What do Beethoven, Einstein, Da Vinci and Plato have in common?
Music was integral to their creative mastery and something they each saw as essential to the fulfillment of our highest potential as human beings.
We are clearly in good company when we speak to the necessity of fostering a child's creative development, and we embrace the essential role of music in cultivating that innate creative capacity within each of us. We know today that a child's creative development can be directly correlated to their future success in all kinds of careers, including science, medicine and technology. What we don't know is what the world will look like for them in twenty years, nor what kind of careers will even exist. If there is one guarantee about the world our kids will inherit, it is that there will be a great deal of flux and few guarantees. Their creative ability will be their secret weapon to help them adapt to unforeseen change and to flourish in the unpredictable future ahead. The deeper their relationship with music, and with their own unique creative expression, the more likely they'll be able to transform that future into a life of personally fulfilling and deeply resonating human experiences.
One of the ways creativity makes us more adaptable is that it helps us to be more resourceful, especially when we are lacking in other kinds of resources. The creators of the Landfill Harmonic in Paraguay are an inspiring example. They created all the instruments to start a classical orchestra out of discarded junk from the local dump. And it worked. Not only did their need to express themselves through music, despite lacking the resources to buy instruments, drive them to come up with a highly creative solution; but that solution provided the opportunity to play music together, which will ultimately help the participants cultivate even higher levels of creativity and fulfillment.
Other than learning to play an instrument, what other musical activities enhance our creative potential?
Singing is a powerful path. Another is simply learning to listen more mindfully, and heighten our ability to tune into that which we cannot see. Beyond the creative expression, adding music to movement -- like dance or even sports, can increase both our physical performance and our intelligence. Combining other forms of creative expression -- like story, film or visual arts -- with music, or even recognizing the musical nature inherent in those forms, can open us up to a whole new range of creative ideas.
One of my favorite composition teachers used to send us to the museum to study paintings by the great classical masters. Through their visual masterpieces we could learn nearly all the aspects of good composition, like color (timbre), tone, phrasing, form, contour, and the use of foreground, mid-ground and background.
By introducing compelling stories, engaging characters and inspiring images, a great film can move us to new creative heights, especially when we add the emotional arch and sub-conscious narrative created by the musical score. The music itself can be the creative inspiration for visual artists and filmmakers. In the making of Disney's 1940 classic Fantasia, the first animated feature film set to music, Walt brought together the top animators he could find to visually express the music. His goal was to provide a new kind of experience through which more people could be inspired by and fall in love with music.
But what tools can we offer in today's busy high tech society to encourage creativity, imagination and musical expression?
Can a video game provide the key to fostering higher levels of creative expression and unlocking the door to the magical inner world of a child's imagination?
Although many musical traditionalists have posed the argument that video games are destroying the next generation's creative potential by taking them away from more traditional methods, like practicing a musical instrument or reading a book, a recent UK study showed us that most of the kids who learned to experience music through the world of video games, later went on to learn a musical instrument. The game actually provided many of them with a more accessible and less intimidating way to develop a positive relationship with music making.
While I'm not advocating for video games, nor technology, over other methods of musical and creative expression, the potential of highly engaging interactive experiences that can be created through game play and technology is starting to reveal itself in new and inspiring ways. I was recently introduced to one such experience in the next evolution of Walt's classic film -- an Xbox Kinect game called Fantasia: Music Evolved. I found it to be one of the most inspiring game platforms I have seen for kids to unleash their power of creative expression using music and animation. Not only does the player, replacing conductor Mickey in the original film, get to conduct and reconstruct the music, but they get to shape the actual scenes, ultimately outputting their own version of the film. I was so impressed, we decided to preview it at my recent roundtable Education: Disrupted -- Enhancing Creativity and Learning through Music, Media and Technology.
(Left to Right) Nolan Bushnell, Chris Nicholls and Frank Fitzpatrick pose together after a live demo of Disney's Fantasia: Music Evolved video game at Education: Disrupted, Photo by Wasim Muklashy
I often wonder what the creative genius of Einstein, Beethoven, or Da Vinci would unleash if they had the technologies that we have today. The more avenues and more engaging tools we can provide the next generation to tap into their imagination, to fall in love with music, and to express themselves in new and creative ways, the better the future will be for all of us.
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