Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Creative Feedback Group

Last night I went to the first meeting of a new group, the purpose of which is for members to give feedback to each other on things they are doing. It was the brainchild of Bill, a bass player in the National Symphony. He came up with this idea after reading The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori. Loori talks about a group which suspends judgment on technical merit, but instead gives feedback on the feelings that the art, music, whatever evokes.

This group has been in the formative stage for about 2 months. This gave me time to read the book and start to think about what I wanted feedback on, which has meandered. Initially I wanted to learn how to play jazz piano, having played mostly classical piano for many years and never having done anything that involved improvisation. However, I realized that I am currently not in a position to be creative because I can’t do this yet, and may never be able to do it. Then I realized that I don’t even feel that creative when it comes to playing the piano by myself and interpreting someone else’s music. In the interim I played some duets with Bill and really enjoyed the feeling that comes with playing music together. That does involve creativity. So I started thinking more about creativity that comes from collaboration – not only involving music. I listed a several diverse activities in an e-mail to group members:

– Playing duets
– Singing
– Writing a poem in two voices
– Making greeting cards
– Making a small quilt

Only one person in the group even commented on my e-mail. So I started to question whether or not I was on entirely the wrong track with this.

Bill announced the first meeting and invited anyone who wanted to present to do so. Most of us were so unclear about the intentions and the format that we opted out for the first meeting. I really hoped that we would discuss the book and spend most of the first meeting talking about what we wanted from the group and how it would work logistically.

I was somewhat surprised when we skipped all the talking and basically turned to hearing Bill play the piano. Knowing what a superb musician Bill is, I half jokingly said before he began to play, “Don’t set the bar too high here, or no one else is going to want to do this!” Rebecca jumped all over this, saying “That is entirely the WRONG way to approach this.” Gulp! I really felt foolish, but quickly came back with “I am really looking forward to hearing Bill at his finest.”

Bill played the first piece, from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavichord. It was so incredibly beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. It reminded Marianna of her daughter’s wedding where she played the piece while her husband sang in his rich tenor voice. We asked him to play it again and it was even better. Bill was still just performing, though.

At our urging, he played another three pieces, also Bach, this time fugues. He really put himself into these pieces. We had a good discussion of his feelings about playing, our feelings about listening, and I think it went completely according to Loori’s formula.

I had actually considered a presentation that consisted of a group effort to add new tunes to the old Heart and Soul duet. I had thought it would be a good way to see how the group could work together on something. But the tone of the meeting was far too serious to do this. I hope in the future we can figure out how to add laughter and playfulness to this process.

Since noone else had something to present, we adjourned to drink champagne and eat cheese and crackers. Marianna and I lingered at the big piano. We played a hearty rendition of Heart and Soul. Then I played my 2-page Misty. But this all paled in comparison to what Bill had done.

Rebecca announced that she had come only for the champagne and did not see herself as a permanent part of the group. At least she was honest. She does tend to control any situation, so it was probably for the best.

A discussion of how the group would work ensued. I started having an anxiety attack about what I could possibly do that would be of benefit to me and the group. I hadn’t been able to elicit any support for collaborative activities. My heart wasn’t into playing solo piano. Everyone else was talking about what they planned to present, while I had serious doubts about whether I wanted to do this at all.

By this time two glasses of champagne on a stomach with only a banana for dinner were making me not think too rationally. It was time to go home.

I had looked forward to this meeting with such anticipation, hoping to be launched into the positive feedback situation, but instead felt myself spirally downward into the depths of self-doubt and depression. This is so unlike me. I have always felt confident about my ability to do things, maybe not to interact with people, but doing things has always brought me praise and self-assuredness. I decided to sleep on it and went to bed, feeling yucky.

When I awoke, I had a new idea. I would focus on things that I made – sewing projects, cards, a quilt – and not on music, at least initially. I am still hopeful that at some time someone will want to collaborate, but I will wait for a volunteer. Meanwhile, I offered to give a brief presentation at the next meeting on February 7.

I’m still not totally comfortable with my role in the group. I must feel that I am an equal partner with the other group members in terms of their willingness to provide feedback to me and accept my feedback. I think this will get better as more people actually present and it becomes more than a forum for hearing Bill perform. With any group of people, I think there is a period of getting used to each other that must happen before the group gels and becomes really effective.

I have to keep reminding myself about my New Year’s resolution to believe in myself. I know in my heart of hearts that I am just as smart, capable, and creative as anyone in this group and I must approach this new activity with this as my firm belief. Otherwise, I will be my worst enemy.

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