Friday, December 27, 2013

Music and Creativity

As creativity seems to be one of those things that everyone admires and wants to know more about, books and articles about creativity abound. But I have to say that nearly every one that I have looked at has been disappointing. I suspect most of them are just marketing scams, I mean ploys. You know what I mean, the TED version of having your star pitcher wear garters under his uniform to rebalance his brain or something as Susan Sarandon recommends to Tim Robbins in Bull Durham.

But I just read an article that was a) brief, b) to the point and c) very instructive. It explains why I can look at, for example, Carl Jung's classification of different personality types and say to myself, "but I fit into all of them!" Here is the link. What the heck, I think I will just quote the nine characteristics:
1. Most creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but are often quiet and at rest. They can work long hours at great concentration.
2. Most creative people tend to be smart and naive at the same time. “It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure, and that most creativity workshops try to enhance.”
3. Most creative people combine both playfulness and productivity, which can sometimes mean both responsibility and irresponsibility. “Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” Usually this perseverance occurs at the expense of other responsibilities, or other people.
4. Most creative people alternate fluently between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. In both art and science, movement forward involves a leap of imagination, a leap into a world that is different from our present. Interestingly, this visionary imagination works in conjunction with a hyperawareness of reality. Attention to real details allows a creative person to imagine ways to improve them.
5. Most creative people tend to be both introverted and extroverted. Many people tend toward one extreme or the other, but highly creative people are a balance of both simultaneously.
6. Most creative people are genuinely humble and display a strong sense of pride at the same time.
7. Most creative people are both rebellious and conservative. “It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.”
8. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, but remain extremely objective about it as well. They are able to admit when something they have made is not very good.
9. Most creative people’s openness and sensitivity exposes them to a large amount of suffering and pain, but joy and life in the midst of that suffering. “Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”
But go read the whole thing. I find this explains a lot of odd discontinuities in my own personality. Sometimes a student would come to me with a particular problem and I would recommend more and more disciplined practice. Another time a different student (or perhaps even the same student!) would come to me with the same problem and I would recommend taking a rest from practicing for a few days. Contradiction? Yes, but now I see why I might do something like this. I used to think it was just a case of making a call based upon a particular set of circumstances, but now I see it as a typically creative response.

Try something different. The next time, try the opposite and see what happens. Creativity is largely based on the ability to imagine different possibilities and the courage to try them. And, as we see in number 8 above, a crucial element is the ability to evaluate your results and toss them out if needed.

A lot of the methodology and ideology that surrounds the act of composition is really just peripheral. Here are some of the things that purport to be "behind" or "inspiring" composition:

  • serialism
  • chance procedures
  • sonata form
  • minimalism
  • fugue
And so on. But all these different methods are really just peripheral to actually composing. They might give you a ground plan, but everything has to be filled in. What you need are little ideas occurring to you, just popping into your head. Maybe you have found that doing or thinking certain things helps things to occur to you. Maybe it is just random. In any case, this, the really crucial part, cannot be taught because it really isn't a skill any more than tripping over a pebble is a skill. It is something that just happens. All the methodology of composition takes effect AFTER something occurs to you...

Or so I think.

What would be an appropriate piece of music? Something really different and imaginative... How about a prelude by Debussy? Here is ...des pas sur la neige from the Préludes, Bk 1:

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