Kate Williams is right in her comments on Phil Robson’s original post, it is definitely a political issue. It is a matter of values, and as artists we are in the “values business”. We assign so much of our energy and intention towards an ideal, a version or subtle representation of life so clearly at odds with the value system of the corporate world and the mass collective narcissistic neurosis of celebrity.
I have thought for many years that as human beings we possess a primal impulse towards creativity, artfulness and spirituality, as much our need for shelter, relationship and sexuality. Indeed, the signs of the collective creative and expressive impulse are ubiquitous, humanity’s need to create constantly revealing itself all around us.
Creativity and artfulness are natural states. When suppressed people become ill. When suppressed for long enough, communities and society becomes ill (read the research). The Spanish philosopher Jose Arguelles wrote: “When a man is deprived of the power of expression, he will express himself in a drive for power.” It is counter to our natural state and emotional health that hoards of artists are not only unknown but under-employed, while the need for more creativity in schools is obvious for all to see (not just in art and music but in the license afforded to creative teaching across the curriculum). And then there is the workplace and popular culture… The crime is that creative talent is as common as sand yet the dominant economic, social and political paradigm would have us believe that it is as scarce as gold. Actually, it is expedient in the post-capitalist world. (American theologian Matthew Fox had contributed insights on the subject during the 1980s.)
Phil’s points about Spotify are straightforward. Free or dirt-cheap listening makes music a “free-gift disposable consumable” that can be discarded in favour of another quick/free fix. Notwithstanding the argument about free access to great music, Music is now commoditised to such an extent and consumed as automatically as junk food, listening habits and purchasing behaviours vulnerable to extensive manipulation the market. I prefer to see quality music in the same way as quality food in that:
• It can take longer to prepare.
• It can require an investment in time and commitment on behalf of both performer and listener.
• It might take longer to digest!
• It can be (generally is) better for you (food for the soul). There is much research about creative activity and improved psychological well-being, reduction in mental illness, improved immune-systems etc.
I admire Phil for taking a stand on these matters and wish that the musical community had the confidence to support and actively promote the discussion. Couldn’t we take a more collective position on behalf of music? The irony is that very few musicians make a lot of money from music in any case, and the argument that free downloads promote the sale of merchandise at large scale or stadium gigs is hardly relevant for improvising musicians. Perhaps we have nothing to lose by reflecting and proposing some alternative practices – together. It won’t work otherwise.
A poet of the music, Paul Desmond was both self-deprecating and deeply insightful. This medley of quotes might tickle and provoke us… “I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast… I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness”. Regarding his tone:“I honestly don’t know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally.” On why he changed his name: “Breitenfeld sounded too Irish.”
More seriously, Paul Desmond challenges students and teachers of the music: “Complexity can be a trap. You can have a ball developing a phrase, inverting it, playing it in different keys and times and all. But it’s really more introspective than communicative. Like a crossword puzzle compared to a poem.”
And most telling… “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”
Sadly his perception about the jazz audience appears to remain pretty much spot on…”Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and above.”
Musicians and students are prone to a bit ranting as to how improvisation occurs and whether or not the analogy with language acquisition is appropriate. In supervising students’ (and their own) personal practice, teachers of improvisation can encounter blocks to progression and development, spending a lot of time untangling a student’s perception of their learning experience.
While Improvising is fun, once studied or practiced, it is my experience that inexperienced students and some seasoned musicians can mistake the sensations associated with play or the “flow state” with the slower and “creaky” mind that learns the initial stages of concrete skills. You might say confusing the self-expressive state is confused with the learning state.
“Watching a musician in the throes of an improvisational solo can be like witnessing an act of divine intervention, but embedded memories and conspiring brain regions, scientists now believe, are the source of ad-hoc creativity” So suggests Amanda Rose Martinez… see her article in SEED MAGAZINE – click here.
I suggest that our experiences as students of improvisation will be easier if we undertstand the learning process, so thank you Ms Rose… but now the community of jazz educators will be well advised to consider precisely how the research can be applied to enhance schemes of work, learning strategies and practice in general – and to be fair, the findings of this research have been alluded to for at least 30 years through applied (as distinct to cognitive) psychology. This is where the work of figures such as Guy Claxton et al, George Odam and the tried and tested Inner Game authors is useful.
The Curriculum – all that is taught and learnt… Core and hidden…
Planned and received…
Formal and informal…
Can we have an informed debate please?
We find ourselves in an historic time when education is about to the redefined by the course of political determination, we would be well advised to be mindful of the purpose of education and how teaching and learning occurs. While the nature and content of learning experiences have already changed due to the technological revolution, for whatever reason and whatever political persuasion suits you or I, the presence and provision for a range of subjects and learning processes are possibly about to change through a course of action that will be described as progressive, radical, essential, urgent… or reactive, dangerous and without educational rationale – depending upon your perspective.
Would it not be prudent to be informed? Even if a radical reassessment is necessary, all parties would be better served through deep consideration and evidence-based understanding of the core issues. Vic Kelly understood the curriculum and engages us in a thorough consideration of the psychological, philosophical, political and operational drivers that form the learning culture of schools and colleges. Derived form a latin word referring to a race track, perhaps we should prefer curriculum is less of a race to acquire information, and more a consideration of “all that is taught and learnt”, built upon values as much as operational mechanics and transient values.
A.V.Kelly’s “The Curriculum: Theory and Practice” – click here.
Wise person sayeth…
"Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself."... Miles Davis