Chapter I: Leading & Guiding

Transcript of Keynote Speech - NAIP Symposium on Leading & Guiding 2016
by Sean Gregory

 "Rhythm Melody Harmoney, People". A creative diagram by Sean Gregory.

"Rhythm Melody Harmoney, People". A creative diagram by Sean Gregory.

So thank you for having me. It’s a real privilege to be here and what I have heard and experienced this morning has been fantastic and gives me great faith. And why wouldn’t it, bearing in mind the people in the room and the work that’s been talked about? But, as I’m going to come onto quite quickly, like all of us, I’m on a personal journey, and sometimes we feel closer to things, and sometimes we might feel one or two steps removed from it. Not in here, but in your day-to-day life. And today has been a really powerful opportunity for me, to completely reconnect with what this work is, why we’re doing it, and to think about what it could be into the future. And that’s a very good springboard for what I’d like to talk to you about this afternoon.

Just to give the briefest of lead-up, and forgive me if you know the story already behind this symposium, but I wanted first to give a slightly personal perspective on why I’m here today. I was involved in the early stages of the thinking about and then putting together of the Joint Master’s – the NAIP program, as we know it – when I was sort of in the heyday of the Guildhall Connect programme, again, which I’ll talk about in a moment. And once the program was up and running, at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where I work, I remained connected to it, engaged with it, but not actually running any parts of the program – partly because we have our own version, with similarities and differences through our Leadership Masters program; but also because of the joys of – and this is very relevant, for the moment – the differences between UK accreditation and financial systems with the rest of Europe. And you know, we talk about the bureaucracy that Europe as an entity creates: well, the bureaucracy not being quite inside Europe that is already created for the UK is just even worse, so heaven knows what happens if we end up outside, which I sincerely hope we don’t. Because I think our connection to this...it’s not just the programme and the mechanisms of making something like NAIP and the joint Master’s happen; the most important part is the process and thinking behind it, the sharing of values and principles. And, again, this morning, beyond Europe, of course, with Eiko Azuma from Japan, who gave the most glorious insight into the different rhythms and the different feels and ways that we are going about this work. And that is obviously defined by our cultures, our nationalities, the people within it and the societies there. Long may this continue.

So, we remained in touch with NAIP, and then as a result of some further EU funding that came towards the Joint Masters, Guildhall were kindly re-invited back in to the frame to be part of some really interesting discussions that have been going on around curriculum development, research, and other things. And about a year or fifteen months ago, I think it was, I came to The Hague for the first of the curriculum group meetings. And, again, that was a real pleasure in amongst the busy-ness. We’re always, always busy. And, as usual, I hadn’t given the meeting much thought until I got on the plane. But when I arrived and then went into the room where the meeting was happening, once again, as soon as you’re with people that you know – and love, actually – for who they are and what they’re about, it all comes flooding back. And forgive me if I’m being a bit personal here, but I’m increasingly realising it’s important to keep one’s own personal connection with this work alive at all times.

Through that first meeting, which ran over two days, whilst talking again about some of the more technical and practical things about what should be in the curriculum, what could be developed, whether this could become even more integrated as a Joint Masters, we got onto a whole discussion about the Leading and Guiding module, which is one of several modules that exists within the program. And I found myself quite quickly becoming very passionate about what this particular area is and could still be, and I felt a need to revisit it. Whether one can also not only describe the work and what the exercises and what the process is about, but whether one can also capture it in a way that remains truthful to what the work is about and its constant evolution. This would help all of us in the room, as people who are thinking about this work a lot. But, for me, and even more importantly for people outside that world, to really begin to get and understand what this work is about and why it’s so important for everyone to have an opportunity to engage with music making. I’m in a world where we’re always throwing out the rhetoric and the generalities about the importance of music, the importance of access to the arts for everyone. I believe in those things, but they can become meaningless very quickly. But actually there is something about this process, this way of working, the sense of community that you get from this type of work, that is really distinctive, and goes much further and much deeper in terms of drawing people in on a human level as much as on a musical or artistic level.

So that was a very long-winded way of saying we decided to try and create something far wider for public consumption. We still don’t quite know what to call it – something along the lines of a handbook, or a guide, about this work.  And we’re still in discussion on what exactly that output is going to look like. It’ll be probably a mixture of digital and film and writing. And this is part of that process. I know that is not the sole purpose of this week, but it is really helping to inform how we might capture some of what we’re talking about.

