I am a pianist, and have been since I was 6 years old. Part of my musical training was literacy – not only learning to play, but to read and write music. I’m nearly as fluent in musical language as I am in my native tongue. Yet for several years now I’ve also grappled with the constantly evolving forms of ‘literacy’ that exist in the musical world.
Once upon a time I would carefully engrave my compositions on manuscript paper. Notebooks full of scribbled ideas and drafts littered my desk and piano. Now, I’m more likely to drop a voice memo in my phone or bash out a quick Garage Band file. Oh, I still notate, sometimes even on paper. Now, though, my work is done mostly through clever programs like Sibelius. My musical literacy has evolved. I’ve learned to master new technical and digital skills. And while it’s often been challenging, the rewards have been many. I may not be fully adept in all aspects, but I can usually follow along ok when the experts talk (usually on YouTube now, of course).
As a recently enrolled student embracing my first Uni work in over two decades, I decided (bravely or foolishly!) to dive head first into Social Media Content Creation. Why not? I liked using social media and thought myself moderately savvy for an old(ish) thing. Very quickly, I realised my learning curve was rocketing up again. And just as in my musical learning and relearning, it’s tremendously fun and rewarding despite the hard graft required.
The tools of the trade may change, but the work of a creator remains. And while it may need to reinvent itself through modern gadgets, gizmos and platforms, while it clothes itself in strange and wonderful new shapes, the need for creation is still a hardwired part of being human. As Erwin Raphael McManus explores (2014:3-5), creativity should not be restricted for those few deemed to be artistic, for it is as natural a response as breathing. Why wouldn’t we want to seize every chance to create, and gladly grab any tool that helps outwork our vision? Why not add as many weapons as possible to our creative arsenals?
There are purists who sneer at digital music creators, those who play and compose by ear, just as there are denigrators of social media usage, scoffing at the thought that someone would want to be expert in Twitter or TikTok. I sometimes wonder if Bach, Mozart, Shakespeare or Rembrandt were living and working today what their response would be. I suspect they would do whatever they could to keep making their art!
Oh, no doubt they’d still be deeply grounded in their relevant traditional disciplines as well. Such practises in musicianship have certainly played a large role in making me the artisan I am, and am still becoming. But the skills they produce in a student don’t automatically require the identical delivery formats today that they did when I first tiptoed into the hallowed Conservatorium halls as a nervous teenager.
Perennial truths can be understood through ancient pages and modern screens, by being spoken and written and shown.
"Then Jesus said to the followers, “So every teacher of the law who has learned about God’s kingdom has some new things to teach. He is like the owner of a house. He has new things and old things saved in that house. And he brings out the new with the old.” (Matthew 13:52 ERV)
New tricks, old tricks, let them all play their part. So often, too much time is wasted batting round the ‘which is better’ argument. The simple answer of course, is ‘the one that works’. And the deeper answer is that no artistic device matters a jot if the most important part of creativity is not prioritised and nurtured – the imagination.
At this year’s Worship & Creative Conference hosted by Hillsong, a statement by Ana Loback grabbed my attention:
“Knowledge is the toolbox of your imagination”(‘The Creative Mind’, 2021)
In these first few weeks of study, this one thing has been highlighted for me above all: the irreplaceable role of imagination, and its close siblings curiosity and reflection. Regardless of the tools I deploy to construct, produce, and share my creativity and art, my work is nothing without that critical spark. It goes nowhere without asking the important questions. And it lacks depth without enough space to be refined.
So, I plan to worry less about the methods and the manner I use to make, and just let the music play on. Feed my imagination a little bit more and the ‘tyranny of the should’ (Horney, 1950) much less. First, allow my artisan soul to seek and find inspiration, then find the means fit for purpose to embody my dreams. Getting these back into the correct order might just lead to a more purposeful, productive, fully creative life.
“The way of the artisan is not an invitation to sit in the sun, imagining a better life and a better world. It is about embracing our creative power and responsibility to create the life and the world that our soul inspires us to imagine.”(McManus 2014:36)
Horney, Karen (1950) Neurosis and Human Growth, Norton, New York. (source via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Horney#cite_note-Horney3-25 )
Loback, Ana (2021) ‘The Creative Mind’, Worship & Creative Conference, Hillsong International Ltd.
Matthew 13:52; Holy Bible, Easy-To-Read Version (2006) Bible League International on https://www.biblegateway.com/
McManus, Erwin Raphael (2014) The Artisan Soul, HarperCollins, New York.