Thursday, 17 July 2014

No one can make music

Composers write music, but they do not know how to make it. Instrumentalists play music, but they do not know how to make it. Singers sing music, but they do not know how to make it. Conductors conduct music, but they do not know how to make it. It is only together, by sharing and combining their ideas, knowledge, experience and skills, that composers, instrumentalists, singers and conductors can make music.

But wait a moment; this last statement is untrue! Can players make the instruments upon which they play? Do singers spring singing from the womb? Can composers design the computer software many of them use when composing? Can conductors build the concert halls within which they conduct their performances?

There are many, many people, some I have not mentioned or even thought of, who need to come together and share their diverse ideas, perspectives, knowledge and skills to make the making of music an audible reality, and unsurprisingly this is not an easy process.

Composers know best about the structure and fabric of their music. Software designers know best about the programming, structure and layout of the software tools composers use to write and record their music. Instrumentalists and singers know best how to play or sing the music. Teachers know best how to teach the skills it needs. Conductors know best how to interpret and direct it. Instrument makers know best how the instruments they make can be adapted to the music's demands. Architects know best how to manage the acoustics of the concert halls they build, so helping the music to sound its best.   

In short, everyone knows best but in different ways, which is a basis for conflict and tension if ever there was one!

How can this conflict and tension be managed? We need to practise the following four things:

Adopt a curiosity mind set

We need to hold our certainties lightly and develop an eager curiosity about the ideas, views and insights of others, readily exploring how they can be adopted and adapted to enhance the overall quality of the music and its performance. Composers need to be curious about the views and opinions of conductors and players. Players and singers need to be curious about the thinking and perspectives of conductors and composers. Software designers need to be curious about the needs and opinions of their client composers. Teachers need to be curious about the ideas and perspectives of not only their students but also the people who will employ their students. Architects need to be curious about the people who will occupy and use the spaces they build. Conductors need to be curious about everyone and everything.  

Essentially, we need to ask more questions and make less statements of certainty.

Allow others to play

We need to encourage and allow others to play with our knowledge, skills and ideas. Those of us that compose need to realise that our music, once written, will have a life of its own that will be shaped by those that take it up, rehearse, play with, interpret and perform it. Those of us that are players and singers need to expose our instruments and voices to new techniques and ways of creating sound, allowing the composer to play around and experiment within the personal, sometimes intimate space of our playing and singing techniques. Those of us that build instruments need to allow others to play with their shape and form. Those of us who build concert halls need to allow others to own and play with the space, adapting it to their needs and preferences. Those of us who are software designers need to allow others to modify it and adapt it to their needs. Those of us who teach need to allow others to play and experiment.        

We need to allow and permit rather than disallow and prohibit.     

Let go of ego and status 

To be comfortable with allowing others to play with our knowledge, skills and ideas, we need to work hard at letting go of the ego and hard won status derived from our respective roles: composers need to let go of the ego and status derived from  being 'the creator'; conductors need to let go of the ego and status derived from being 'the interpreter'; players and singers need to let go of the ego and status derived from being 'the performer'; instrument makers and architects need to let go of the ego and status derived from being 'the makers and builders'. Software designers need to let go of the ego and status derived from being 'the technical or IT expert'; teachers need to let go of the ego and status derived from being 'the recognised source of wisdom and knowledge'. 

We need to let go of individual ego and instead share in the raised status derived from an enhanced performance that relies upon and assimilates everyone's diverse knowledge, skills and talents. 

Collaborate to achieve excellence 

We need to collaborate to achieve excellence rather than compromise to achieve mediocrity. This involves searching out and embracing conflicts and tensions, being curious about them, eagerly exploring them and seeking out the novel and innovative insights that lie hidden within their dynamic interactions. It means resisting the temptation to take the easy, non-confrontational route, the route that offers the immediate satisfaction of a seemingly smooth solution that, because it has not been adequately hardened and tempered within the heat of conflict, will lose its shape and shatter under the intense pressures of performance.

We need to welcome and embrace conflict and use its heat to mould innovative, insightful and superior performances.

And what if I am not a musician?

You can apply the above principles elsewhere in your life and work. It is up to you to find out where and how.

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