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Javier Orman

The Importance of Being Childish

October 12, 2012 at 6:21 AM

I have put in 10,000 hours. I have played recitals and concertos. I'm a professional musician. But, lately, I’ve been going back, way back, to when I was a kid.

See, I've always put my imagination into whatever music I was playing at the time, whether it was changing things up in the Mendelssohn Concerto cadenza, performing Bach's Ciaccona (Chaconne) with a modern choreography, or improvising on Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" with Entropy Ensemble and Christopher O'Riley. But at some point, I decided that wasn’t enough.

For the last 15 months, I've been writing, recording and performing with guitarist Tom Farrell. Together (Dúo del Sol), we play music. Yes, we play music. That means that every time we meet, there are dangerous quantities of imagination, intuition, innovation and crazy ideas. How about a reggae groove? Singing while drumming on our instruments? What if I play play the violin like a guitar or a ukelele? What if I create distortion and feedback like an electric guitarist with my bow? In a way, when we create, we become children all over again.

We also surround ourselves and collaborate with artists that share our quest for artistic adventure. From putting on an old-circus-themed show with Dallas-based artist Michele Mikesell, to performing whole improvised songs with Los Angeles' classy/dirty band Magnolia Memoir, to whipping up nostalgic and delusional waltzes with accordionist Oscar Rospide, we love new musical happenings and we are always open to them.

As a teacher, I not only try to remind my students to work hard, but also to not take themselves too seriously. The ones that have the best understanding of music (as a whole, not just technique) are those who get together with friends to play, pick up songs from the radio (or iTunes), make up their own tunes, play other instruments and, of course, do their homework. Playing violin involves innumerable simultaneous tasks, so it's easy to get lost or stuck. But the best way to learn is by play and exploration under patient guidance.

I've been fortunate to meet violin teachers and performers who are at the vanguard of this philosophy: Mark Wood, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Margaret Lysy (Sol-La Music Academy), Robert Anderson (String Project LA), Mark O'Connor and Pam Wiley are just a few of them. Unfortunately, not enough. I've met a lot more musicians who have forgotten how to search for special moments of deep and beautiful musical connections through exploration, openness and a sense of wonder.

Why are there so many more in the second, less exciting category of musicians? Is it the fault of conservatories, orchestras, or the Classical music world's rigidity? Or is it a larger, more general issue of the music world or even the society that we live in? If you have an easy answer, you're probably overlooking something. What I do know is that curiosity is contagious and, as performers and teachers, we hold the key to spreading it.

Here is what I propose:
If you are a teacher, let the student’s imagination into the class. In fact, build the class around it.
If you are a student, be proactively curious. Take time to think and explore. Then, bring a million ‘what if’s to the next lesson.
If you are a performer, be open to finding new dimensions of yourself. When you share a new discovery, your excitement is ours.

Plenty has been said about how most education systems neglect and therefore damage our ability to be creative, an ability that we used constantly as children (you’ve watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, right?). Yes, the system needs to change. But that's not going to happen until we change.


From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 12, 2012 at 3:53 PM
As long as one cultivates those qualities of childishness such as imagination, curiosity, willingness to try new things...and not the qualities of childishness such as name-calling, cutting people down, suspecting that the entire world revolves around you and your ideas, etc. !!! ;)

I've seen you teach, Javier, and you do put a lot of fun into it! Definitely all the good qualities of childishness, mixed with adult maturity!

From Javier Orman
Posted on October 12, 2012 at 4:34 PM
Thanks, Laurie, for letting me use this platform. This is my first blogpost ever, so I guess I'm officially at least 5 years behind the times...
From marjory lange
Posted on October 12, 2012 at 5:46 PM
I love the idea of maintaining a childLIKE attitude toward whatever a person does. A childISH attitude, however, is not so good for anyone. Mere semantics? no, because language is what we have to communicate these ideas; the wrong word can be meaningless or detrimental (remember the 'niggardly' problem a few years ago...)
From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 13, 2012 at 9:12 PM
Up until the early 20th century the great violinists were at least decent arrangers (Szigeti, Heifetz, Milstein) if not composers ( Paganini, Joachim, Ysaye, Kreisler). I have heard that solfege and rigorous ear training were once essential parts of a classical education. Now "serious" ear training starts in college and is a a course to get through. My point is that classical training isn't the problem but rather ithe lack of classical training.

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