Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Improvisational Inqueery Inclusion, Intercorporeality, and the Classical Music Institution

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posted on 2024-01-28, 00:31 authored by Aslan Rowlands

Improvisation has a long history as a part of the creative processes of performers and composers of European art music prior to the 20th century, commonly referred to as classical music. Despite this, it is typically excluded from the activities of the modern-day classical institution. In this thesis, I explore questions of why and how improvisation is excluded from classical music institutions today. I do so by engaging with concepts such as bodies, spaces, orientations, queering, and whiteness as they relate to the classical music institution and its construction as an ideological entity, and how improvisation — representing (in classical music) cultures, identities, and ideals associated with the constructed other — is an undesirable practice in this space. I discuss the role improvisation played in the development of counterpoint and the other practices of European musicians prior to the nineteenth century as well as attitudes and narratives that contributed to its decline in acceptance within the institution. I use qualitative data collected in interviews and practical focus groups I conducted with classically trained musicians to highlight some of its exclusionary and marginalizing structures. I also draw on this data to examine how these structures work to maintain the white, cisgender, heteronormative maleness of the space, while remaining hostile to bodies and ideals that exist deviant from those norms. I reflect on my own experience as an improvisor in conjunction with literature concerned with improvisation, embodiment, and phenomenology to conceive of improvisation as an intimately social, intercorporeal interaction between empathetically attuned human bodies. Finally, I consider how improvisation may be mobilised, alongside perspectives such as antiracism, to subvert and deconstruct unjust institutional structures and apply this consideration to the implementation of an inclusive and subversive final performance I called an “Inter-Creative Space.”


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Musical Arts

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130102 Music

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Wilson, Dave