Thursday, 28 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 12. personally, physically and directly pass the ownership of your unique knowledge and insights to others eager to take it

The 19th century conductor Leopold Damrosch was an ardent supporter and promoter of Wagner's works. He invested his entire professional life into developing a deep and practical knowledge of Wagner's music and how to conduct it.

Then, as he was struck down by pneumonia and his life was fading away, he used his remaining strength and last breaths to pass on the personal, and at the time unrecordable, details of his approach to conducting Wagner's works.

Like the steps of a ballet, the moment to moment movement and techniques of Damrosch's conducting could not be completely captured by written words or sketches. If they were to be taken and owned by someone else Damrosch would have to pass them on personally, physically and directly.

More than this, they would have to be passed on to someone eager to receive and use them.

Walter Damrosch, Leopold's son and also a conductor committed to Wagner's works, fitted the bill. During the last days of his father's life Walter sat by his father's bedside and eagerly took ownership of the personal knowledge and insights gained from a life time of being up close and personal with Wagner's music.     
Ideas and innovations cannot stand alone; they do not have an independent, self-sufficient life. They need people to understand and support them in countless subtle, often not easy to capture or define ways. If these people and their support become scarce or disappear so too will the idea or innovation.

During our lives most of us will gather and own uniquely valuable knowledge and insights which help us get to grips with and sometimes support new ideas, innovations and ways of doing things. Often, our most valuable insights are the most difficult to capture or record formally.

If we feel it is important for new ideas and innovations to survive and thrive, we must be willing to sacrifice ownership of our unique insights and knowledge about them. We must also realise that our most valuable insights and knowledge, because they are often difficult to capture or record, can be the most difficult and challenging to give away. They require that we make a determined effort to pass them on personally, physically and directly to those whom we feel are most eager to take and use them.          

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.)

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 11. eine handlung!

Wagner did not call his music drama Tristan und Isolde an opera: he called it 'eine handlung', which is German for a drama, a plot or, most significantly, an action.

This straightforward, practical choice of words provides us with a glimpse of how Wagner viewed the creative process. To him, being creative was about not merely thinking and reflecting but also making and testing: creating a physical impact upon the world (or at least his audience), looking at the results and making changes and refinements.

He wanted to change musical and dramatic practice so built a theatre, Bayreuth, within which he modelled, tried and tested his ideas. He wanted to write a major work based on the story of Tristan and Isolde so composed fully realised and performable songs, the Wesendonck Lieder, to capture and refine his thoughts.

So, like Wagner, remember that innovation is about not only thinking and reflecting but also doing, trying, testing and refining.

It is 'eine handlung': an action

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.)

Monday, 25 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 10. continuously introduce and adapt

It is often overlooked that innovations and creations recognised as valuable or even great can fade from popular consciousness over time.

Paradoxically, it is some of the most high profile and awe inspiring innovations and creations that can be most prone to fade: their almost mystical or legendary status giving them a rarefied aspect that distances and then wipes them from the everyday person's everyday thoughts. Think about the Apollo moon landings (that these days elicits a mere nod of appreciation); consider the supersonic airplane Concorde (that most people only ever appreciated fleetingly, from a distance); reflect upon the ground breaking skyscrapers within the elite business districts of the world (that no one looks up at any more).  

Supporters of Wagner and his music were certainly aware of this danger, and they took steps to address it. They continuously introduced Wagner's music to new generations of audiences and found ways to adapt it to changing habits and needs.

For example, during the early 1930's (long after the initial introduction of Wagner's works) Leopold Stokowski arranged, conducted and recorded what he called 'Symphonic Syntheses' of many of Wagner's operas. These came at a time when performances of Wagner's operas were on the wane and there was a danger they might fade into the mists of half-remembered musical history or, at the very best, become a high class side-show for a self-styled Central European musical elite.

These Symphonic Syntheses could be performed in the average local concert hall. They usually gave the vocal lines to the strings or some other instrument and, importantly, their self-contained and carefully structured nature provided a satisfying listening experience that could be broadcast far and wide over the radio and distributed through recordings.

