Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Create a universe of imagination from a tiny spark of feeling

"To explore remembering is to explore being creative."
Bruce Adolphe (Composer)

Arising from your first feeling and sensation, your first thoughts lead to your first gestures and actions; your first gestures and actions lead to your first reactions.

And you begin to form memories.

From your memories emerge ideas you have had and clues, slivers and snippets of insight, pointing towards ideas you will have.

Notice how you form memories. Record how your ideas emerge. Gather in the clues, the slivers and snippets of insight, pointing towards ideas you will have.     

Entwine your memories, ideas and slivers and snippets of insight with those of other people.
What meanings and understandings are revealed as the memories, ideas and slivers and snippets of insight meld within people's minds?     

Above all, what emerges new, brilliant and unforeseen?

Meld separate memories, ideas and insights into new shared memories, ideas and insights, and create a universe of imagination from a tiny spark of feeling.

"How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life."
Ludwig Wittenstein

Friday, 3 January 2020

Help create passports to creativity

During a lunch with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, the composer Igor Stravinsky wrote some musical notes on a napkin. These notes formed the following vertical stack (or chord) of notes:

Stravinsky passed the napkin to Samuel and asked him if the chord was playable on the violin.

Given the awkward look of the chord and the significant space between its notes, Samuel immediately said that the chord was unplayable; he thought it would, quite literally, be too much of a stretch.

On returning home, however, Samuel tried playing the chord on his violin. To his surprise, he found that the chord was quite easy to play.

He immediately telephoned Stravinsky to tell him the good news. Stravinsky was pleased; he said the chord would be "the passport" to the concerto he was going to write for Dushkin.

Stravinsky was not a violinist and had, until finding the above passport to compositional success, been reluctant to write a concerto for the instrument. He had assumed that his lack of familiarity with the violin would hamper his efforts and cause him to create a mediocre concerto.

However, as his fellow composer Paul Hindemith had suggested, Stravinsky's unfamiliarity with the violin proved to be an advantage, enabling him to write for the violin in fresh and surprising ways: ways that expert violinists may have dismissed as unplayable or "unviolinistic".

The chord that had at first seemed unplayable to a virtuoso violinist became the symbolic and generative core of Stravinsky's innovative and engaging violin concerto. Each of the concerto's movements, and some of the sections within the movements, start with the chord.  

The chord became the creative gateway through which Stravinsky was able to access and explore, what was for him, a new and exciting musical landscape.

The above example offers us two important lessons about creative problem solving. Firstly, being unfamiliar with a discipline, issue or problem can be an advantage: it can lead to a person exploring things in new ways and discovering new approaches and solutions. Secondly, being familiar with a discipline, issue or problem can (at least initially) be a disadvantage: it can stop a person exploring things in new ways and discovering new approaches and solutions.

Stravinsky, despite his initial misgiving about writing for the violin, heeded the advice of Paul Hindemith and transformed the apparent disadvantage of unfamiliarity into a creative strength. Samuel Dushkin tested his familiarity based initial assumptions and discovered they were wrong (and in the process he gained a masterpiece for the violin).

Perceive unfamiliarity as a potential advantage and encourage others to do likewise; test your familiarity based assumptions: help create passports to creativity.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Invest significantly in providing inspiring resources to receive inspiring returns

In the spring of 1818, the English piano makers Broadwood and Sons gifted and sent Beethoven a new grand piano. It had a bigger and stronger tone than previous models and an increased range of notes.

Delivering the piano to Beethoven was expensive, time consuming and arduous. It had to be shipped to Trieste and then carried by mules to Vienna over uneven, energy sapping dirt tracks that traversed jagged, inhospitable mountain passes.

All the effort was worthwhile.

Beethoven took to his new piano immediately, and it inspired him to create one of his greatest piano sonatas: No. 29 in B flat Major, Opus 106 "Hammerklavier".

The message here is simple: if you invest significantly in providing people with inspiring resources, you can receive very inspiring returns.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Cherish magically imaginative mistakes

On first seeing and hearing an orchestra, a child perceived the conductor's baton as a magic wand: a wand that could conjure music from nowhere.

When he realised he was wrong, the child was hugely disappointed.

When the child grew up, however, he found a handheld tool that could conjure music from nowhere: a pen.

The child's name was Moisey Weinberg, and he grew up to become a composer.

Children are open to the wonder of magic, and they make magically imaginative mistakes when trying to understand the world's sounds and sights.

Thankfully, the young Weinberg cherished his childhood memory. He did not dismiss it as naïve, wrong and useless. As a result, a wand conjuring-up music became a catalyst igniting Weinberg's musical creativity.

Moisey Weinberg's magically imaginative mistake struck a chord that reverberated deep within his mind throughout his life, calling him towards the task of composing: of conjuring music from nowhere.

Do not carelessly dismiss naïve and childlike thoughts. Allow them to reverberate in your mind. Recognise that they may be magically imaginative mistakes: mistakes that can give you unique insights; mistakes that can motivate you to achieve new, innovative and worthwhile things.

Recognise that they may be mistakes you should cherish.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Paint your words colourfully and with pride

Word painting is a technique used by composers and song writers to highlight the meaning of words and phrases. This meaning can be physical, abstract, or emotional: e.g., ragged, jagged music for words describing uneven ground; fluttering, shimmering music for words describing angels and heaven; yearning, sighing music for words describing love. 

