This fun video considers the elements of space and time in music – no specialist knowledge required to understand it:
I recently came across two interesting posts on creativity. One from the excellent site, Brain Pickings, features a video of a talk by John Cleese. It features the attention-grabbing phrase, ‘Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.’
On my reading lists which, by now, stretches further than years left to me on Earth, is Lehrer’s Proust Was A Neuroscientist.
I follow Nietzsche on Twitter. He doesn’t return the compliment. My days are peppered with @NietzscheQuotes – yet I still can’t spell his name in a hurry. This recent one set me thinking:
Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.
Upon seeing this, I was immediately transported back to the late 70s when I used to attend guitar summer schools. Even then, as a callow youth, I noticed a polarity in reaction to outstanding recitals by visiting artists. The response of some would be, “I’m going to give up” – a skewed compliment suggesting that the peak reached by the artist lay outwith than the numbers of years left to them for catching up. I knew they were joking but it sounded defeatist and disappointing.
I hadn’t thought about this for about 35 years but reading the above quote coincided with an unusual conversation with a pal who asked, “how did you get to be so cultured?” I laughed at what seemed like obvious irony – but he was serious and was looking for an answer. The best I could think of was “just being interesting in things.” He then said, “Yes, but how do you get interested?” And I was quite stumped.
Last night I took part in an extraordinary event in Musselburgh Grammar School. Organised by Maya, a pupil in S4, One World Night featured an imaginative mix of pupil performance and presentations on humanitarian themes by guest speakers and pupils of MGS and Campie Primary School. The event was warmly compèred by Fiona O’Donnell, MP for East Lothian.
MGS Orchestra opened with the Prelude from Charpentier’s Te Deum, followed by an arrangement of Over The Rainbow. John Cunningham then gave a presentation on the work of Mercy Corps. MGS Guitar Group performed Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra before Katherine and Roanna described the work of the MGS Amnesty Group and the necessity of speaking out against injustice.
After the interval, six pupil members the local branch of the Alpha Dance Academy gave a fantastic performance of Jai Ho from the film, Slum Dog Millionaire. This was an energetic and impressive mix of Indian and en pointe styles.
P7 pupils from Campie PS spoke eloquently about the school’s links with a Burmese refugee school (CDC) in Thailand, and also about the recently released Aung San Suu Kyi. Having listened to an edition of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth earlier in the week in which schools in the U.S. were praised for nurturing confidence in public speaking, I couldn’t help feeling that Campie’s presentations were as confident and capable as it was possible to find. On this note, I also couldn’t help noticing some of my P6 pupils from Campie listening intently throughout the evening – an impressive counter to current worries about young people’s attention span.
Edinburgh based lawyer, Alison Smith talked about the Dalit (Untouchable caste) in India. I had no idea that so many people suffered such exclusion – 150 million – that’s 30 Scotlands!
Shirley gave a heartfelt performance of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia, accompanied on guitar by Amy. The final presentation by Susan Dalgety (vice-chair of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership) described Scotland’s historic links with Malawi.
In her vote of thanks at the evening’s close, Maya informed us that £264 had been raised during the evening. This had been a moving mix of entertainment, information and philanthropy. I was particularly indebted to my pupils at MGS. As a result of the holidays and the itinerant nature of my work, they were asked only on the previous Friday if they would be free and willing to take part. Almost all were able to make it, happy to be there and engaged by all the speakers.
A great article in The Guardian (Mon 2 Jan) featured artists from various disciplines offering tips on creativity, inspiration and realising ideas. Placed in the arts section, it would be silly to criticize the piece for lacking a wider field of professionals, but I did find myself wishing for contributions from those in other areas of expertise e.g. science, engineering, social policy, education. The wider the field, the more boldly common themes tend to stand out.
In this regard I have to say that I’ve always found it something of an irrelevance that, in school life, Music is grouped together with, say, Art or Drama. As far as academic side of Music goes, I feel it has most in common with Language(s) and then Maths. Actually, on this point, let me bore you with another possibly pedantic personal opinion: it is often claimed that Music and Maths are very closely related. I think this is an overstatement. Music and Arithmetic are closely intertwined but Calculus, Trigonometry, Algebra and Geometry rarely darken my door – unlike alliteration. Certainly as regards the honing and analysis of technique, then Music has as much in common with PE as any other subject – and let’s not forget teamwork!
