Thursday, December 29, 2011

Facilitating Circle by Ear

I play piano by ear and sing harmony to almost every musical piece and anyone singing, so Stefon Harris' TED talk presentation really struck a chord with me and revealed how to best facilitate (and participate in) Circle. In fact, I didn't really think about the relevance of what it is I do when playing the piano by ear or harmonizing to music - until seeing this video. Now I understand more deeply how facilitating Circle alike 'playing by ear' is about listening deeply, paying attention to the subtleties going on, and creatively guiding what is taking place into something harmonious and/or desirable. It is also about trusting the process, opening oneself up to what the heart is communicating, and making space for creativity:

When I sit down to play the piano, I never know what it is I will be playing or what direction (tone palette) my fingers will take me, or the emotions that will lead them - I just sit down and channel a direct link from my heart to my fingers and go with it. I play until my soul is satisfied with what has been communicated, and I find this experience often healing, cathartic, and energizing. It is the process of 'creating' that I am referring to, rather than the actual musical score that manifests. In fact, I can often be self-critical of my musical creations, after all I am no Mozart. So I appreciate Stephon Harris' message that 'there are no mistakes on the bandstand', meaning there are no mistakes while creating music, only opportunities. Opportunity to create something meaningful from a diversity of tones and silent spaces between these tones, whatever musical composition or sound manifests. 

When a musical group works together, there is something musically delicious hearing a melody paired with perfect harmony. I more often than not choose to harmonize with others when singing together rather than taking the lead with the melody. This requires 'having an ear for it', listening deeply to the notes that others are voicing and singing a complimentary tone palette. Believe it or not, this also requires TEAMWORK. It can be tough and almost impossible to harmonize with one leading the melody if he/she goes all over the place with no mindfulness for harmony. Also, in my experience working with other singers, I find it most enjoyable when the role of 'center stage' rotates: one person takes the lead vocals and switches off to the next person, and so on - so each person can share their authentic singing voice, and each person alternatively takes turns listening more attentively. When jamming with other musicians (singing or playing instruments), no one likes a stage hog -  everyone brings something to the musical experience.  There needs to be room for each person to have a 'play' ('say') when jamming together. In fact, each person (and instrument), adds something unique/different to musical composition which manifests, that would be different otherwise if that person/instrument was not participating. Imagine how music changes when you add or take away a tuba, a clarinet, drums, violins, etc.  A desirable musical composition is diverse and creative in: what sounds (voices) are drawn out and how often; how these sounds (voices) blend with other sounds (voices) or stand alone; the timing of sound (voice) and the spaces of silence in between; and having an 'ear' for this all, to make a musical score manifest.

Understanding Circle facilitation/participation alike musical creation has given me much to meditate on. I find a sense of peace and comfort knowing I can lean on my experiences of playing the piano and singing harmony to help edify my skills as a Circle facilitator. That being said, I think I'm going to go and play the piano now...I have a craving for creativity and Circle tonight.


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