Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 22 (Round II) "In the trenches" (breathing-space edition)

Little breathing space all up in this crib: Fall Fest and Celtic Ensemble events dropped last weekend, this coming weekend is a by-week for football (so all 400 marching band kids will actually have enough time to do homework Saturday and Sunday), tonight's pub session is off because the local version of the archetypal Exploitative "Talent Agent" Club-Owner (tm)--everyone medium-sized city has one--who runs the "Depot Entertainment District" has basically got it cordoned off, with the collusion of the city fathers, so he can charge every single person who comes into the neighborhood, regardless of their business or where they're heading, a $15 "entertainment charge." And I'm fucked if I, my players, or our punters are going to pay to go play our music for free. So that's off--everybody gets a break, which is not a bad idea in thye life of any session, even if everybody also really enjoys and counts upon the weekly iteration. Local community orchestra plays this weekend, so that's another raft of my Celtic Ensemble guys off on that gig.

Also works out well because a crop of the kiddos are heading out to Points West for a little concert and master-class, so they'd be missing the pub session anyway. And next 2 weeks bring a crash rehearsal/re-revving of the medieval band, for a concert here on campus on Oct 4--we've got people coming from around the region and from across the country, and even though we've played together for a very long time, it's a while since we've done intense regular rehearsal--too difficult when living at long distances. so having a week or 10 days, or a weekend, clear to think about that is very useful.

And, we take the brake off on the new Welsh program for the Celtic Ensemble in about 72 hours--it'll all crank up again from that point.

Also lets me catch up with the video podcasts for the Celtic Ensemble. That stuff has been coming together very well, but when you have two videographers, shooting two rehearsals a week, it's easy to get behind on the indexing and editing. The initial plan--still holding, it seems--was create a kind of video diary of the ensemble over a full academic year. As I've said before, the academic year becomes, on a college campus and/or in a college town, its own kind of quasi-organic biorhythm. So the new academic year, commencing in late August, is like another chapter, or narrative arc, in the life of the ensemble, its members, and its constituent identity. New people come in, people are missing, new projects abound, the combination of new/old people/projects mandates a renewal--or at least re-assessment--of the group identity.

I personally find the internal dynamics of group work, relationships, and identity absolutely fascinating, particularly in the realm of creative enterprise, and I think there's a reason that so many books, films, or theatrical works take the form of a "play within a play" or other creative project as a means of telling a story of relationships (everything from Waiting for Guffman to Hamlet falls in this category). When a group of people who may not share a very wide range of other identifiers agree that they want to work together on a creative project because of that particular shared interest, challenging dynamics come into play. They can that they want the music to be good, that they all want to learn, that they want audiences to dig it, that, as our orcehstra-leaders says, "it must be bad-ass," but as to which of those factors are most important, or, even more crucially, how to achieve them--there's still a whole hell of a lot of larnin' to be done.

Sitting in an orchestra doesn't teach you this: playing in an orchestra, in my estimation, is a little like being a satellite republic in the old USSR--you can have animosities simmering for generations [just ask the Berlin Phil] and, because there's someone waving a stick over you, you can keep them in check.

You learn it a bit more in a chamber group; especially, for some reason, in a string quartet (I've had to do more than one intervention-and-facilitation with string players), because you have to play the music as if you're actually conversing with one another and in agreement about the goal of the conversation. But even the quartet setting doesn't work this skill directly, because there is the omnipresent omnipotent quasi-Godhead of the score and the "Composer's Intentions." Scores, particularly socres in the late-19th and 20th centuries, are highly dictatorial and don't leave many musical decisions either ambiguous or optional.

But playing a vernacular music by ear and developing a specific group's approach to that music through collaborative improvisation puts those kinds of negotiations right in your face. You simply can't be rigid about your own part, much less your vision of what the piece or performance is supposed to accomplish, if one or more of your colleagues disagrees; you have to come to some kind of negotiated compromise. Because in the democracy of a collaborative ensemble--particularly one playing without the arbitration of a conductor, composer, or score--everyone's opinion has to be considered. And negotiated. And resolved. The only remaining arbiter is the above cited "do what serves the music best." This can necessitate some absolutely brutal honesty with oneself, about one's skills, motives, and intentions. And usually it's worked out under the microscope of, in the petri dish of, the ensemble rehearsal.

And the only way to learn how to communicate this way and negotiate these kinds of resolutions, ultimately, is to engage in it. You can observe how others do it, you can certainly cobble together a repertoire of "Person A used technique 1 and that worked, Person B used technique 2 and that worked--I wonder if I can use both together?" and so on, but ultimately the way you figure out what your identity and procedure as a mature, self-realized, thinking, collaborative artist is going to be is to lock horns with the people and processes you're going to spend your life working with.

That's how it should be.

[Image by Ralston]

1 comment:

wheekycavy said...

I miss having session this week, but we hope to represent you, the school, and the ensemble in a very positive way!