Leopold Stokowski successfully introduced Wagner's music to new audiences by effectively adapting it to people's lives and listening habits, including those habits encouraged by new technology.

Wagner's works did not retreat into a half-remembered golden age of music but gradually caught up with and came within reach of people's daily lives (or at least their radios and gramophones).

Today, Wagner's operas (and Leopold Stokowski's Syntheses) are performed and broadcast around the globe.

So, like Wagner' supporters, be aware that valuable or even great innovations can easily fade and be forgotten. Plan for the long-haul and work at continuously introducing your innovations to new people, and find ways to adapt your innovations to the circumstances and technologies that are changing the way people use and interact with them.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 9. do something concrete and obvious that gets a reaction and eventually encourages change

Wagner put the action and narrative of his music dramas above all else; an audience was not to be distracted from the action unfolding upon the stage.

How best to make this happen? How best to make sure audiences and performers got the message?

Wagner did something concrete and obvious: he redesigned and rebuilt the orchestral pit, hiding the conductor and orchestra from view.

This caused some extreme reactions. On seeing the newly constructed pit which would hide him and his orchestra from view, Auguste Vianesi (the first Music Director and Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, New York) demanded that it be demolished and replaced with a traditional space which put his conducting front and centre of the action.

This was duly done, but merely one year later Vianesi was gone and a pro-Wagner conductor (Anton Seidl) had replaced him.

And the hidden orchestral pit had been reconstructed!

Doing something concrete and obvious that initially caused a negative reaction eventually resulted in, what was for Wagner and his supporters, a positive change.

What concrete and obvious things can you do to ensure people 'get the message' about your idea or innovation? If what you do is concrete and obvious enough it will get an initial 'knee-jerk' reaction, which is likely to be negative. Be prepared to wait a while. If your idea is a good and useful one, initially unfavourable reactions may well transform into lasting and positive change.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.)

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 8. turn a toxin into a tonic

For many concert goers and music critics of the later 19th century, Wagner's music was considered toxic. 

The complexity of his works, their extreme emotional intensity and their long duration were thought dangerous to both body and mind. 

For those looking for the toxic qualities of Wagner's music there seemed to be convincing 'evidence'. The first tenor to sing Tristan in the music drama Tristan und Isolde died after only 4 performances. His opera singer wife, who was cast as Isolde opposite him, was distraught. In fact, she was so psychologically scared by the experience that she never sang again and was mentally unstable for the rest of her life.

Then, the American conductor Theodore Thomas realised that these apparent toxins could, if given to the right people, become tonics for body and soul.

Anyone needing to feed off emotional intensity; anyone needing to cope with complexity and enhance endurance: surely these people would benefit from a properly administered dose of pure Wagner?

The young nation of America had just such people: the up-and-coming business entrepreneurs (mainly men), who provided the vision, vitality, commitment and determination that was powering America into the forefront of the latter 19th century and the century to follow.

Wagner's music was transformed into a tonic which could 'saturate the human system, stimulating and revitalising weary entrepreneurs'.

So, like Theodore Thomas, seek to turn toxic ideas into tonics. How could their apparently poisonous traits result in benefits for a specific group of people?

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Monday, 18 July 2016

Search for UK maestro to help create an orchestra in Iraq

Paul Macalindin's book Upbeat (its most powerful message encapsulated in this one well-chosen word) is published on the 18th of August.

If you have a passion for music and music education; if you need to bring people together to collaborate, learn from each other, perform and achieve; if you are simply searching for an engaging, thought provoking and inspiring read: read this book.

Paul takes us on a journey from Europe to Iraq and back again, and on the way he tells us a story that, quite frankly, could not be made up.

Who would think of creating a national youth orchestra in a country which most of us associate with the words 'war zone'? Who would think of championing a national youth orchestra in a country where playing western classical music is often frowned upon and sometimes severely punished?

Paul and the young musicians of Iraq not only thought about it, they did it!

Paul tells us about his journey, both actual and metaphorical, as he banded together with young Iraqi musicians to create an improbable oasis of collaboration and shared purpose amid a desert storm of conflict and everyday violence.

