Dispelling or furthering myths?

‘Myths are of great significance to those in the music business and music education. Our thinking is guided by: the relationships and dynamics between artists, writers, and producers; those who market, deliver, and distribute music, such as the record companies and publishers; the consumers and fans of music, who ultimately pay for it all; and of course those of us who work in education who perceptions and assessments of musical creativity exemplify its complexity’ (20).

I agree, myth telling does give ‘legitimacy and support to a particular social group’ (20). She cites Brian Wilson, Beethoven and Mozart as examples of those who have been subject to mythologizing. Such myths of the creative genius – what Burnard et al appear to consider as misconception – has meant ‘that most people consider themselves to be not really creative in comparison with a tiny minority who consider themselves to be ‘composers’ or jazz musicians (21). Burnard mentions Stephen Holden (22) who suggests ‘that such mythologizing is actually part of the creative process(es) of composition and song writing. Creativity myths, as as the view of the artist as a unique genius’, and like many others sees the origin of all this mythmaking in the eighteenth century with the developing concept of the masterwork, extolled in the works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven onwards.

‘The idea that people and things are either creative or not creative in music is implicit in much of the thinking on musical creativity’ (23) according to Burnard. I am not alone in thinking that this is not the case. It would be a negligent teacher to assume that pupils could be divided into these two categories. The only assumption I make is that pupils are creative. Again, I cannot imagine a teacher of any merit considering there were uncreative pupils. The view of the composer as the lone agent in the creation of musical works is surely something few people consider legitimate in the 21st century? ‘The realm of musical creativity cannot be re-presented as a cast of characters engaged in a drama of competing, antagonistic interests, and struggles, but it is rather socially constructed through an interaction between producers and audiences’ (24). I agree with this. Perhaps I find myself agreeing less with ‘creativity is not the product of single individuals, but of social systems making judgements about individuals’ products’ (24). What happens if the composer is the performer/producer of their work? Yes, it is good to propel the thesis that creativity is not the consequence of individual endeavour but the result of social interactions but as a composer I feel a sense of loss in this definition as my individuality is eroded to help dispel a myth of the composer-genius. I do not dispute the creativity of individuals, but it is the case that not all individuals have the necessary skills to actualise their creativity musically. Is that fair to say? What is wrong with having composers – those that possess an increasing fluency with their sonic imaginations to creatively combine sounds and prepare the instructions (if necessary) for others to create the musical work? I do not see composers as any more creative as non-composers.

‘Western education has traditionally reflected the myth that only a small proportion of children are ‘musical’, in the sense that they possess the particular abilities required of a capable performer, or are ‘creative’ in the sense that they possess what it takes to compose new music’ (25). I think these are not ideal measures of musical competency, yes. The whole idea of someone being ‘musical’ is rather useless. ‘Professional’ musicians have just trained skills to a higher degree than a lesser trained musician. What is wrong with having people who are more competent than others in music? It confuses me why this is so threatening. Some pupils have developed more competency in certain musical skills than others – we can objectively measure this (or can we?) – but creativity cannot be measured. It is often incongruent with musical skills as some highly competent ‘musicians’ can find creative work a challenge while those who have more modest practical experience can be rather imaginative in their music making. What we need to do as teachers is not to confuse the two; practical skills do not make better creative work. Limited the creative tasks for those who appear to less accomplished musicians is not the ideal path to take. Not placing ceilings on musical achievements means pupils can excel in their creative work regardless of prior practical experience. All it takes is a willingness to take risks and make sounds. It is an imagination that manipulates the sounds.

I’ll blog about the rest of the chapter tomorrow – some further myths of compositional history!

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