Friday, 21 December 2012

Simply listen

When Wagner chose to open his opera Tristan and Isolde with a phrase that refused to resolve in the way that listeners’ expected he caused immediate disbelief and non – comprehension, quickly followed by frustration and even in some instances anger. At first these reactions seem out of proportion to the musical ‘offence’ caused, but when we take the human need for resolution into account perhaps they are a little easier to understand.

As a species we tend to assume instinctively that the problems and difficulties life throws at us can be solved. We believe that if we think creatively, have a willingness to do things differently and work long and hard enough we will be able to overcome almost any problem.

But the unique dissonance of the Tristan Chord questions this assumption. In one magnified, tortuous instant of sound it captures the emotional essence of a problem that has no easy solution. Tristan and Isolde love each other. Isolde is promised to and marries the king. Tristan is a trusted friend of the king. Do they betray their love for each other or do they betray their king? Not an easy situation to resolve!

Significantly, the Tristan Chord is one of the most analysed in the history of music (A quick web search will confirm this point!). People scrutinise it over and over again, looking for an effective and logical resolution to its tense ambiguity. It is almost as if the chord’s paradoxically transient but also suspenseful quality fixates many of those that hear it.

Perhaps a more fruitful way to appreciate the Tristan Chord is to live within its moment. We could cease trying to resolve it and start simply listening. We could begin to notice the feelings and intuitive responses we have to the music. We may then experience more clearly the power of the emotional insight contained within a single moment of sound.

The next time you are challenged by a difficult problem that refuses to be resolved stop battling against it. Accept its presence; sink into and explore it; become part of it; feel it from the inside out. The intuitive insights you gain may enhance your ability to manage its consequences. You may even find ways to turn them to your advantage.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Do it your way

Quite a while ago, I watched an amazing television programme about a very unusual musician. He was profoundly deaf and could experience the music he played and conducted through the vibrations felt within his fingers, hands and body.

This musical sense was very advanced. He could feel the subtly undulating waves of sound that marked out differing timbres, textures, dynamics and interpretations.

He gained a great deal of satisfaction from the music he performed. Those that performed with him also benefited from the unique insights his personal way of perceiving music gave him: he was able to suggest approaches and interpretations never even dreamt of by other musicians.

When asked if he would like to be able to hear music the way that most others did he replied that he would not. He said that he gained so much pleasure from the way he currently appreciated music that he did not want to change it for the world. Perhaps he was also aware that his unique musical sense gave him a special insight into music that others would find very difficult to emulate.
What is your personal preference for exploring issues and problems? Do you prefer to look at them, hear about them or feel your way through them? Or is it a specific mix of these senses? If you use your personal preferences for problem solving, rather than merely following a set system or house style, you will be more effective and enhance your enjoyment of the process. It will also help you uncover perspectives and solutions that others might miss.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Go back to the original

In 1874 Modest Mussorgsky composed a suite of piano pieces called ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, each piece depicting the pictures viewed by a visitor to an art gallery. In 1922 Maurice Ravel rearranged the suite for full orchestra. Today, it is this latter version that is best known.

Ravel’s arrangement is extremely imaginative, showing off his genius for orchestration and making explicit those things that could only be implied in the original piano work.

The brilliance, colour and imagination of the orchestration, however, obscure some of the valuable characteristics of the original.

The piano version is very virtuosic. You can see and hear the pianist struggling with some of the passages. This makes watching and listening to a performance of it a very physical, visceral experience. The seemingly effortless brilliance of the orchestral version loses this aspect.

Also, the suite was written in memory of a recently deceased friend of Mussorgsky’s, the architect Viktor Hartmann. Arguably, the personal nature of Mussorgsky's grief is expressed best through the intimate medium of the solo piano rather than the very public arena of an orchestral performance.

Sometimes clearing away the rearrangements and modifications that have been made and added to something over time can reveal original features of forgotten value.

When you next want to improve a process, or find yourself having to address a problem that has arisen in a previously trouble free area, peel back the changes that have occurred to it over time and have a good, detailed look at the original.

Have various rearrangements and modifications obscured valuable aspects? Could a refocusing of attention upon the original foundations of a tottering process help to stabilise, strengthen and even improve it?