He gives us a front line and vivid account of his set backs and successes, the dark that (eventually) was followed by the light, and as he does so he provides us with a route map, complete with indispensable landmarks and compass headings, that can guide us through the tricky, complex and sometimes dangerous terrain of collaborative working. 

And during the journey we hear the travellers' personal stories: their tears and their laughter; their hopes and dreams and sometimes brutal realities; their sacrifices and their successes. Paul gives a very human face to the enduring beauty within the painful tragedies of Iraq.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 7. spread memes of style and flavour

Wagner's music blended into and spread easily within people's surroundings and everyday existence. It was broken down into short digestible snippets and arranged for popular bands and ensembles, making it suitable for performances at the popular events woven into the social fabric of people's lives. It was flexibly packaged so it could be performed with or without singers, making it easy to include within a broad range of concert programmes.

As a result of all this, much of the original context and meaning (and power) of Wagner's music was inevitably lost. It became detached from its artistic roots and floated into people's minds to anchor and settle with whatever notions and perceptions it found there.

But the advantages of this process far outweighed the disadvantages. Over time, these insistent snippets or 'memes' of musical style and flavour insinuated themselves into people's thoughts and awareness. They then awaited the opportunity (perhaps a local premier of one of Wagner's complete operas) to ignite people's curiosity and enthusiasm and generate the power to launch into yet more minds and lives.

As Wagner's 'memes of style and flavour' demonstrate, strong ideas will not only survive the process of fragmentation and distortion but also significantly benefit from it. Do not worry unduly if your ideas are sliced, diced and variously 'adjusted to fit' within people's lives. The odds are that the seeds of your idea's future success are being sown far and wide.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 6. first introduce your innovation to a welcoming, well-resourced, influential and passionate audience

The American premiere of one of Wagner's most influential music dramas, Tristan und Isolde, took place in New York at the Metropolitan Opera during 1886.

Its staging in New York is significant. From the mid 19th century onwards there had been a massive influx of German immigrants to New York and other American cities. Many of these immigrants were from a well-educated, relatively well-resourced professional class: writers, doctors, lawyers, artists and musicians, etc.

It was within and through this welcoming, informed and supportive immigrant population that Wagner's music was first introduced to the USA, firmly taking root there before steadily growing out into the wider musical life of America and its cities.

These well-educated professionals could not only advocate effectively for Wagner's works but also arrange and commission good quality performances of them, both within the German immigrant community and outside of it. They could also afford to go to the opera, becoming significant and increasingly influential members of the audience.      

And importantly, they did all this with passion; Wagner was their hero and his music their gift to America if not the world!

It was only a matter of time, and insistent support and advocacy, before Wagner's music dramas made it into the previously Italian opera dominated opera houses of America. The New York Metropolitan Opera produced six seasons of exclusively German language operas between 1884/85 and 1890/91, which included the 1886 Tristan und Isolde premiere mentioned above.

Seeking out communities which are not only welcoming and supportive of an innovation but also well-resourced, informed and passionate enough to advocate for it effectively can make the difference between an innovation that successfully premieres upon the world stage and one which does not.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 5. dim the lights on the noisy box holders

Before Wagner, people preferred to do it with the lights on: listen to and watch opera that is.

Going to the opera, especially for those who were well-off enough to reserve a box for a season, was mostly if not exclusively about socialising: catching up with friends; buttering up influential and useful people; climbing up the social ladder through being seen with the "in-crowd" and the great and good.

An evening at the opera was a light and buzzing bright experience, and the music and acting was a pleasant backdrop to audience members' social lives. It was all very enjoyable (but artistically moribund). 

Then Wagner and his music dramas happened and everything, quite literally, got that little bit darker (but artistically more vital). 

Wagner's music dramas demanded an audience's complete attention; they did not make good background music. If relegated to such, they quickly became intrusive noise rather than unobtrusive ambient wavelets of sound.

Wagner directed that the lights should be dimmed during performances of his works so people would concentrate on the music and drama rather than each other. The noisy and influential box holders complained as one would expect: noisily. They even succeeded in getting German language operas banned from the New York Metropolitan Opera for a year or two.