Returning to the article, I was pleased to see that composer, Mark Anthony Turnage, scotched the idea of inspiration allowing us to avoid hard graft. Fortifying this take on the creative life, he cited various details of working method: routine; a quiet place to work; the difference that time of day can make. He opines that “the afternoon is the worst time for creativity.” It can feel like the worst time for learning and teaching. Many pupils (and possibly staff) seem to undergo a dip around 2.00-3.00 and perk up when within sight of the home straits. In the unlikely event that I am charged with redesigning the school day, I will opt for 7.00-2.00, freeing up the afternoon for siesta, meditation, reading or sport. Turnage also feels his critical eye/ear to be more lenient in the evening, often necessitating morning revision.
Susan Philipsz, has some very straightforward suggestions: “keep it simple” and “be audacious” and, in similar spirit to Turnage, “if you have a good idea, stick to it. Especially if realising the project is a long and demanding process, try to keep true to the spirit of the initial idea.”
Singer/song-writer, Martha Wainwright, confesses to a piecemeal approach: “I write in short spurts – for five, 10, 15 minutes – then I pace around the room, or go and get a snack.” Playwright, Polly Stenham, touches on the physical side, advising us to “go for a walk.” Author, Haruki Murakami (in another article) takes this much further. “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing.”
Artist, Polly Morgan, stresses the fruitfulness of a cross-curricular approach: “Don’t restrict yourself to your own medium. It is just as possible to be inspired by a film-maker, fashion designer, writer or friend than another artist. Cross-pollination makes for an interesting outcome.” Harking back to my first paragraph, I would widen this field considerably. Morgan also seems willing to embrace the tough choices which many of us would prefer to avoid: “Don’t be afraid to scrap all your hard work and planning and do it differently at the last minute.” I have certainly found this approach indispensable upon arrival at gigs which differ widely from their description.
Director, Ian Rickson, encourages us to “embrace new challenges. When we’re reaching for things, we tend to be more creative.” This reminded me of an inspirational idea by Joe Zawinul, keyboard player and founder member of Weather Report (and incidentally one of the few who seemed able to write music which was happy but not inane). In his 7th decade, there was more chance than ever that his improvising would fall into favoured patterns. In a bid to stumble upon new sounds, he programmed one of his keyboards so that pitch ran in reverse order. Playing this, along with others formatted in the normal way, many novel ideas emerged which would not have occurred to a trained hand and ear.
Perhaps my favourite sound bite from the piece comes from opera singer, Kate Royal who reminds us that, “art is everywhere.” Taking the word art as a synonym for inspirational practice then, with providers and consumers of public service having to produce more with less, this seems like as good a way to step into 2012 as I can imagine. Happy New Year!
You can access the full article here.
But let’s leave Joe Zawinul with the last word:
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Can you recall a sea-change in your thinking taking place after a book, documentary, film, argument talk, lecture? I’ve written here before on Leonard Bernstein’s Norton Lectures, on music and linguistics, The Unanswered Question, and the effect they had on my musical thinking. All six lectures are now on YouTube.
One thing I learned much later was that Bernstein had memorised the scripts! If you have several hours to spare, not necessarily all in the same day, then I can’t recommend them highly enough:
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… I hate that expression – but anyway.
Tomorrow sees the Neuromusic IV conference kick off. I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. I intend to write up (m)any interesting things when it’s over (it runs till Sunday). Fittingly the conference closes with a concert and jazz session, at which I have offered to play what has become one of my favourite tunes (see video below).
On Saturday evening, I’ll be taking time out for a much loved musical experience – a Calton Consort concert (what a poet!) Had that not been on, I’d have gone along to this Edinburgh Contemporary Music Ensemble event. I’ve just been listening to some audio from previous events.
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This evening I’m heading up to TeachMeet 2011 chez Scottish Book Trust as one of the 7-minute presenters.
My theme is Literacy, Numeracy and Games in Instrumental Lessons. Seven minutes will allow a an average of 6 seconds per slide. So it will be a broad brush, hurried affair with the intention that people can download the ppt from here.
So here it is: Literacy-Numeracy-Games-in-Instrumental-Lessons
Tidying up at the end of a primary school day, I was delighted when two P5 girls helped out without being asked. For some reason, best known to themselves, they burst into an animated version of Two Little Dickie Birds. Then one suggested, “why don’t we play that song?” I replied, “we could, but I’m wondering if it’s more of a poem than a song. If we took the words away, would there be any tune left for us to play?” After a moment’s reflection, one said:
Da dada dada da, dada dada da –
Da da dada – , da da da –
Dada da dada – , dada da da –
Da da dada – , da da da –
The inflections in the voice were identical to the version with words.
So, what is the prosodic equivalent of the popular line, “I’m a poet and didn’t know it?”
Somewhere in here is the reason I make such a fuss about phrase endings in lessons/rehearsals: