Time and Space

I’ve spent the last 5 days working on a single project. That’s right – five full days on a composition project (the sort of project I normally do in two days) with a group of 24 young musicians, five music students from the conservatorium, 4 professional musicians, the project leader and myself. And the project isn’t even finished yet – there is another full day, then a final rehearsal call, and then the actual performance.

It’s been wonderful to enjoy the space that so much time brings to the creative process. There is time to get to know each other and build rapport in an easy, unpressured way; time to laugh, have fun, and be playful without each of those tasks needing to link to a specific creative outcome; time to explore ideas – including some we might not end up using, but that capture our imaginations at the time; time to refine our ideas and learn to play them well; time to hone, to memorise and to develop performance finesse. We were in the hands of Fraser Trainer, a highly skilled and inspiring musical leader from the UK.

Most of the projects I lead for orchestras run for only two days. While we certainly fit a lot into those two days, and create very detailed, original music, I’ve often felt that the pace that we set means that the young participants barely have time to process all the new things they are doing, before the project has ended. They have an intense, immersed experience, but only one night’s sleep before it is all over. How – and when – do they begin to digest the experience, reflect on what they have learned, and how the experience has added to their perception of their musical selves?

It is a common curse in both arts and education (maybe elsewhere too) that there is a far greater capacity to ‘pull out all the stops’ for a visitor, in terms of resources and time. For example, I know that when I go into a school as a visiting artist, I am given more space in the timetable – a full day, for example, with the students missing other classes in order to do the music project – as well as the support of a teacher in the room with me. These are luxuries that the regular music teacher does not enjoy in their week-to-week practice.  But these efforts can hopefully bring changes to the local environment after the visitor has gone.

This 5-day project offered a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved when more time is allowed. “How’s it going?” a senior manager of the orchestra asked me at lunchtime on Tuesday (day 2). “I mean, usually, by this time on the second day, you are getting ready to perform, aren’t you?” So, that significant difference is noted. I think it was an eye-opener for everyone. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to conceive of projects that have more expansive timeframes, or a range of timeframes. Hopefully too, this project will mean that there will already be an understanding of how much difference the length of a project can make to the young people’s experience, and to the overall depth of the work.

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