Over the past month I have had the privilege of going to both the University East Anglia and the University of the West of England to speak and give people the experience of learning through doing something new – playing music. The f2f interaction and the tactile experience is magic. I love it and would go anywhere to share this with people, as the smiles and laughter that follow the initial reactions of ‘I can’t do that’ ‘I’ve never done that’ ‘I don’t do that’ make it all worth while.
It still amazes me how people say these things and effectively, not purposefully, qualify themselves as failures before they have begun, and this is not just in music but in anything that is new or perceived as daunting. In learning, having a fixed conception of ability is so limiting, (see the difference between ‘ability’ and ‘capability’ by Frank Pajares here) and if our students thought in this limiting way then what a battle we would have! We must not allow that unbounded sense of growth and achievement that allows a young child to really believe they can do anything – touch the moon and change the world- to disappear completely. I am not advocating that we all become completely unrealistic, but as Tali Sharot says in her TED talk on optimism,
“to make any kind of progress we need to be able to imagine a different reality, and then we need to believe that reality is possible.”
I work to keep that tethered to the ground, but I like to fly like a helium balloon with my dreams.
Music is my way in to share that feeling of you can in a way that people can accept it, where are neither expecting it nor resisting it. With so many new (and even developing) pursuits there are barriers, both external and that we place for ourselves. Sometimes these are in reaction to assumed societal norms, social groups, or even just a sense of self-doubt. I find that being given permission is liberating and sometimes that is all people need to take that first step. That permission can come in various forms, whether a comment on a blog, a telephone call, or a reassuring glance from someone you trust and believe in. I am certainly not immune. Even in typing this, it has taken me several revisions and thoughts of doubt kicking around before I dared to press ‘publish’.
…back to the story….
When I visit people and bring my car or van-load of instruments, I tell them at the start – this is not about the music. (I am not sure if at that point they realise what it is about, but that is for another time) It is not until afterwards that they realise they have accomplished things – both musical and extra-musical, and I love that. Permission to experience, permission to do, permission to learn, and permission to be. They don’t even notice that they are problem solving and making all sorts of mistakes – in public, and without fear – because, like I said, it’s not about the music.
Recently there have been a few posts in unconnected places about failure and how that leads to learning, on Flickr by Sheri Edwards and on a blog by a former schoolmate of mine Lisa Chu who went full circle from classical musician, to Harvard graduate, to MD, to partner in a venture-capitolist firm, to improvising/art-making/people-connecting coach. Again, we don’t all want to go out there and fail, but it takes a lot of falling down before a baby walks, and I hope that my not-about-music sessions show people that they don’t need to get in their own way and that they are allowed, certainly in my learning environments- to fall down, and I will be there to pick them up.