Creative witness

Post forty-six in our (re)learning to teach music series. This is week nine of the collaborative blogging and we continue with chapter eight. 

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

“What have you witnessed in the music classroom thus far that you consider to be evidence of creativity?” I believe creativity is all around us, especially in the music classroom. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching pupils from nursery through to university, and on many levels, I believe the creativity witnessed is similar at every age and stage. An unexpected answer, an improvisation, a crafted or spontaneous composition, a unique interpretation of a familiar work, a response to a problem in real-time, a response to a problem over time, I could go on. For me, creativity is broad and all encompassing. The thing I love most about creativity is the fact that there’s no limit. Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all, a pupil surprises you with something new.

“Which of the views discussed have most resonance for you?” While I’ve been asked to identify just one, I’m going to offer two as combined they really resonate with me. The first is – “Marx maintained that all making was creative”, and the second is – “The painter Max Ernst claimed to exert no conscious control over his work … whereas the writer Edgar Allen Poe insisted that the creative involves no more than conscious planning and rational decision making”. As mentioned in my first response, I believe creativity to be broad and all encompassing. The quote from Marx seems to agree with this. The second quote I have listed aptly summarises the different creative approaches I’ve seen and experienced over my career. Some pupils dive in headfirst, often not knowing what it is they’re creating, or have created, until it starts to become apparent, or even after the fact. Whereas, there are some pupils (like me), who are more meticulous and measured in their creativity. This resonates with me as I’ve seen both approaches succeed.

“Can 4-year olds compose music?” Absolutely. Though, it does depend on your definition of ‘compose’ and ‘music’.

“What is the relationship of composing to technique?” For me, this is another question with many variables. Here is a basic summarisation of my thoughts: Do I believe you can compose music without extensive technique? Yes. Do I also believe technique to be comparable to tools in a toolbox, therefore meaning the more technique you have, the more tools you have, and the more possibilities you therefore have at your disposal? Yes.

“Attempt a definition of creativity for yourself”. Creativity is the ability to bring something new, different, or unique into existence, inspired by the sum total of all your prior life experiences.

David House @House_dg

Here are some examples of creativity from the classroom: in listening having a conversation following hearing some piano music along the lines of “I can imagine the opening played by the strings and then a solo Clarinet takes the RH melody”, in composition where students are producing ideas which are clearly not formulaic but arise from their imagination, in improvisation where the same occurs or where links to other pieces are brought in, and in performance where a student reworks their part “on the hoof” so that it becomes more effective at that particular moment. 

From the statements about the nature of creativity I particularly like the one from Abbs about “a continuum in the creative act from the ordinary to the extraordinary” – this resonates as I will watch a group of students create something and then the outcomes illustrate this continuum, very much according to their imaginations and experience. 

The development of composition [creativity] was highlighted many years ago by Swanwick and Tillman with their spiral model from 1986. The case is an interesting one to take on the instance of 4-yr olds composing music – but having listened to all my children at that age singing “creatively” I would argue strongly that creativity, and thereby composition, was undertaken albeit in a way which is rather reliant on the subconscious. 

The relationship of composing to technique might draw the analogy of a craftsman: someone who is constructing a piece of furniture, say, and is not following a template but still relies on being able to finish joints in an accomplished way in order to produce a chair which will be both aesthetically pleasing and strong enough to sit on. Composers have to develop and master techniques in order to effectively control rhythm, harmony, melody and orchestration. A fascinating illustration of the link between creativity and technique would be that of artist and producer – such as the working relationship between The Beatles and George Martin, and how songs grew from initial ideas and were shaped through discussion, experimentation and George Martin’s background in compositional technique.

Creativity is the process of making something which is new. One of the best things about contributing for so long to this blog is the number of references and books which have surfaced and which are begging to be read, here is one more – “Musical Improvisation: Art, Education and Society” ed. Solis and Nettl.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I tend to witness creativity everyday in the music classroom in answers pupils give after listening to music or after open questioning, in performances where they have used their musicianship to ‘perform’ and not simple play music, in composing work and all the other things that go on in the classroom.

I would agree with both Paynter’s comment and and also Hargreaves. I think that for some the creative act comes easily and for others it is much harder but the resulting work can be of equal brilliance.

I would argue that 4 year olds can compose music but that depends on what you consider music composition to be; if it is organising sounds then anyone can compose. I think though that in order for compositions to get better and composers to improve then technique is very important. Understanding ways in which you can manipulate work is very useful. Pete Churchill once ran a workshop I went to where he taught techniques for getting out of compositional problems when all your creativity is used up and you need to get stuff finished. I teach these to my GCSE and A level pupils as time management and meeting deadlines is an important part of working as a musician; the work isn’t going to be heard if it’s not handed in on time. I would say that creativity is where you create or manipulate original ideas into something new and personal.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

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