I’ve been doing a lot of composing and inventing  this month, and encouraging others to do the same, and this leads me to think once more about creative energy and new ideas – what makes them come, and what makes them work?

Working with the Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra on the weekend, one of our initial warm-up games was a simple one of passing sounds around the circle, and indicating changes of direction by making strong eye contact with the person they intend to pass the sound to.

“Really look at them,” I encouraged the students. “Strong eye contact means holding your gaze. It also means making a decision about who you are passing the sound on to, and committing, 100%, to that decision, not changing your mind midway.”

This post is not so much concerned with how to encourage and facilitate original ideas from players (I can write about that another time… I have probably already written about it before), but with what it is that makes creative ideas work.

Here are some examples: some of the initial ideas that have evolved in my many different projects this month have not been particular convincing for me. The song I wrote with the Upper Primary students had, I felt, a bit of a cheesy, folksy melody, I thought. It wasn’t very cool, not very hip.  I accompanied it on guitar, and frankly, I am a pretty crap guitar player and don’t have the skills to groovify things that way either.

However, the melodic idea had come from one of the students, and that was important to the process. It could be accompanied with a perky xylophone riff, and that made it sound better. The melody from the student led naturally into a chorus. Basically, by committing to this initial idea, even though I wasn’t convinced by it myself…. it evolved into a really catchy, fun, cool song, worthy of the students’ time and pride.

I can think of many projects where the initial musical ideas haven’t grabbed me as much as I’d hoped, or where I haven’t been completely sure how I will link a range of different musical material. But each of these, when I reflect now, evolved into something I felt truly proud of. Some of the songs in the Aranea project. Fish don’t have legs. The Wintery music project that the children’s teacher said provided the students with brilliant vocabulary throughout the winter term. The pressure of time meant that I needed to stay with these ideas, but the very act of staying with them, and really trusting them, is what allowed their potential to be revealed.

I usually teach the warm-up game I describe above with the emphasis on the eye contact as an important part of communication in ensemble music-making. However, it occurs to me today that there is also an important lesson for the participants in what it means to commit to a decision – to choose something because a choice must be made, but to then commit to that choice and see it through, rather than stay with one foot in the water, one foot out, waiting to see if a better option comes along.


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