Joan-Albert Serra

Music and Arts Leader, Consultant, Educator and Researcher

Beginnings and leadership roles

I studied classical music in my hometown, Barcelona, and in my early teens I also discovered jazz, which inspired me to start playing the trumpet. My growing passion for music led me to leave a university degree in physics and move to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music in search of a modern and genre-inclusive approach to musical training.

I began my career as a performer, composer and arranger, but I soon developed a real love for music education and I realised that it was through the training of young musicians and the promotion of the arts that I could best serve society. The aim was clear, but if I wanted to support new generations of musicians with an innovative pedagogical programme I had to be imaginative and build a new music school from the ground up, the Escuela de Música Creativa (Madrid). I was the school’s CEO and Academic Director for sixteen years (1985–2001) and under my leadership it experienced a constant growth and became one of the leading music schools in Spain.

This experience motivated me to direct my professional activity towards the leadership of music and arts institutions and programmes, where I could inspire, guide and facilitate the work of teams; develop a sense of ownership and responsibility among staff; promote innovation and cooperation; and stimulate and manage change. My roles in the cultural and educational sectors have included: Associate Director of Research and Innovation of ESART Campus Barcelona / Bath Spa University (UK), after occupying the post of Academic Head of its Music Department (2016–19); International Relations, Institutions and Alumni Coordinator at the ESMUC (Catalonia’s National Conservatoire, Barcelona, 2009–13); Head of Vocal and Instrumental Learning of The Sage Gateshead, a senior management position in one of the UK’s most innovative music centres (2003–08); and General Manager of Taxi Records (1988–93).

Consultant, researcher and QA reviewer

I’ve promoted and carried out work on innovation and strategic development in the institutions and programmes that I’ve led and, as an independent consultant, I’ve advised and created projects for organizations such as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music – ABRSM (UK), the SGAE (Spanish Society of Authors and Publishers), the American School of Barcelona, Fundació Ribermúsica (Barcelona), 21st Century Music School (Madrid) and the Jaén Conservatoire (Spain).

My main research interests are live music – as a social, artistic and relational activity – and music’s capacity to foster empathy and understanding among culturally diverse people and communities. In 2011, I started a project to study the relationships between audiences and musicians and their influence in the processes that lead to the generation of emotions and the creation of meaning. A paper with the first results of this investigation has been published by Digithum (2015): “A New Approach to Relationships in Live Music: Redefining Emotional Content and Meaning”.

Through my work, and the Master’s Degree in the Information and Knowledge Society (Research) that I completed at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya – UOC (Barcelona, 2011–13), I’ve developed qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, which I use to support educational and organisational innovation, change management, project development, audience engagement, quality assurance, marketing, etc. Research is also one of my main areas as a lecturer, which has offered me the opportunity to supervise, and learn from, many research projects addressing a wide range of subjects.

I’m a peer-reviewer for MusiQuE (Music Quality Enhancement), an external evaluation body dedicated to the continuous improvement of the quality of higher music education across Europe and beyond. In November 2018 I took part, as a member of the Review Team and secretary, in the review of the Bachelor of Music Programme of the College of Music, Mahidol University, Bangkok (Thailand).

Teacher, lecturer and curriculum designer

As an educator, my aim is to inspire music students at all levels and from all backgrounds, and support the artistic and professional development of those who aspire to a career in the cultural and creative industries. I started teaching Harmony, Composition, Arranging, Improvisation and Trumpet, privately and at the L’Aula de Música Moderna i Jazz (1981–85, Barcelona and Madrid), and later at the Escuela de Música Creativa (1985–98, Madrid).

I’ve been a senior lecturer at ESART Campus Barcelona / Bath Spa University (2014–19), where I taught Creative Arts Research Skills and supervised the Level 6 research projects and dissertations of the BA (Hons) Commercial Music and the BA (Hons) Arts Management and Production. I’ve also lectured at the Master UAB-ESMUC in Organisation and Direction of Music Education Institutions (Barcelona, 2010–12) and I taught in several continuing professional development courses for music teachers about the use of software applications in the classroom (1993–94).

The curriculum is an essential element of any music and arts education programme and it has to reflect the objectives and pedagogical values of the institution that offers it, but at the same time it needs to be flexible enough to support the changing needs of students and society. For this reason, I’ve been directly involved in the creation of music education curriculums, from beginner level to higher education, as well as directing the teams that have developed them, notably at ESART (2016–19), The Sage Gateshead (2003–08) and the Escuela de Música Creativa (1985–2001).

International relations, speaker and article writer

I’m convinced that the advance of music and the arts in society depends, to a great extent, on the dialogue and collaboration that the professionals involved in their different fields are able to establish, both locally and internationally. For this reason I’ve actively participated in several international associations and networks, such as the European Association of Conservatoires (AEC) and the European Modern Music Education Network (EMMEN), and I’ve been invited as panellist and speaker to congresses held in various European cities (London, Hamburg, Bournemouth, Valencia, Cordoba, Barcelona, ​​etc.). I’ve also been involved in the cooperative movement through the European Music Cooperative, a project that I promoted to develop collaborative and participatory structures in the live music sector.

I’m fluent in four languages ​​(English, French, Catalan and Spanish), which which not only allows me to communicate directly with a broad range of people, but also to have a better understanding of different cultures. I also feel at home speaking in public, and it’s often in these situations that I find the best way to express my ideas. Ideas and reflections about music, arts and education that I also enjoy writing about, like in my regular articles for the prestigious music magazine Scherzo.

Producer, composer and performer

In the early stages of my career I was active as a composer, arranger and jazz trumpeter, and soon I began to organize and produce concerts and festivals, placing special emphasis on the creation of new formats and audience engagement. I’ve collaborated with musicians, ensembles and orchestras in a variety of genres and styles, from big bands and early music orchestras to classical, jazz and flamenco musicians (Lorenzo Coppola, Spira Mirabilis, Ensemble Dialoghi, Tim Garland, El Teatre Instrumental, Northern Sinfonia, Ara Malikian, Serouj Kradjian, José Luis Montón, Camerata Creativa, etc.).

As a record producer, I worked with some of the most representative musicians of the Spanish creative scene, releasing several albums with Taxi Records, a record label that I founded and was its General Manager. More recently I’ve been involved in the production of the Ensemble Dialoghi’s first recording: the Mozart and Beethoven quintets for piano and winds performed with period instruments.