Are We Being Creative Yet?

Creativity is when you create something. Something that didn’t exist before.

That’s glaringly obvious — or so one would think. Oddly enough, classical musicians seem a bit confused on the subject. Writers of fiction have no trouble understanding it. If you’re a writer, you start with a blank page (or, these days, a blank computer window) and fill it with words. Your own words, for better or for worse. In consequence, today’s rant will have limited meaning for writers. I just need to blow off a little steam.

Today I tumbled into one of those pointless, irritating Facebook discussions with someone I’ve never met. A friend of a friend. We’re both classical cellists, but I have a few other arrows in my quiver. I mentioned that when you’re playing in an orchestra, you’re a foot soldier. The conductor gives you your marching orders, first by putting a bunch of pages of dots in front of you and then by waving a stick. Your job, as an orchestral musician, is to march — hup, hup, hup. If you give way to the urge to improvise, you will find yourself ushered politely out the door of the rehearsal hall. Or perhaps not so politely.

My friend didn’t get it. She honestly seems to feel that executing page after page of dots in the prescribed manner is somehow a creative act.

I likened this to reading aloud. If you read a story aloud to your kid, does that make you an author? Obviously not. There’s a concrete difference between reading aloud the words that someone else wrote, and writing some new sentences and paragraphs of your own. And in fact, there’s a lot more creativity in reading aloud than there is in playing in an orchestra. You can do the voices of the characters! You can whisper, or pause, or shout. You can wave your arms.

My friend respectfully disagreed. Belaboring the facts would have been pointless — she wasn’t going to get it. I gave up.

I suspect that many classical musicians, if not most of them, have a sort of emotional blind spot. They need to feel that they’re artists, not foot soldiers.

Don’t get me wrong. Playing in an orchestra can be enormously satisfying, not only musically but also socially. It’s a wonderful activity. But it’s not a creative activity. If you’re the conductor, or if you’re the soloist playing a concerto, a few tendrils of creative thought can (and should) creep in, even though you’re still executing the dots on the page. But not if you’re one of the players in the band.

The word “creativity” means what it means. You don’t get to redefine it in order to feel better about yourself.

In the course of 15 years playing cello in community orchestras, I believe there was exactly one time when I did anything creative. Specifically, there was one note that I played in a modestly creative manner. It was a low C in Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I knew it was an important note, a dramatic note. The conductor didn’t call for the cellos to do anything special with that note, but I added a crescendo and diminuendo to it — a volume swell to bring it out. I was only one of about ten cellists, and I’m pretty sure none of the others did it, but maybe someone in the audience noticed. Subliminally, if nothing else.

Other than that, no. It was 15 years of hup, hup, hup. Great musical experiences by the dozen, but not a crumb of creativity.

Writers — please don’t neglect to celebrate your freedom to be genuinely creative!

This entry was posted in fiction, music, random musings, society & culture, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s