Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Show your commitment

CPE Bach, perhaps the most experimental and innovative of JS Bach’s composer sons, had a reputation for clearly (often exaggeratedly) showing what he was feeling as he performed music.
When asked why he did this, he replied that he could not expect his listeners to be moved emotionally if he himself failed to demonstrate being similarly moved.

For a new and innovative idea to be accepted, people need to become convinced of its worth. For this to happen, those responsible for the idea must demonstrate their personal commitment to it.
Are you showing commitment to your ideas? Are you showing enthusiasm for your ideas? What are you saying and doing in support of your ideas? Do you need to show, say and do more?
(An Australian doctor showed significant commitment to his idea. He discovered that most stomach ulcers were caused by microbes in the stomach rather than stress and an unhealthy lifestyle. None of his colleagues accepted his discovery, so he infected himself with the microbes and cured himself with antibiotics. His colleagues acceptance of his discovery soon followed).

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Clear the decks!

My composition teacher took one look at my scribbled, untidy, almost unintelligible manuscripts and said, "You need to create a clean copy of where you are at! If you don’t, you will get confused and find it almost impossible to progress."
He was right: I had got confused!
I was not having trouble coming up with ideas for my compositions; my problem was gaining a clear picture of exactly what I had created so far and where it needed to go next. I was haphazardly piling idea upon idea upon my manuscript: like an unskilled painter in oils who, rather than creating a coherent and pleasing picture, slaps on more and more sticky colours to crate nothing more than mess!
I took my teacher’s advice.
I took stock of what I had produced so far -- and cleared the decks. I created a clean copy of the piece of music upon which I was working. I did not discard any of my ideas, because what does not work within one piece may well work within another, but my new copy included only those ideas I felt would work within the context of the piece I was currently writing.
As I continued to work on my piece, creating clean copies at regular intervals, I found myself looking back over my old workings and reconsidering some of the ideas recorded there. As I now had a clear view of the overall direction in which I wanted my composition to develop, I was able to reassess these ideas and adapt some of them to my current thinking and needs.
Regularly "clearing the decks" of my past piled-up thinking (not deleting but putting out of sight for a while) provided a space within which my creativity could progress unencumbered.
If you are struggling with a problem, try "clearing the decks".
Put your past workings to one side for a while: turn the page; start a new flip chart; copy your working from a whiteboard; rub the board clean, and then write up where your thinking has taken you so far.
Also, ask yourself the following questions:
  • How has my thinking changed as I have worked?
  • Are my initial goals and assumptions still relevant and correct?
  • What new things have emerged as I have worked? 
  • What new insights have I gained as I have worked?
  • What have I learnt from the way others have reacted to my work?

By knowing where you are, you will be able to work towards where you need to go next (and you will begin to see the ideas and approaches that will get you there).

Friday, 8 February 2019

Invert your thinking

For many listeners, one section of Rachmaninov's  "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" stands out from the rest.

The rhapsody is written as a set of variations, and the 18th is the best known and most often played and recorded.

The attractiveness of the variation is due, in no small part, to the colourfully lush orchestration and the gently caressing interplay between piano and orchestra.

But another aspect contributing significantly to the variation's popularity is Rachmaninov's transformation of Paganini's theme: he inverts it.

The musical sensation can be likened to seeing an alpine mountain reflected in a lake: the inverted image adds a shimmering and magical symmetry to the scene:

The sensation can also be likened to the one aroused by looking at this:

We are immediately drawn to the lighter areas and the outline of the couple, but we begin to see something altogether different when we alter our focus to concentrate upon the darker areas. (What do you begin to see? The clue is on the label around the neck of the bottle.) As with the reflection of the mountain, the experience is again pleasantly engaging. 
Inverting our thinking is about turning our thinking upside down, sideways and inside out; it is about reversing our habitual ways of perceiving things.
What unexpected insights do you gain when you start to see negatives as positives? What happens when you hear the other side of the story? What happens when you concentrate upon those things that have been ignored? What happens when you begin at the end? What happens when you start at the bottom rather than the top? What happens when you work from the inside out or from the outside in?
What happens when you focus upon the edge rather than the centre of things?

