Saturday, April 16, 2011
"Memory, and yet deeper than memory: the memory of the trans-personal, the memory of time itself: it used to be called "history", but what will we call it in the future? The Accounts? The Lore? The Evidences? The Tale? Who knows. I for one won't be calling it "history". I want to fit our awareness of becomming into a bigger set of understandings than the mere idea of warring factions winning and losing battles with one another, then inventing a History to justify it." -PD
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Between an orchestra
And an audience
In a hall
The conductor responds to two populations at once, and a physical space. Her first responsibility is to the orchestra. The relationship between the conductor and the orchestra will be referred to as relationship 1, characterized by a performance, collaboration, interdependence, and a task.
Similarly and differently:
The duty of the Social Practitioner
The common social practitioner carefully selects an audience who is different than the common ticket buyers, and this audience will be active within her new project. We will refer to this active audience as the orchestra. Though the social practitioner has invited the orchestra to perform, she is not going to entertain them, pay them, or control them. She invites the orchestra to define the project.
It seems ridiculous that a social practitioner would work with an orchestra. For this reason we will refer to her as a conductor—so be it. The relationship between the conductor and her selected group of participants is based on a common goal—the project.
We will call the public unveiling of the project the concert. In this model, the orchestra will be active and attentive in a situation where they are chosen for the quality of sound they produce and its relevance to the conductor’s song. The conductor often creates a structure for participation in or around a rehearsal schedule.
The production of a conductor often begins with research based on personal interest or longing. Based on her quest, she will propose a program to an Institution or a Venue. She may or may not have been invited to submit said proposal. In the proposal she defines the basic structure of the work— for the sake of this extended metaphor, she describes a series of songs performed by an orchestra over the duration of a weekend to Carnegie Hall. In her proposal, she informs the committee that her research has led her to these songs because of their rich and obscure history, for example, and because it originated in the town next to that of her great-great-great-grandfather. Her submission does not include the complex process of finding her orchestra, designing and negotiating how they will play their instruments, or that she does not actually know exactly how the piece will sound.
As she holds auditions for the orchestra, she performs her chosen self, whether it is her ‘genuine’ self or another character. This self shifts with every project. The way a conductor models herself from the audition to concert sets the tone for the collaboration, representing the type of action, interdependence, rigor and comedy that the musicians will take on. Perhaps she wears a tuxedo to auditions.
The conductor unifies performers, sets the tempo, executes clear preparations and beats, and listens critically in order to shape the sound of the ensemble. In rehearsal, she listens closely to the qualities naturally present in the sound of the musicians, always referencing her original research for guidance. She is attempting to invent a system for the people playing their instruments to create a sound that is entirely theirs, and simultaneously to honor the song and its context (which was written for different people, with different instruments). In the process of listening to the orchestra, the conductor develops an intimate understanding of the musicians, and she forms the arrangement of the song around their sound. A long series of rehearsals leading to a concert builds a complex relationship between the conductor and the musicians, and at best, interdependence happens. This relationship is represented by the staged re-enactment at the concert.
On stage the conductor represents leadership and continuity, as it has been cultivated in rehearsal. The orchestra knows what to do when they are on stage. During the final performance, which we have been referencing as the concert, she gives visual cues to support and elevate feelings and sounds already familiar to the performers. If the conductor wasn’t there for the performance, the concert could go on. Why is she still there?
The language of the conductor in concert is typically created with body movements, specifically the waving of hands and wands. One hand often keeps tempo while the other might indicate pitch or punctuation. Communication is non-verbal during a performance—this is a melodramatic performance of absolute leadership, but do not be fooled! She is not mute! In rehearsal frequent interruptions by the conductor allow for verbal interactions. The face is also an important source of instruction—eyebrow manipulation and the force of the eye, as well as jaw action, indicate spirit and intensity. This language might offer cues for speed, tempo, or intensity. It is cultivated as a temporary dialect that is buried in a piece, specific to the song or the group of musicians.
