After a visit to the Museum of Arts and Design in NY
Ancient Greeks believed in many things that we unfortunately tend to forget nowadays: the balance between mental and physical health, philosophy, the pursuit of beauty, and the existence of fate, among other things.
Fate as in a puppet show, where gods pull the threads of our existence to make us dance to meet our destiny, whether we like it or not, and regardless of how we handle the enormous surprises life and these gods bring to us mortals.
Nothing happens by coincidence, they say. So here is today´s story, also related to connecting to other disciplines.
Some months ago I was in NY to present my toy theater play (with Mexican company Facto Teatro), about the Day of the Death-Día de Muertos tradition in Mexico. It´s called PANTEÓN DE FIESTA (FIESTA GRAVEYARD), for two actors and two musicians. More about it at:
I ran then to visit the Museum of Arts and Design in NY.
DEAD OR ALIVE, the title of one of their exhibitions, immediately made an impression on me as a sign from destiny, since the play I wrote has to do with the way we Mexicans deal with life and death. It´s also an homage to my favorite traditional Mexican celebration. There I also present some old Aztec beliefs about death, converted into Mexican reality of today.
At the exhibition, I immediately felt myself wandering, like on one of my childhood´s visits to science museums, where I raced my brothers and sisters to different displays of stuffed animals in their reproduced habitats, only to push the red button that turned on the light.
It was shocking and fascinating, although I was scared, to suddenly see a black crystal box that came to life with light, showing wild animals that seemed to look into my eyes.
But what I found the most interesting part of this particular NY exhibition, besides the similarities of display with and old science museum, was to carefully observe the concepts and materials each artist chose to start their work, while thinking about creative processes and this CREAVERBU blog.
Bones, feathers, skins, branches, seeds. All the pieces were made of organic materials, as a means to involve an ecological call for attention to visitors and governments, and as an artistic way to appraise that we mortals are as much as the materials that we are made of.
Many visitors to this unique art exhibition made comments such as spooky, disgusting, weird etc. But I had the sheer impression that the old Greek Gods of music making were sending me there as my teachers, to slow my thoughts in the silence of the museum and make me think.
They sent me in order to have material for talks with composers. I would love to discuss how much inspiration is similar to a gut string that moves our brains and creativity if we let them, if we learn to use the philosophical materials in front of us and are not afraid of mixing them to produce a piece with our thoughts, whatever language we choose to move in arts.
One of the artists, Jorge Mayet, for instance, tries in his sculptures to reconstruct what imagination is. How it works, how it links memories. He combines his own experiences, emotions and feelings with non visible elements, and builds his own landscapes with a new dimension that constantly moves and evolves.
Jodie Carey focuses on materials and materiality as essence in her work. She explains how she can communicate, with her lamp made with bones, in a way that is not possible through written or spoken language. She uses these substances to make them pieces of art that remind us of the reality and ugliness of life. Beauty, she says, can breathe life into a work, even if the process to get there explores the cycle of death and live through painful rituals we undertake for dealing with death, fragility and the vulnerability of human life.
Fabián Peña chooses organic matters such as cockroach wing fragments, to transform these repulsive creatures into other anatomies, like a iluminated skull made of tiny mosaics. Through his contextualization, he shows existential matters and artwork as a cultural product that comes from resurrection, so to speak. There is a reawakening for the visitor who is placed in a very ambiguous perceptual trap, a map that is also a detour.
Levi van Veluw combines non logical materials, patterns, colors and forms, always around his head (literally) as a constant factor. Playing with them, he builds images that give us a very different perspective of the world.
These, my four favorite artists at the exhibition, made me connect immediately with music making. So did their materials, processes, art making and meanings about life and death. And the most important of all: creativity.
Therefore, this is one of the reasons why I think that we musicians (mortals with only one present life) should feed our brains with other artistic disciplines from all over the world, and hope they will never die.
Long live the creativity muses!
(or how a creative teacher can make a difference).
For instance, in Mexico during 2009, 700 000 children and teenagers abandoned schools to work in order to help their families in extreme poverty. They belong to the 33 million people without basic education: 6 million who are not able to read, 10 million who could not finish elementary school and 17 millions who stopped high school.
This generation was catalogued at the 6th United Nations Conference in Brazil, as a “lost generation”. It´s time to think about the consequence that this painful lack of education has in our economical problems.
That is why I chose this Colombian video (who won an important short film prize and has moved people to collaborate with Luis project), to underline the importance of creative teachers (in all fields, including music) and the urgent need of more education, then more education and then a lot more of it…
Luis mother explains in this video the moment when she asked him where he got this idea from.
He replied: “Out of my mind”.
One of the girls comments how marvelous it is to have a book. She literally says: “It’s spectacular! You can’t even imagine it!”
Luis finishes this interview by saying that his project aims at growing a generation of well read Colombians with judgment capacity and a strong culture.
I thank Luis for this lesson about being a creative teacher. I wonder if all of us teachers have thought deeply about making a difference. I mean a big and heavy one, bigger than two donkeys and heavier than carrying books in the middle of mud roads.
