Cultivating Reflexivity within the Orchestra

In the first theme of the journey of the Innovator, three forms of learning are discussed: therapeutic, experimental, and reflexive learning. Each of these forms comes with a specific role for the innovator. In theme 2, we focus on reflexive learning (the third type of learning), and how you as innovator can stimulate such reflexivity within the orchestra.

Where therapeutic learning is geared towards making implicit ways of working explicit, and experimental learning is about learning from doing things differently, reflexive learning is about embedding a capacity for learning in the organisation of the orchestra. Reflexive learning allows for an improved ability to cope with uncertainties and anticipate unexpected changes. This form of learning includes a willingness, openness and desire among staff and musicians of the orchestra to do things differently in order to learn. How can you as innovator stimulate and embed such attitude of learning within your orchestra?

Creating Space for Reflection

In practice, reflexive learning can be challenging. When working in an orchestra, with a tight planning and full schedule, musicians and staff tend to focus on the outcome: the concerts. But learning requires a focus on the process: the ways you together with musicians and staff organise, perform, and evaluate concerts. Such reflexive learning has to be integrated in the everyday practices of both staff and musicians in order to benefit the workings of the entire orchestra. This requires strategic choices, such as allocating time and money in ways that might challenge the core business of the orchestra. Making reflexive learning a crucial part of the everyday orchestral practice requires a combination of care and courage for all involved.

As an innovator, you can start by finding existing spaces for reflexive learning in the orchestra. What spaces and moments do you, as musicians and staff, already have for reflecting about regular and experimental projects? What learning opportunities are already there in your organisation? When, where and with whom do evaluations of experimental or participatory projects take place, and what happens with these evaluations? Reflexive learning requires that there are structured and continuous moments for (self-)evaluation within the organisation of the orchestra.

For example, in the experiment The Learning Orchestra researchers aimed to set up a collaborative learning space where musicians, staff and researchers could share insights and experiences of experiments. Sharing insights and experiences invoked others to share theirs too. Through different kinds of meetings with a heterogenous group of participants musicians and staff reflected on a variety of organisational issues, and created learning exercises that could help them to practise reflexive learning. What researchers noticed during these meetings, is that knowledge and expertise of musicians and staff are often compartmentalised in the organisation of the orchestra. Creating a space where musicians and staff from different departments and parts of the orchestra could share their experiences with an experimental concerts, can make visible how experiences and expertise within the orchestra could better utilised.

In a way, as an innovator you invite musicians and staff to become a bit like you. You help them to reflect on choices made, on potential risks and opportunities, on the role of the imagined audience in the making process, and on emerging concerns, frictions, resistances, obstacles, and challenges. In order to be able to reflect and learn, you can keep track of the process by documenting it. This documentation can take the form of written notes, of audio recordings, of photographs.

Sign at Cafe Forum

Learning from Evaluations

Evaluation is often considered by musicians and staff as a form of judgement. Evaluations then take the form of black and white judgements: a concert or experiment is either ‘good’ or bad’, successful or a failure. Researchers encountered this form of evaluation – judgements interms that are either positive or negative – when evaluating the experiments Empty Minds and Mahler am Tisch. But such black and white judgement is a limited understanding of evaluation. The aim of evaluations is not only to merely assess an experimental or participatory concert, but especially to learn from it.

Experimental and participatory projects are potential rich moments for learning. Taking the time for evaluation, and explicitly developing fruitful ways of doing so, is therefore invaluable for reflexive learning. Evaluation of these projects should therefore not only take place when these projects are finished, but also throughout the development of such project. Intermediate evaluations can be valuable moments for articulating emerging artistic criteria, and to keep track of the project during the making process.

Evaluations could take the form of sharing little vignettes: crafted stories of meaningful experiences. Or evaluations can take the form of deliberately focussing first on sharing what worked well, and then sharing what would be needed to do this experiment again in the future. Whatever form they take, it is important that a variety of musicians and staff can contribute to it, so that mutual reflection and learning can take place. Such a form of evaluating concerts does take time. But the potential insights and lessons drawn from such projects, make them highly relevant for stimulating reflexive learning within your organisation.

The People's Salon


In order for experiments to have an innovative and sustainable impact on the design and organisation of classical music concerts, various forms of learning are needed. It takes a shift from a product-orientation towards a process-orientation of all involved. And it takes time and effort to learn: to become explicitly aware of implicit routines (therapeutic learning), or to learn from trying to actually do it differently (experimental learning). Artistically meaningful innovation requires reflexive learning over time. To stimulate the ability of musicians and staff to cope with uncertain musical situations, and unexpected changes to their routines, an innovator can instil structured and continuous moments of reflection and (self-)evaluation within the orchestra.


Do you want to read more about this experiment? It is described in more detail in the following academic article:

Peters, P., Van de Werff, T., Benschop, R., Eve, I. (2022) Artful innovation: How to experiment in symphonic music practice. In Chaker, Sarah & Petri-Preis, Axel (eds), Tuning Up – Innovative Potentials of Musikvermittlung. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.


Benschop, R. & Peters, P. (2009). Samen Innoveren. naar een Europees niveau in de podiumkunsten, Maastricht: Zuyd Hogeschool.

Hommels, A., Peters, P. & Bijker, W.E. (2007). Techno therapy or nurtured niches? Technology studies and the evaluation of radical innovations. Research policy, 36(7), 1088-1099.

Iedema, R. Mesman, J. & Carroll, K. (2013). Visualising health care practice improvement: innovation from within. London: Radcliffe Publishing.

Kolb, David A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Schön, D.A. (1984). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.

Continue your journey

The Innovator as Observer and Experimenter

Innovation is closely linked to learning. But how to learn in the daily practice of the orchestra? And what to learn? Rethinking audience participation starts with becoming aware of how audiences are already present in regular symphonic practices. By becoming an observer of your own orchestra, you are able to make implicit expectations, norms and ideals about audiences visible – and changeable. As experimenter, you design experimental or participatory concerts with the aim of learning from them.

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Practice exercises to learn skills needed for audience participation!

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