Problematizing the concept of “Connecting People” in the classical conservatoire culture.

Table of Contents


Framed by roles as a cellist, music teacher, project manager, and researcher, this presentation brings attention to the misalignment between 1) discourses advocating a humanist vision of education and 2) dominant practices in teaching and musical education. It also aims to problematize the overly positive assessment of the Portuguese musical education system, shedding light on problematic aspects often overshadowed by the system’s success stories.

The presentation integrates a comprehensive experience in the field of music, an action research project conducted in a Portuguese music school, and a literature review critically addressing music teaching systems still influenced by the values and practices of the Classical Conservatory tradition (Sloboda). Challenges in transitioning from the master-apprentice teaching model and regulatory forms of pedagogical involvement to more creative, democratic, and horizontal relationships based on constructivist principles will be explored.

With a systemic impact in mind, the discussion revolves around two distinct yet complementary perspectives: making music and teaching music. In both cases, there is a need to relinquish the superior status of classical music, fostering communication between genres, contexts, and people of different origins. This empowerment encourages musicians and music teachers to depart from entrenched practices and embrace alternative forms of engagement with musical practice and relationships with society. Particularly in the case of stringed instruments, more than in other instruments where Portuguese traditions encourage lifelong musical practice, it will be necessary a reflection on the most effective ways to promote more meaningful relationships with musical practice, making it an integral, even essential, part of people’s lives.

Addressing current problems, challenges, and possibilities in the realm of music, a constructivist stance contributes to implementing dialogical movements that confront current reality with previously unquestioned dogmas. This approach views music as “a socially situated human endeavor […] a social praxis” (Elliott and Silverman 2015, 84), where knowledge is constructed in dialogue, challenging a positivist and cognitivist conception of knowledge, where what is played and taught is considered independent of context.

About the speaker

João A. Costa, Cello

Initial training in cello performance (ESMAE), with a subsequent career as a professional cellist playing in orchestras, chamber ensembles, and with pop musicians and groups. In the field of education, he has taught various subjects, including Cello and Instrumental Ensembles and Orchestras. He played a pivotal role in establishing the Escola de Música de Perosinho, serving as its Pedagogical Director (Head Teacher) and contributing as a member of the Pedagogical Board and/or Artistic Director for over 20 years.

A specific aspect of his activity is associated with project management, an area that has seen increased involvement in recent years, both within and outside the school context. As a project manager, he has garnered experience in several international projects, including the Transversal Program, Comenius, Erasmus+, and Lingua-Mãe, among others. His roles extend to coordinating Family Concerts, and bridging education, research, and activism, he initiated projects aimed at activating professional musicians with limited opportunities for music engagement (Orchestra Pit Project). Another project with similar objectives targets future professional and amateur musicians (Addere Ensemble). In 2005, he served as a Project Manager in Casa da Música’s Department of Education and Research.

Over the past 15 years, he pursued additional academic training at the University of Porto, earning a Postgraduate Degree and a Master’s Degree in Educational Sciences. Subsequently, he obtained a PhD in Artistic Education from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto with a dissertation titled: “THE PROCESS OF SENSE-MAKING IN MUSIC TEACHING AND LEARNING. The reconfiguration of the roles of the music teacher and the implications for his personal, professional, and artistic identity.”

Presently, he is a collaborative researcher at I2ADS (Research Institute in Art, Design, and Society), actively participating in the team of researchers responsible for the “Assessment study on the Impact of Public Policies in the Field of Art Education in Portugal” (2015). In addition to contributing to conferences, meetings, and other research-related events in the Portuguese context, he presented research work at ECER Conferences in Budapest (2015), Dublin (2016), Bolzano (2018), and Hamburg (2019). His academic engagements also include serving as a jury for master’s theses, co-supervising doctoral theses, and peer reviewing.

In recent years, he expanded his activities to include teacher training and Project Expert Evaluator roles, collaborating with the Erasmus+ National Agency and the European Commission (Horizon Europe Program).