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Apply the principles of Sonata Form to your problems

Sonata Form is perhaps the single most influential musical form in the history of classical music. It provided composers with a structural format for the extended development and exploration of musical ideas. The following will outline the principles of Sonata Form and then show how they can be applied to problem solving in general.

Sonata form has 4 sections:

1. Introduction or exposition

The form starts with the introduction of an attention grabbing musical idea, known as the 1st Subject. The opening theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (da da da dar) is perhaps the most well known example. After this dramatic opening, a more subtle and lyrical theme (the 2nd Subject) is introduced. (A good example is 'Alma’s Theme' from the first movement of Mahler’s 6th "Tragic" Symphony.) As it is less dramatic, the 2nd Subject is usually less immediately memorable than the 1st. It serves, however, to provide an effective contrast with (and in some ways a commentary upon) the attention grabbing opening. The initial statement of these two themes or subjects, technically called the exposition, constitutes the opening section of Sonata Form.

2. Development

Next, the above two themes (or subjects) are developed. They are explored in many different ways. They are fragmented, twisted, reversed, combined, played higher, played lower, and placed within contrasting musical contexts and tone worlds (known as keys).

3. Recapitulation

After the development phase, the two opening themes return more or less as originally heard but with subtle alterations. These alterations, together with their positioning after the development, encourages the listener to hear the themes in different ways: ways which offer additional insights and feelings. It is like meeting an old friend after many years apart; you are the same individuals but aged and matured, with additional experience and depth of character. As a result, you can begin to perceive and respond to each other in new and sometimes surprising ways.

4. End piece or coda

More often than not, the Coda simply signals that a piece is coming to an end. In some works, however, it adds a significant last moment insight or comment (rather like the postscript at the end of a letter). The end of ‘Metamorphosen’ (one of Richard Strauss's last works) provides such a moment with its statement of the theme from the slow, funereal movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. Strauss was coming to the end of what had been a long, eventful and influential life. By including this short quotation from "a funeral march for a hero", he seems to acknowledge the closeness of his own final ‘metamorphosis’.

Applying the principles of Sonata Form to problem solving in general

The balance between logic and creativity inherent within Sonata Form can be readily applied to problem solving in general:

Firstly, what are the dramatic and attention grabbing da da da dars of the issue? What is important about them? Why have they been noticed? What are their consequences? What is the precise nature of the threat they pose? (Exposition of 1st Subject)

Next, what are the less obvious but more subtle and perhaps more insightful issues underpinning the attention grabbing ones? When people talk about the problem what other aspects become apparent? How and why does the problem usually arise? Where is it found most often? Where is it found least often? Who has experienced it the most, with whom and when? Who thinks it is a problem? Who thinks it is not a problem? Why do people think it is or is not a problem? Who or what is contributing to the problem? (Exposition of 2nd Subject)

Having identified the dramatic and attention grabbing aspects of the problem and the subtle issues that may underpin them, the next step is to examine all these things in detail: (Development) 

Why are the consequences and threats associated with the da da da dars of the problem considered significant? What fundamental assumptions are we making about the problem? Are these assumptions accurate or do we need to test them? Are our assumptions giving undue significance to the problem and/or are they causing us to perceive it in unhelpful ways?

What happens when we give additional focus to the less obvious (2nd Subject) issues underpinning or accompanying the headline problem? What previously unappreciated aspects come to light and how do they change the way we perceive the problem? Do they begin to help us challenge some of our pre-conceptions about the problem?

What happens when we get creative with the issues involved?  What happens when we turn them inside out or upside down, place them within varying contexts or express them differently?

After developing our thinking about the problem we need to recapitulate it: to look at it again. How does the problem look now? What additional insights have we gained? How has the problem changed? Have any new, previously unappreciated problems become prominent?(Recapitulation)

Lastly, what conclusions have been reached? Do we need to start thinking about, talking about and approaching the problem differently? What loose ends need to be gathered up and dealt with? Are there any additional small details or passing postscripts springing to mind that might help us enhance our approach to the problem? (Coda)