The conductor’s instructions and actions are most affective when they are consistent and clear, and when that happens, a form for the relationship between conductor and musician can be built, trusted, and manipulated. Good rapport is essential, so that the orchestra members feel comfortable and confident in their abilities to provide meaningful contributions to the collective sound. The orchestra performs as one, but individual musicians must be able to experience the music and play autonomously, so that they can practice at home.
The relationship of the conductor to her live audience will be called relationship 2.
The audience sees the back of the conductor. The conductor does not perform to the audience directly, though her ticket sales and appreciation from her public will win her success and money. She speaks indirectly-- through the orchestra.
In Relationship 2, the conductor deceives the audience. They accept an illusion: that this performance is a live collaboration between the orchestra and the conductor. Along with this concession, the audience also accepts that they do not understand the nature of the relationship between the conductor and the orchestra or the narrative behind the piece that they are witnessing. There is no trace of, nor an opportunity to question what the interpersonal conflicts or struggles were that led to this public presentation of the piece. There is willingness among the audience to misunderstand, or not understand, and then to witness the results of a possibly long-term collaboration.
To the orchestra, the concert performance acts mainly as evidence and evaluation of the work accomplished rehearsals; but to the audience, the performance is the only thing. As we have previously discussed, the function of the on-stage relationship between the conductor and the orchestra is to make the performance of conducting-- specifically, the management of the group on stage-- look dramatic and vital when, in actuality, the orchestrated performers already know very well what to do. The conductor is making the rhythm of the music and the sounds visible for all to see, though she must look as if she is primarily performing this dance for the orchestra, who are playing along with the facade that they are fully dependent upon the arm-waving cues to inform the spirit and pace of the piece. Thus, the conductor’s body faces the orchestra, while her back is to the audience. The audience needs this. Their evaluation of the choreography of the rhetorical instructions to the orchestra is based on the quality of the sound produced. They understand the symbolic presence on stage of the conductor. They are happy to see her back as she reenacts her work.
With her back to the audience, the conductor turns her face away from those that buy the tickets. Her work on stage is to signify her real work, which is finished now. She is not valued for her personality, her stage presence, her choreography. The sounds produced through her labors are not about her. She did not write the music that is being played. The conductor did not create a sound by rubbing things together, blowing or plucking anything. Is she a musician, is she an organizer, is she a performer, or is she just a figurehead?
Her relationship with the space will be called relationship 3.
The space where the orchestra is seen is always a place, sometimes even an entity, with specific expectations and requirements, a relationship to a funding source that might necessitate a bureaucracy as well as an architectural form. The form affects the performance and experience of the orchestra with specific aesthetic and sound qualities.
As described in relationship 1, the process of developing an orchestral project began for the conductor when she sent a proposal, possibly unsolicited, to an Institution or Venue that she has been following, in this case Carnegie Hall. Based on their mission statement it seemed they might support projects like hers. She was seeking fiscal support and a place to rehearse, perform. She was also seeking a publicity campaign, managed by the marketing department, funded by the Institution, with access to the large mailing list.
The conductor knows that the space affects the meaning of the performance. The qualities of the physical space, as well as its history, attract a specific type of audience.
Our conductor must transform out of her role as orchestra leader when she interacts with the Institution or Venue. She must perform the role of a responsible, organized, and accomplished professional. In this character, she must clearly explain her project (playing a few songs from the town next to her great-great-great-grandpa’s village) in a way that the administration will appreciate and understand as practical, organized, and relevant to their mission statement.
The negotiation between the creative processes within the orchestra and the bureaucratic rigidity of an Institution trains the conductor as a diplomat. The self-promotion, communication, inspiration, collaboration, and relationships that develop all the while with her back to her audience is a performance of many selves and for many audiences. The social practitioner who is the conductor, who was accidentally trained as a diplomat, is moving through borders that define function, class, attitude, and intention. She is always being something. She is probably always running a little late.