But Wagner eventually thundered back, and he still insisted on dimming the lights on the noisy box holders. Eventually, after much flickering on and off, the lights dimmed permanently and the minds of many if not all of the noisy box holders were gradually lit up by Wagner's works.

For a new idea or innovation to be accepted, it often needs to be accompanied by a change of practice that encourages different behaviour. (Dimming the lights led, eventually, to quiet and attentive audiences.)              

This is not easy to achieve, people resist the change and persist with their comfortable and familiar habits, but being clear about the change of practice and persistent in encouraging people to accept it will (as Wagner proved) eventually enable a new idea to access and light up people's minds.              

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 4. apply enlightened self-interest and find and develop champions

Anton Seidl, an acclaimed orchestral and opera conductor of the late 19th century, showed great musical talent from a very early age.

This talent did not go unnoticed. In 1872, at the age of 22, he was offered a position at Bayreuth as a copyist of Wagner's works. The title copyist is misleading. In fact, Wagner treated Seidl as 'one of the chosen few': he involved Seidl in the first Bayreuth festival of 1876; trusted him to assist in making the first authorised copy of Der Ring des Nibelungen; and sent him to Vienna to stage its last two music dramas (Siegfried and Gotterdammerung). 

Wagner's support did not end there. In 1879, at the tender age of 29 and on the great composer's recommendation, Seidl was appointed conductor of the Leipzig State Opera.

This was the springboard for Seidl's career and during the following years he conducted throughout Europe, Wagner's works taking pride of place within his repertoire.

Now established in his own right, Seidl began to gain attention from beyond Europe and in 1885 was appointed 'Conductor of German Opera' at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he was able to play a lead role in establishing Wagner's works firmly within the USA.

The enlightened self-interest Wagner had displayed in supporting Seidl (offering him what turned out to be an influential post at Bayreuth, giving him opportunities to develop his musical talent and kick starting his conducting career through personal recommendation) had paid handsome and long-lasting dividends. 

Wagner had found and helped develop a skilled, influential and trusted champion for his new and innovative music dramas.

All new innovations and innovators need skilled, influential and trusted champions. These do not usually appear out of thin air. If we want our new ideas and innovations to be successful and embed themselves within people's minds and lives we need, like Wagner, to not only seek out potential champions but also unswervingly support their long-term growth and development.

Applying enlightened self-interest will help you gain interest and enlighten.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 3. allow life and living to transform your ideas into the unexpected

When (around 1850) Wagner started thinking about writing an opera based on the story of Tristan und Isolde, he saw it as nothing more than a quick money spinner: something to keep him solvent whilst he worked on bigger, more ambitious projects.

By 1854, however, his perception of the work forming in his mind had changed radically: now he was calling Tristan und Isolde a full on 'monument to love'.

By the time Tristan und Isolde had been completed and was being performed across Europe, some 15 years later, Wagner's perception of it had transformed into a dramatic revelation. When looking upon what he had created he became convinced that he had introduced 'something fearful upon the world' and that 'only mediocre performances' could save him as 'completely good ones (were) bound to drive people mad'.

Wagner's revelatory view of Tristan und Isolde has been borne out down the years: listeners have been stunned, baffled, repelled and inspired by its bold and unique world of sound and drama.  

What caused Wagner's radical changes of perception? How did they eventually culminate in the creation of such a revelatory work?

What happened was that life and experience mingled with, influenced and matured Wagner's thinking.

In 1850 Wagner was a fugitive. He had taken part in the European revolts of 1848 and was on the run. He had first-hand experience of breaking rules, going against convention and experiencing the consequences, just like Tristan and Isolde.

Also, whilst the story of Tristan und Isolde was fermenting in his mind, Wagner was having an affair with the wife of one of his firmest friends and supporters. The parallel with the Tristan and Isolde story is unmistakable, and his intimate experience of illicit love surely must have strengthened his interest in and empathy for the Tristan and Isolde legend. 

