RISM: How is it good for musicians?

Thursday, December 16, 2021

As its multilingual name suggests, the Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen seeks to represent the interests of higher music education institutions on an international level. Besides its annual congresses, the AEC organizes several events dedicated to more specific areas, most recently the Early Music Platform 2021, which took place in Trossingen, Germany on 8-9 October. Entitled “Historically Informed Performance - Is it enough to just be ‘informed’?” the meeting featured lectures and discussions in different formats, the most important of which were also streamed online for the convenience of those unable to attend in person.

In accordance with the general theme, RISM received special attention on both days of the conference. At the initiative of Nicole Schwindt, professor emerita at the University of Music in Trossingen and President of RISM Germany, our colleague Jennifer Ward offered a pre-conference workshop specifically focusing on the needs of performing musicians: “Hands-on course: How to use the RISM database effectively.”

In addition, as part of the last plenary session “Challenging Assumptions,” Professor Schwindt elaborated on this topic in a talk entitled “RISM – How is it good for musicians?” The presentation provided much food for thought to both active musicians and particularly their teachers, who should make sure to improve the digital literacy of their students by calling their attention to the targeted search opportunities offered by the RISM database. As Professor Schwindt emphasized, the endless accessibility of digitized sources through the internet is merely an illusion. Musicians should be aware that, if they want to make autonomous decisions in compiling their repertory, they must step beyond general searches, the seemingly random results of which are in fact determined by a series of political and economic decisions that happen in the background.

As she argued, the critical eye of educated musicians should become even more important in the future, since the mass of digital information can push scholarly research in the direction of big data, and so it might remain up to the long-developed expertise and creative imagination of musicians to hold the balance.

The presentation also included a few sobering insights gained from a small poll carried out among performing musicians, suggesting that those lacking a more scholarly component in their educational background rarely make use of RISM – a tendency that higher music education institutions and RISM should fight shoulder to shoulder.

In the meantime a recording of Professor Schwindt’s talk has become available, and we warmly recommend listening to it in its entirety (shared here with kind permission):


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