Someone – maybe someone who studied at Hogwarts – should make a magic map that shows where the most creative chunks of geography are, as far as musical creativity is concerned. We all know where the big schools and big cities are, but they are not always the most creative places. I’m listening to an audiobook at the moment about business, and the chapter I’m on is about innovation. The author points out how much innovation comes out of small, upstart companies (the author calls them ‘tyros’ – another word for ‘beginners’) that are full of energy, short on hierarchy and rules, and are free to simply ‘go for it’. Try, risk, fail, try again, go way outside the box, work tirelessly with imagination. What often happens, however, is that these companies, after they achieve success, then start adding layers of hierarchy and rules and management and start playing it safe and lose their innovative edge to – you guessed it – a new generation of upstarts. Microsoft -one example out of many – took off like a skyrocket early on, but after it got big – very big – and hired phalanxes of R&D people, experienced years of being unable to create anything that could be called innovative or cutting edge. They’re not alone, they’re just one example.
I don’t know if educational institutions follow the same trajectories as businesses seem to, but to get back to my original point about mapping the creative hotspots, the biggest schools aren’t always the greatest hot spots of creativity. Some times there are amazing things going on in smaller and/or lesser known places.
I got to visit one last month.
Charles Young is the head of the theory/composition department of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (about a hundred crow miles north of Madison). What creativity needs to flourish is an encouraging environment, one that values something beyond the usual printed notes-are-all conventional atmosphere. UWSP has this in spades, thanks to CY. He inaugurated a course he calls Musicianship, which teaches all – repeat all – music students how to compose and improvise. Every student musician is a creative musician. Every year, Charles sends me CDs of what his students have produced, and every year I am amazed. He doesn’t tell them what to compose; they don’t have copy famous composers, for example. They compose what they like to hear, rather than learn a system. He gives the opportunity and guidance in how to get going, and then leaves it to them to discover, experiment, and create their own music. Charles is not alone. He has many like-minded faculty to implement the program. My good friend Pat Miles (horn prof and orchestra conductor) is one of them.
My Hogwarts map has a glowing, pulsing red dot in north central Wisconsin…
So I leaped at the chance when Pat invited me to visit.
[note: I wrote a lengthy description of the visit, only to have it all disappear when (bad magic!) when I went to publish it. Curses. I don’t have the time or the heart to rewrite it all now; I’ll try to redo it later. Sigh. Anyone know any magic words…?]