And in and amongst all this Wagner continuously added to his knowledge and expertise, not only through challenging himself to write new and ambitious works but also through studying the works of the leading philosophers and thinkers of the day.

Wagner allowed the above rich and heady mix of life and living and knowledge and experience to flow into every aspect of his existence, including his work. It was this that enabled a quick money spinning idea to transform into one of the most influential musical and dramatic works ever written.

So, if you need to come up with new and innovative ideas, allow life and living and your developing knowledge and experience to permeate your thinking and ferment within it. You may well end up with something unexpected, but it may also be much more than you expected (even if your mix of life and living, knowledge and experience is a little less heady than Wagner's).

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 2. welcome strange adaptions

In the 1890's the New York Metropolitan Opera presented Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnbeg as I Maestri Cantori Norimberga.

In response to noisy and influential box holders, the Met had decided to ban German language operas. No one, however, had said anything about banning Wagner's music, so a German opera was converted into an Italian one.

Now to us, glancing casually back down the years, this seems an odd or even strange adaption. If Die Meistersinger was going to be translated into anything why not English, the language spoken by the majority of people?

But a more careful look at the context of the times begins to make sense of what initially seems strange and a little laughable.

The noisy, influential (and wealthy) box holders were nostalgic for their past Italian pleasures: Italian, the voice of song (English was purely for the down market screeching of the music hall); prima donna coloratura sopranos; set piece arias sung upon expensive sets; the freedom to talk during the performance when and with whom one liked; and to applaud when the moment took one.

By successfully calling for a ban on German language operas the noisy box holders could perhaps get some of the above things back. At the very least they would be granted a rest from the rich diet of symphonic, never pausing for breath narrative driven operas that demanded their full attention and left them exhausted by the evening's end.

However, the music of these German operas was very good indeed, even some of the noisy box holders agreed on that, and the majority of those making up the Met's wider audience (many of whom were well-educated German immigrants) lapped it up. In fact, it was Wagner's German operas that had enabled the Met to turn a profit during the preceding years.

So, given that Wagner's new, symphonic operas were gaining popularity and signalling the artistic and musical way forward, but doing so at the risk of alienating and losing an influential, high profile and wealthy segment of the audience, the Met decided upon a simple but clever adaption that would help reassure and appease the noisy box holders and dampen down most if not all of the resentments of the wider, German immigrant seeded audience: I Maestri Cantori Norimberga was born.

So remember that what at first glance looks like a strange or even absurd adaption to an idea or innovation can often, on closer inspection, make perfect sense given the context and situation. Do not let its strangeness mask its value; remove the mask of its apparent absurdity; seek to reveal how it will support the introduction and adoption of your new idea. 

Do not be afraid to adopt the adaption.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Enrich your ideas with memories

'To explore remembering is to explore being creative.'
Bruce Adolphe from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

Music which is attractive and memorable is rich with memories that its composers and performers weave intimately into its fabric. Memories of past works, past performances, past experiences (both musical and otherwise), influence the flow and direction of the composer's writing and the performer's singing or playing, imbuing the music with subtleties, insights and delightful cross-references that add to its quality and make it exciting.

A glorious example of music imbued with memory is Richard Strauss's 'Metamorphosen'. It was written towards the end of his long and eventful life and is enriched with his many musical and non-musical memories. To me, the music seems to travel along the time-line of a life, gathering up the memories it finds there and, very gradually, transforming them into something both nostalgic and new.

Significantly, the piece was written during the closing months of the Second World War, and Strauss's memories of this tragedy seem to form an elegiac mist around the shimmering string sounds.

But perhaps most poignantly, it is one of Strauss's most long-held musical memories that provides the piece with its last, understated but haunting transformation. During the final few phrases Strauss quotes the funeral march from the slow movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony. All at once all the previously heard memories in sound flow into this one moment of memory, imbuing its quiet rendering with a richness of meaning which shines towards the listener: a last ember of transformation before the end.

Enrich your ideas with memories. When working on something new take the time to look back along the progress of your life and work, and take note of the memories that rise and reach towards you. Let them flow through you onwards and into the work before you. Watch them transform your ideas into something rich: something more than merely new.