Photographer-DIEGO TREVIÑO: www.hiperfocalestudio.com/Diego Treviño
I had no idea what Corpus Callusum is until I arrived to Mazunte, a small town in Oaxaca, on the coast of the Pacific. I came accompanied by a great book about the brain and I’m now surrounded by dramatic, green, huge mountains, changing clouds, amazing waves, fortissimo rains and the space I need to read and write while preparing the composers seminar for October.
My idea for that seminar is mainly to talk about how to compose for the harp, but today, in this small blue guest house over a green tropical hill, I choose to write about what I have learnt from reading this book, written by Jill Bolte Taylor. The title is MY STROKE OF INSIGHT and it is an enlightening journey into a scientist´s brain and the philosophical lessons and conclusions she arrived at, after her eight years of slow recovery.
I have felt attracted to reading and learning about how our brains work, since music making has so much to do with neuronal connections. These findings here and there, wherever they come from: life observation, yoga reading, breathing techniques, neuroscience articles, pedagogy books, or simply wandering thoughts, have helped me a lot to learn and polish some skills as a performer, teacher and in the creative process when I write or take all sorts of decisions. Creativity does not apply only to the artistic side of our lives, I believe. But that´s another chapter.
Our fantastic brain, divided in left and right, should be for us, musicians and music teachers, an attractive place to visit, through reading smart authors like Oliver Sacks, researchers like Alison Gopnik, Henry L. Roedliger III and Bridigid Finn and others from whom I have found attractively related articles published by Scientific American Mind and Scientific American magazines. Although I have been a thirsty reader of novels, stories and poetry, lately, science readings have become great friends and company while travelling as a musician.
From “MY STROKE OF INSIGHT”, thanks to Allison´s shocking stroke at age 37, I have understood much better what capacities our both hemispheres have.
Imagine seeing your brain from the inside, guided carefully by a brain expert like her. She describes little by little which functions she started to lose while the stroke happened, as well as what kind of fears, thoughts and sensations she experimented at the event, and how she was aware about the emergency situation she was going through.
I was impressed by how she was analyzing the panorama: the loss of some abilities of one side of her brain, plus gaining focus in the right hemisphere, the feeling of a completely floating experience within a universal flow of happiness, (similar to a mystical-nirvana moment), even if she was aware as well, with her scientist’s extremely well-trained left hemisphere, of every aspect of her movements, language and recognizing skills. What a journey!
While working with theater people, I got in contact with important issues of other aspects of stage presence that I did not learn in my music training years: warming up back muscles and not only fingers; walking about on stage and reconnoiter the space to know it before a performance; focusing on an inner story or intention inside the music while playing it, etc. My early music education was mostly focused on physical abilities, precision in notes, elbow to finger motion discipline, without contemplating the many other kinds of memory and brain activity. Not much mention about physical and emotional balance!
These readings have been useful to me as complementary information on one hand, and connecting with experience and observation as a player, a teacher and a creative person on the other.
As a teacher, I have found better explanations, especially for young children who approach the instrument for the first time, like, for instance, how to achieve a mechanic learning in a left hand pattern and how to add a different musical element in the right hand without struggling or getting desperate.
The two hemispheres of our brains can be explained as simply as letting the child touch his or her nose without watching it.
– How are you able to do that? –I ask. And this simple question can take the student-teacher through a fantastic trip to the Corpus Callusum, the extremely important place between our two brain hemispheres, the highway of information transfer of everything we learn and experience.
In the microscopic landscape our brains belong to the rule of variation, not the rule of exception. This is precisely what marks our individual preferences and personalities. I find this an important topic to discuss with students, and a fascinating one while taking decisions as an interpreter (styles of music, character of a piece) or while involved in a creative process and finding a personal voice of one’s own (interpreters and composers).
In the macroscopic view our brains are similar in functions, structure and looks. Each part of our both our hemispheres have specific jobs to do. I think we can function better when we know ourselves deeply.
From the biological point of view, we are much more feeling creatures that think, than thinking ones that feel, as opposed to what many old teachers or disciplines of our western approach to art might have believed.
I wonder if we could be a little more creative in our self-learning or in teaching students, and analyze with them how we make music the way we are. Because we do make music the way we are, I believe, with all the aspects of the music making and of our bodies and minds!
In the book section where this brave fantastic author describes the important parts of her long recovery, she points at how vital it was for her to break tasks into smaller steps and focus on the patience aspect of re-learning everything from scratch: walking in the street, eating with a fork, learning the numbers and letters after previously having been a famous neuroscientist who used to make a living lecturing and educating others about brain research.
I have been thinking about the physical components of emotions as a player, and the positive or negative role we might play as guides to others in musical education. Jill Bolte Taylor underlines in her book how important positive energy from her caregivers and therapists was for her recovery, as well as training herself about how we can control our brains, in addition to choosing with whom to realize these relearning tasks.
Relearning and learning as family words: do we as music teachers respect these aspects, having a clear idea of which side of our brain processes what information? What about positive roles while pushing students to only think about competitions-success-fame, physical training, ambitious non– realistic careers in the middle of the current world situation with politicians less and less interested in culture and education?
’Balance’, like in orchestration, dynamics, like in cooking, taking care, should be the key word.
Corpus Callusum is a meeting point in our brains. It can also be the title for some shared thoughts from a blue corner of the immense Pacific, the not so pacific ocean.