Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Answer: In the State of Wonder

The next time someone asks me the question, “If you could pick any place in the world, where would you like to live?” I am going to say, “In the State of Wonder.” And that doesn’t mean the State of Confusion, as in, “I wonder what is going on??” where we squint our eyes and scrunch up our faces and feel lost or overwhelmed. I’m thinking of the childlike state of open-mindedness and endless possibility.

The other night, I watched a documentary about Evelyn Glennie, an amazing percussionist who lost her hearing as a child. She and fellow musician, Fred Frith, improvise music together (on both traditional and makeshift instruments) in a cavernous warehouse in Germany. Fred especially seemed like a giant kid. His eyes, his face, were so relaxed and open as he experimented with sounds on his guitar. He seemed to be having such a great time, and made it all look so easy.

It reminded me of what I saw when teaching my first Composition Studio Class at Anderson University. I had worked with my students individually, but not as a group, so I wasn’t sure what the dynamic would be. I did know, though, that they were very, very bright, so I had better come up with something good. So the first thing I said was,

“Today we are going to play a game called ‘Work the Room.’”

I asked them to find objects in the classroom that they could make a sound or noise with. After experimenting with the sound, they were to write down what they discovered, so that someone reading their instructions could replicate what that they did.

I was so pleased to see each person immediately enter the State of Wonder: big eyes, lips parted, slight smiles, relaxed breathing and childlike curiosity. There were no “instruments” in the room (except an upright piano that was off limits.) Instead, the students toyed with mini blinds, and projector screens, and chairs, and drawers, and music stands and erasers on the chalkboard. I won’t go into phase 2 or 3 of the game, which emphasized the importance of not assuming anything when communicating on paper, because I want to focus on the playfulness that happens prior to the decision-making.

When composing, if I happen to notice that I am momentarily in the State of Wonder, I sometimes say out loud, “I love writing music!” So far, this has not snapped me out of my trance. Instead, it reminds me of how much fun I am having, even though I haven’t solved all the problems, and am still considering many possibilities. (Actually, maybe I should say, because I haven’t solved all the problems.)

If I don’t spend at least part of my day in my “home state,” I feel lost, and also, feel that I may have lost something. What if I missed out on a brilliant insight that could have come to me, if only I had taken the time for it?

Last month, a 7-yr-old student decided to write a new piece for the recital that was coming up in a few days. I watched and listened as he invented the whole thing, right in front of me. He doesn’t really like to title his pieces, but I went ahead and asked what he wanted to call it. We shared a comfortable silence for at least a full minute as he pondered the question. I’m okay with this seemingly long chunk of time, because I know that it is a precious thing, and potent with possibility. Finally, he said, “I got it! It’s called, “Float, Flutter, Fly.”

Wow! Not only was his title a perfect fit for the rhythm of his theme, it was also a beautiful parallel to the actual creative process. Floating in uncertainty leads to a bit of fluttering when the idea hits, and then you are ready to fly.

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