitted. From this perspective, one could argue that all types of research, positivist or constructivist alike, have an element of subjectivity, despite the claims made otherwise by some researchers. A value-free science is neither possible nor desirable Aigen (1996a), p.10. Even the most 'objective' of scientists will tend to create their own data, not in a fabrication sense, but in the sense of selecting what is important.
Merleau-Ponty reinforces this point when he admits:
All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from some experience of the world, without which the symbols of science would be meaningless. – Merleau-Ponty (1962)
Commenting of subjectivity, Husserl gives the most succinct summary:
So it can be said that by recognising this fact and, in a homeopathic kind of way, treating like with like, the subjectivism may be transcended.
'Can anything be known that is not experienced?' asks Kinane.
Can anything be conceived, or alluded to, that is not known, or of which there is no awareness? – Kinane (1995)
How we can understand carries emotional, intuitive and value-laden aspects which are influenced by previous experiences. Without reference to the context in which knowledge is generated, there can be no understanding Edwards, (1999). Forinash advises about the importance of articulating the researcher's own perspective in order to allow the reader to understand the preconceptions and influences the researcher might bring to the work Forinash (1995). Self-acknowledgement of potential biases and previous experiences (on the researcher's part) may also clarify the reflections and thought processes the researcher might make on the data. Husserl calls this process 'the interplay of experience and thought' Lauer (1965). Frequently returning to the original data and demonstrating how the results are well grounded in this data helps to strengthen the validity and accuracy of the work.
Giorgi's conclusion is that far from being a contradiction, the project of establishing psychology as an empirical human science is distinctly feasible by grounding the data on phenomena that are given in experience Giorgi (1970).