As a classically-trained pianist, I admit I’ve hesitated to teach the creative process to my students because of my lack of training and experience. I love to sight-read. Put any piece of music in front of me and I welcome the challenge. Yet when prodded to improvise, I feel like a beginner at the piano using one finger to bang out a few simple notes. Anxiety kicks in and I hear my piano teacher prompting me to “play what’s on the page.” I don’t want my students to have that same experience. Also, I am a teacher and director of Juneau Alaska Music Matters, an El Sistema-inspired program focused on empowerment and social change. Creativity and music-making should be an integral part of our program.
So when NEC’s Sistema Fellowship Resource Center offered a Collaboration & Creativity Laboratory led by Liza Barley, a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Creative Leadership master’s program, I seized the opportunity. This three-day workshop was held at Bridge Boston Charter School, where Julie Davis (Sistema Fellow ’12) has created an inspiring in-school Sistema model. The fact that this workshop was held during the final three days of school is testimony to Bridge Boston’s supportive school community, Julie’s leadership, and the enthusiasm her students have for music.
The three-day laboratory was just that–a lab focused on process, experimentation, and multiple approaches to creative music-making. Writings and drawings from student journals and explorations with art materials and found objects provided the substance and inspiration for group compositions. I couldn’t see how a student’s art sculpture could evolve into a musical thought–but the children did!
Guided by Liza and thirteen adult participants (including four other Sistema Fellows) with varying degrees of backgrounds in improvisation, I had the opportunity to observe multiple ways in which to draw out a child’s natural creativity. The entire experience inspired me to trust the collaborative process, give space for children’s ideas, and remember that music is not bound by what’s written on a page.
In particular, this quote from Vlad Petre Glăveanu reminded me how important community-building is for developing creativity in and outside of the classroom: it is “our responsibility as community members to build spaces for dialogue and creativity for both self and others, of the fact that, living interconnected with other people, our creative expression could and should be able to fertilize the common soil of creativity around us.”
Thank you New England Conservatory, Julie Davis, Bridge Boston Charter School, Liza Barley, and all of the participants for providing such a supportive space for creative music-making. As a musician and teacher, I look forward to heading back to Juneau to continue experimenting and playing with the creative process.
Lorrie Heagy, Sistema Fellow '10