14 November 2010

On performance

I have to confess that music is not a big part of my life. I am puzzled by people who go around with their ears plugged by pre-digested musical pap, isolated (and thus insulated) from the rest of the world. I can't help feeling that negates the point of music. Surely it's a beautiful (or at least organised) noise which enhances what life offers, rather than masks it.

I've just been watching a programme on Neil Diamond. Insofar as I have ever been a fan of a performer (as opposed to a composer ... leaving aside Frank, Bing, Ella, Peggy, Louis, Benny, Cleo ... OK, the argument breaks down) I quite like his work.

His repertoire is limited, mostly to his own compositions. I have great respect for that, and I'm not going to make any snarky remarks to detract from what he does.

But I am wondering about what it is like to perform the same material over and over again, for years. I see the listings of concerts and stand-up gigs, and hear the tales about "life on the road", but behind all that is the sheer grind of doing the same stuff over and over again. I and my colleagues are lucky; we may have to repeat a lecture two or three times within a week, but usually it doesn't then come round again for a year.

Perhaps it is because we are so privileged that we perpetuate this fiction about "reflective practice"?  That is merely an indulgence for people who are lucky enough to get to do something different every day, rather than variations on a basic theme--however sophisticated, skilful and state-of-the-art. The more specialised become the realities of practice--in personal injury litigation, or prostate surgery--the more routinised they become, (and the more they "belong" to a team or community of practice than an individual) and the less relevant  it becomes to reflect on them.


  1. I’ve often pondered the same thing about actors, although I realise this is a heresy. But really – what must it be like saying the same things night after night, for months on end in some cases? And they have to learn the lines for weeks ahead and then rehearse these lines over and over again before they get to repeat these lines over and over again when they perform in front of an audience. And if the role is small, then they have to spend night after night listening to someone else endlessly repeating the same words. And none of these words are their own words. At least the Neil Diamonds get to sing their own words.
    Perhaps this is why actors devote so much time to telling people about those funny moments when things went wrong on the night. A break in the endless routine!

  2. Less relevant to reflect on them and less to learn from them too. I guess that's why creativity gurus like De Bono etc have such a penchant for asking us to break our routines. Of course, if we're not careful, breaking routines becomes a habit too. It's a question of balance: too much routine and then there's nothing to reflect on, too much change and we become anxious and insecure.




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