The Baroque composer Handel did a lot of word painting, and today's songwriters still do it. (Here are some examples of Handel's word painting, and this Wikipedia page not only explores Handel's word painting but also provides examples from contemporary songs.)

Musical word painting increases the impact words and phrases have upon listeners; it makes words and phrases stimulating and enjoyable to hear; it makes meanings memorable.

The best musical word painters, as the above Wikipedia page clearly shows, are some of the most successful and popular of musicians: their music is fondly remembered and sought-after by concert-goers.

We can all benefit from the principle underpinning musical word painting; we can all make our words and phrases stimulating and memorable by incorporating them into rich and colourful pictures. 

We can do this by framing our words within personal stories and anecdotes, supporting our words with relevant and memorable photographs and graphics, and forming our words into rich metaphors and impactful phrases. We can even do the most obvious thing: we can write in colours that emphasise the meaning and feeling of our words.

If we make our words and phrases stimulating and memorable, we increase their ability to influence and inspire: to influence people to our way of thinking and inspire people to think and act innovatively.

But lastly, a word of caution.

Some people have ridiculed the use of musical word painting, calling it (among other unflattering things) childish and naïve. These ridiculers have included composers. For example, Thomas Campion (a renaissance song writer) said that "where the nature of everie word is precisely expressed in the Note… such childish observing of words is altogether ridiculous".

The reasons for this ridicule can be personal, social and cultural. Perhaps a person has stoical values that eschew making dramatic gestures and expressing emotions. Perhaps a person lives within a society that is similarly stoical: which seeks to hide overt gesture and emotion beneath a cultural blanket of withering admonishments.

Music, like most things, suffers as a result of ridicule; it becomes a barely heard and distorted echo of what it could be. 

Do not allow your words to suffer in a similar way. Do not allow them to become a faintly heard whisper of what you wanted to express. Do not allow ridicule to fade your words to grey.

Paint your words colourfully and with pride.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Explore others' meanings

I recently listened to the orchestral piece "Midnight Sun Variations" by the Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen. When I heard the title, I immediately assumed the piece was a set of musical variations in the traditional sense (i.e., a number of movements or sections that are derived from an initial melody, each of which develops the melody in different and creative ways).

When I listened to the composer talk about her piece, however, I realised my assumption was incorrect. Outi Tarkiainen said that her piece was not a set of variations in the above traditional sense; instead, it was a musical depiction of the ever-changing light that plays upon the tundra and dense forests of the Northern Finnish landscape during late summer: a time when midnight sun slowly gives way to darkness.  

This change of meaning immediately altered my perception and expectations of Outi Tarkiainen's piece, which made me listen to and appreciate the music in a new and refreshing way.

Because of our education, training and experiences, etc., some words and phrases have specific meanings for us: meanings that have become hardwired into our way of thinking about and perceiving things (as illustrated by my assumption about the meaning of the word "variations", which my musical education had embedded into my mind).

The next time someone describes a problem to you, check out your assumptions about the way it is being described. What do the words used to describe the problem mean to the person saying them? How does this meaning differ from the one you were assuming? Does this different meaning alter the way you perceive the problem? Does this new perception of the problem suggest new ways to address the problem?  

Friday, 2 August 2019

Share your encore

After performing a concerto at a concert, and taking several bows in recognition of the audience's applause and acclaim, a soloist will often play an encore.

This is a short piece played in recognition of the audience's appreciation. It will in some way contrast with or complement the concerto previously performed and also provide an additional opportunity for the soloist to show off his or her musical skills, be this fast-fingered passage work or the ability to express the beauty of a simple melody.

Traditionally, the encore has kept the spotlight on the soloist. Recently, however, soloists have begun to share the spotlight with others. This happened during a 2019 Promenade Concert. Joshua Bell had performed the Dvorak Violin Concerto. As an encore, he joined two players from the orchestra to perform another piece by Dvorak: a movement from the Cavatina for Two Violins and Viola.

Apart from providing novelty, which the audience enjoyed, this encore achieved three other things:

  1. It demonstrated Joshua Bell's willingness to share the spotlight with others.
  2. It publicly acknowledged the skills of the orchestra and their contribution to the successful performance of the Dvorak Concerto. (The second violin player was the leader of the orchestra; this symbolism would have been appreciated by audience and orchestra alike.)
  3. It shone a spotlight on a section of the orchestra that almost always plays a supporting part: the violas.                  
We can all benefit from adopting and adapting Joshua Bell's encore approach. Make sure those who support your achievements are able to share the spotlight of your recognition. Focus especially upon those who usually play supportive parts in the background. Offer your supporters meaningful roles in follow-up and "spin-off" projects and events. When you are invited to make presentations about your achievements, ensure your supporters are given the opportunity to speak about how they helped you. When you are asked to write about your achievements, do not only acknowledge the help you received but also include descriptions of how the skills and expertise of your supporters were essential to success. When awards are given to you, find ways to ensure your helpers and supporters receive their share of the acclaim.                   

By doing the above, you will demonstrate your generosity and willingness to acknowledge the expertise and contributions of others.

People will remember how you shared your encore; they will remember your generosity and willingness to share the spotlight. 

And the next time you need help, it will be willingly given.