Monday, December 03, 2018

4.21: Tuning Slide- Creativity: Beyond Mastery

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks.
— Yo-Yo Ma

We come to the tenth and last of Barry Green’s ten pathways to music mastery from his book, Mastery of Music.

10. Creativity: The Journey Into the Soul

Green starts right out by naming the problem:
Creativity is elusive. It is hard enough to describe, and difficult if not impossible to command. And yet when people tap into it, their thoughts take on a universality that can touch all of our lives.
He goes on to say that creativity fueled by curiosity that leads to answers from within:
[T]his business of looking inside is the key to an exploration of one’s own creativity. When we learn where to listen for the answers, we may hear the answers more often.
The end, he says, is to find a path to travel “deep into the soul.”

It would be nice to think that creativity is simply “do what moves you.” While that is part of it, it is only a very small part. Creativity, as Yo-Yo Ma says, is built on passion that allows one to be willing to take risks. But I for one don’t believe a pathway into the soul is aimless, narcissistic, or chaotic. There is, as we talked about a few weeks ago, a flow to it. There is getting “into a flow” and not just some wandering with no aim or hope of resolution. (Though sometimes in the midst of creative moments it may feel like that.)

Reading through Green’s chapter on creativity I found the following four ideas as essential on which our creativity is to be built in music.

✓ Sound
The perennial starting point of music. Sound is always the most important. But in creativity it is different than pulling out the tuner to be sure the sound is “in tune” whatever that might mean. Sound is the overall picture, the image the music is presenting, the emotions and feelings.

✓ Structure
Then there is the structure. What are your ideas that your creativity is forming? Structure is the dwelling place of the sound. It sets the boundaries, the highs and lows, the extremes and the solid base on which everything is to be built. Structure is not limiting, but gives the creativity the room to grow and move. Only then can creativity reach new ideas and new directions.

✓ Harmony
After structure we get into the next basic of music- harmony. Structure may tell us the key we want to play in, but harmony tells us how the chords and keys and notes relate to each other.

✓ Rhythm
This is where “flow” begins to be felt. How does the creative flow? What is its tempo, its variations in sound, its cycles of chords in a particular order? What does the movement of the idea feel like? I have been playing around with some composing and I found myself starting with a rhythm, a particular movement of different length notes. I didn’t know what structure it would have (eventually it became a variation on 12-bars). I didn’t know when notes would ascend, descend, or strike into dissonance. In this case it was the rhythm I wanted.

Last- but always:
Don’t forget the Soul!

That’s where we move beyond just creating, or just being creative and getting content. It is time to make some decisions. It is time for the depths of our persons and ideas and experience to begin to apply to what we are creating. Recently, the blog/newsletter Brainpickings referred to writer/doctor Oliver Sacks who talked about the early stages of being creative but who then understood that
Often, creators — be they artists or scientists — content themselves with reaching a level of mastery, then remaining at that plateau for the rest of their careers, comfortably creating more of what they already know well how to create. (Brainpickings)
Then they quote Sacks and his reflections:
Why is it that of every hundred gifted young musicians who study at Juilliard or every hundred brilliant young scientists who go to work in major labs under illustrious mentors, only a handful will write memorable musical compositions or make scientific discoveries of major importance? Are the majority, despite their gifts, lacking in some further creative spark? Are they missing characteristics other than creativity that may be essential for creative achievement — such as boldness, confidence, independence of mind?

It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction once one is settled. It is a gamble as all creative projects must be, for the new direction may not turn out to be productive at all. (Brainpickings)

Sacks is telling us that in the end the growth and movement of creativity goes beyond simple mastery of the instrument, the form, the rhythm, whatever. It can, if we are willing to go there, tap the energy of your own life. He is telling us to keep at it. Let it grow, incubate, rumble, until, when ready, be born.

Barry Green ends the chapter, in essence moving beyond mastery:
When we open ourselves and our souls, by practice and inspiration, but also by listening and letting go, music comes to us not as something we command, but as a gift. It is a gift, too, that we should pass the gift of music along.
Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.
— Charlie Parker

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