How to Be Creative

Off Book is a bi-weekly video series by PBS Digital Studios. Subjects range from technology to art to pop culture. While it isn't specifically about music, this video, "How to Be Creative," has some great insights to the creative process.

Creativity has always been essential for our cultural growth, but there are still many misconceptions about this elusive process. Not the left-brain/right-brain binary that we've come to believe, being creative is considerably more complex, and requires a nuanced understanding of ourself and others. Being a powerful creative person involves letting go of preconceived notions of what an artist is, and discovering and inventing new processes that yield great ideas. Most importantly, creators must push forward, whether the light bulb illuminates or not.

via PBS Arts

Sunset Piano Opus 2

I stumbled upon a neat art installation/performance project this morning called "Sunset Piano Opus 2." Mauro Ffortissimo is the artist behind the project to place twelve pianos along the San Mateo coast in Northern California for public performing. Dean Mermell is filming a documentary about the event that should be finished by December 2013.

From their Kickstarter page:

In early July, Mauro is planning to deploy twelve pianos at select locations along the beautiful San Mateo coastline. Anyone can come and play a piano by the sea, anytime. He's inviting some incredible bay area musicians to join him in bringing attention to the fragile state of the world's oceans, as well as the near extinction of the "personal" piano. Piano manufacturing has dwindled, and the neglect of acoustic pianos has caused thousands of them to end up in landfills. The "Twelve Pianos" project will focus the spotlight on two species with uncertain futures.

It occurred to me that Ffortissimo and Mermell do not directly address the environmental impact that this project may have on the coastline. However, the chosen spots seem to be in places where the public is already welcome and they profess that they are, "committed to doing everything in a totally environmentally responsible manner and to leave no trace." It looks like a neat project - I wish I lived closer so that I could participate.

-via Laughing Squid

Andrew Bird on Performing

Tumblr's Storyboard posted a nice interview with musician Andrew Bird in February. I've loved Bird's music since I first heard it. His music is eclectic, polished, emotional, and unpretentious. My favorite songs include "Cock o' the Walk" from the Bowl of Fire album and "Measuring Cups" from The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Some may know him from the recent movie The Muppet's, where he performed the whistling for Walter's performance. He also performed a sweet and touching version of "It's not easy being green" for the movie album. He plays violin, sings, and dabbles in many other instruments.

In this interview he focuses on why he tries to capture an amateur spirit in his performances. If I understand him correctly, he's talking about when a performance becomes so highly polished that it lacks personality and emotion. I tend to agree with him that many modern performances lack spontaneity and genuine feeling. Instead of treating each performance as a new opportunity, many musicians tend to try to recreate the exact sound from a studio album. On the other hand, I think his training and skill as a professional give him far more choices when communicating with the audience. Without that skill set any mistakes he made would be awkward, and he would not be able to "use the mishap as fuel to bring the whole performance to even greater heights."

For a little more background on the interview, see the original post at Storyboard.

Great Advice from Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato is one of my favorite singers, and now I see that she is thoughtful and funny and wise. This is from the end of a master class at Julliard where she took time to answer questions from the audience. The video is more than 30 minutes, but if you are interested in pursuing life as a performer (or even if you want to be a successful in a challenging career of any kind) it's well worth watching. She offers excellent advice on how to overcome that nagging inner voice we all have and shares some of her personal experiences.

Dealing with Nerves During Performance

In this TEDxBoomington talk, Jeff Nelsen offers some great tools for dealing with nerves during performance. Everyone gets nervous when they perform. When you let that take over, it can prevent you from doing your best.

I try to help students cope with performance nerves during the lesson so that they have some tools to deal with it when it comes up in a real-life situation. I've found for younger students, the most important thing is that they know what will happen at their performance and they know exactly what to do. We practice announcing, bowing and what to do if they make a mistake. I also encourage them to perform for their families at home before they have a performance with a large crowd. As students gain performance experience, they tend to cope with nervousness better.

Making Music Together Connects Brains

Science Daily

Here's another article on the way our brains work when we make music. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have hooked up classical guitarists to electrodes to look at their brain waves and they found some interesting things.

Anyone who has ever played in an orchestra will be familiar with the phenomenon: the impulse for one's own actions does not seem to come from one's own mind alone, but rather seems to be controlled by the coordinated activity of the group. And indeed, interbrain networks do emerge when making music together -- this has now been demonstrated by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. The scientists used electrodes to trace the brain waves of guitarists playing in duets. They also observed substantial differences in the musicians' brain activity, depending upon whether musicians were leading or following their companion.

This is fascinating to me. It's a confirmation of a phenomenon I've often felt during performance. Being on the same "wave length" is the difference between a good performance and a bad performance  -- and now we find that is true, literally.

You can read the rest of the article at Science Daily.