Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sir Ken Robinson and Creativity

I love TED talks. The first one I saw was Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, and it was amazing…and suddenly I’m realizing that a whole bunch of the really amazing people whose work I follow have also given them…

And then there’s when you find one by complete accident. I saw this one: Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity. I automatically rolled my eyes and went, okay, dude, here we go, this is going to be silly, let’s click on it and see what a yahoo this guy is…

I now have holds on his books at my public library. AWESOME stuff, hyperbolic headline aside. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole talk, at least go over to the interactive transcript and skim it. (If you’re like me, you’ll then go back and listen, which I recommend, because he’s also very funny and his timing and delivery are quite good.)

It’s a big problem, the one of education and art and happiness and finding our way in the world. I’m married to one of those brilliant and creative but academically non-successful people he refers to in his talk, and it’s taken decades for him to find something that makes him happy, to find his own place where he can create. (He creates lines of computer code, which I don’t get at all, but then again he wouldn’t be much of a conductor.) And even in academia, creative artsy academia, the focus seems to be very much on pinning our arts to the wall like specimens and finding ways to treat them which the Hard Scientists would find acceptable. In the arts, in any creative endeavor, there will always be what I call The Thing Under The Sheet, something you know is there because you share space with it, but which you can’t see or communicate with directly, something you can’t name, something to which you do not have active access at any time…and yet it is always there, and it is alive, and it is part of what is going on in the room. And I think we are scared of it. We resist it, because we want to Know. But as we catalog and analyze the room, all we can say about it is “well, there’s something in here under a sheet, and we can’t really say much about it, because we don’t know what it is, and whenever we try to look it sort of wiggles away.” Scholars don’t like that. Scientists don’t like that. Artists, IMO, can (and should) find a way to dance with it anyway.

The Maestro Myth

This is an insane book. The Maestro Myth by Norman Lebrecht is fascinating; it follows with great detail and apparently extensive research the rise to power (and fall from it) of many of the “great” conductors all the way back to Mahler, and how the mythic impression of the “Great Maestro” was created and maintained…and yet it reads like People magazine.  Dramatic stories, damning quotes, nary an opportunity missed to talk about who was sleeping with whom, and not the slightest pretense at objectivity and unbiased presentation of the histories of these very complex men.  Toscanini he destroys. Karajan he eviscerates.

To listen to Lebrecht, one would need to conclude that all of these men were pretty much complete assholes. And possessed of fairly severe personality disorders.

I haven’t finished yet…I did skip ahead to the bit on Solti, who was treated much more gently than others, which I appreciated.

It’s 20 years old this year, and Lebrecht has an article here sort of looking back at what’s happened since he wrote it…it’s his impression that the onset of social media’s popularity is making conductors’ bad behavior much more difficult to keep quiet, and raising issues in the wider eye in a way that was not possible before.

I’m learning a great deal from this book, although I’m reading it with a good dose of skepticism and acknowledgment of the author’s bias. Nonetheless, it almost feels like a guilty pleasure, a full-length hardback gossip column…

Really, really interesting book.

Performance Anxiety

My Alexander Technique teacher the other day told us about a guy named Don Greene who does a lot of work with performance anxiety. Fascinating guy–I mean, a former Green Beret who is now a performance coach. It sounds like his main thrust is on helping to focus or channel the energy we bring to any moment, whether audition or performance or whatever, into a positive force rather than letting it work against us.

I’m intrigued.

At the same time, I’m not myself bothered enough by performance anxiety to invest in the books and such.

Or am I? I am a musician, but I don’t love performing.  I love making music with other people, which is why conducting is so amazing–rehearsal no more nor less than performance.  I have always felt like my choirs and orchestras are like a “performing audience” (to quote Huijbers) of their own, and in a real “performance” we simply need to perform for ourselves and one another but with other people there to listen. The connection, the interaction, the experience together of the music is what’s important.  All that shtuff of entering and bowing and dressing in tasteful not too feminine but not too masculine blacks and shaking the right people’s hand and coming out for various bows and stuff…not my thing. I do it because it’s expected. But the making of the music–that’s the good part.

So maybe the reason I don’t have much performance anxiety is that I seldom really “perform” per se?