Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Compose Collaboration

One way of defining a piece of music is as a vehicle created to encourage and exploit collaboration between people. Even a solo piano piece usually involves collaboration between the pianist and the person who put the notes down on paper; the composer creates the structure with directions and indications about how he or she feels it should be performed and the pianist interprets these through the perceptual filter of his or her knowledge, experience, preferences and emotional reactions to the music. Even if the pianist also wrote the piano piece there has still been collaboration with the piano maker, who has created the medium through which the composer/performer expresses his or her self.

It is this fusion between performer, composer, instrument maker and indeed many others (venue managers, lighting engineers, etc.) that creates the collaborative magic of performance. The composer’s notes on the page are dry and dead without the rich interpretive juices of the performer and the specialist knowledge, experience and skills of those who create and manage the mediums within and through which they are brought to life.  

Perceiving composition in this way, as the creation of collaborative structures that people can contribute to, help develop and bring to life, has led to the creation of new and inclusive forms of music that maximise the roles of everyone involved, including the listeners (an excellent example is the Toronto Symphony).
This innovative approach to composition demonstrates that focusing upon and valuing not only the act of collaboration but also the design of its mechanics and dynamics (the all important intricacies of when it will work, where it will work, how it will work and with what it will achieve things) can enhance the quality and effectiveness of the work people do together.   

When working with your partners how much attention do you give to the structures and processes that need to be built within, around and between your collaborations to ensure their success? Have you and your collaborators become composers of collaboration, giving as much thought, care and attention to when, where, how and with what you will collaborate as to the act of collaboration itself?
Ask yourself whether you have:

Provided easily recognisable cues or signposts that will prompt people towards interesting and significant areas and helpful people and resources? Have you made the entrances and pathways to and within your collaboration easy for people to find, enter and follow?

Decided upon the instruments you will use for your collaboration, the tools that will make your collaboration possible? Will these be physical (e.g. providing accessible and suitable accommodation where people can meet), virtual (e.g. creating online communities such as Wikipedia), human (e.g. recruiting people skilled in collaboration), or a specific mix of all three (as is the case with ground-breaking and innovative collaborative learning approaches, a good example being the Collaborative Contract Programme of the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia)?
Ensured your collaborative structure can be re-arranged for the forces that are available or needed? Is it flexible and modular enough to be easily dismantled and reconstructed, allowing different partners to link up, share ideas and cooperate in a wide variety of stimulating and innovative ways?
Enabled partners to go solo when they need to? Do they have the private spaces to relax, consider and work on things on their own before discussing, sharing and developing ideas with others (as is the case for those contributing to Wikipedia)? Additionally, can different partners take the lead part as and when needed? Have you created ‘cadenza points’ within the structure of your collaboration that provide individual partners with the opportunities to demonstrate and use their virtuoso skills and expert knowledge to their own and others’ advantage (as is the case when a collaboration embraces the emergent expertise and experience of its collaborators and gives them the time, space and authority they need to influence its work and direction and enhance its outcomes).
Constructed the collaboration’s rules of 'harmony and counterpoint' and ensured that everybody understands them? Are there structures in place that help people consolidate agreements? Do you have processes that enable people to disagree in acceptable and constructive ways? Have you put in place conventions or ‘rules of performance’ that allow and encourage people to work together safely, share their ideas and create new and valuable things?

If you are interested in finding out more about collaboration please see my other blog: 

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