So what I wanted to focus on today’s session was very much about the essence of the work, and what it is and what lies at the heart of it – the art of it, almost – as we go on and do it. Just quickly coming back to the journey where I’ve got to now. I, having spent many, many years as a practitioner myself, a musician, a composer, a leader, and doing many, many different projects and workshops, and moving back into the Guildhall, working with Peter Renshaw, and then gradually taking on more managerial responsibility. I’ve found myself not doing the work so much, which has been another great part of being able to reconnect with this process in the way I’ve been describing. But as I’ve moved away from it in one sense – i.e. not necessarily being a practising musician on a regular basis, and leading and guiding in the way we’re talking about – I don’t feel that my connection with the values and principles and sensibilities of that work has ever left me. And as I even look at my role now, which is sort of uber-management, in a way, across the Barbican and the Guildhall: a lot of strategy work and thinking, a lot of day-to-day mechanisms of institutions and organisations. But suffice to say it’s one big workshop to me. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. I’m not thinking as a workshop leader all the time, but it’s quite interesting, because just recently, as I’ve engaged with this thinking and work again, and as, actually, just personally, I’ve been questioning where I am in terms of my own personal journey – dare I say even career and professional development. You know, does one keep going higher and higher, or flattening out more and more, and taking on more and more responsibility. And with that, thinking about: ‘How can I reconnect with the practise and the work without necessarily going back purely to being a workshop leader?’ In some ways I’d love to do that, but it’s that constant thing of wanting to feel you’re evolving and developing and contributing to the evolution and development of this work, whilst at the same time remaining utterly connected to the reality and the principles of it as well. So that’s a rather long prelude, but just to say this is where I am at with it all, and what I hope I can share with you.

Having said what I’ve just said, I’ve just a couple of other thoughts, and then I’m going to come to the drawing I’ve handed out to you. There are three words, having said what I’ve said about leadership, creative leadership, workshop leading, whatever you want to call it, and three key words still remain very true to me, and really rung out for me this morning, hearing everything.

So the first word is obviously ‘creativity.’ This sense of: for us to get on in life, for us all to work together, recognizing the value a creative, live, dynamic creative ‘workshop’ environment can bring to us, whatever we’re involved with in our life. Even if it’s a meeting, you don’t just want a bureaucratic ‘paper-led’ meeting. You want something that’s alive, having everyone on board, and helping to move things on.

The second one is ‘connectivity’.

I’m giving very obvious words here. The connectivity of a workshop experience; the connectivity that one wants when leading and guiding creative processes; the connectivity one wants amongst people. And again, speaking for now, what’s become increasingly important to me is the connectivity between organisations.

An overused word is ‘partnership’. We’re all in partnership now, in some way. But, actually, again, if you get underneath that word and really start to explore what connected partnership working is really about: processes that are genuinely two-way, that are mutually beneficial, that help everyone to move on and do something even better together than you can do on your own, then you really start to develop and evolve and emerge new ideas and new practises, innovate, take risks. Again, a lot of the things talked about this morning.

So ‘creativity’, ‘connectivity’ and then the third word, which is ‘community’. And I’ve had a very interesting journey with that word over the years. When I started this work, it was sort of, and again, forgive me if I’m talking very generally: the word ‘community’, in terms of ‘community arts’, was almost starting to go out of fashion. It had come very much through the social and political imperatives of the sixties and seventies, as I was growing up, and I think by the 1980s, and as new imperatives began, through what Peter Renshaw, for example, was doing at Guildhall, but what was also happening elsewhere in education and in the arts more generally. The sense of what the community arts world was about was beginning to feel slightly outdated, outmoded, or just dare I say even stuck in one place and not moving on. Now, what I’m sensing at the moment, in what is a difficult time, and actually the 1980s were a difficult time. I was coming out of my student life and hearing Peter talking about the challenges that lay before us as organisations and as individuals. And you know, it was the height of the Thatcher era, and things were being cut back, and everything was ‘changing’. Well it wasn’t just changing, because I think we’re all in agreement change is good, change is a force for the better, but if it’s change that’s happening without consultation, without regard for what’s actually out there and where the need is, that is a poor start. So of course, there were things quickly being turned around by people like Peter Renshaw, to find the positives and the opportunities. And I heard Peter say that to someone this morning: where the space and the opportunity lies so that you can start to grow new things. And the rest is history, as they say. I won’t go over that: over the last thirty years, the way this work has grown and developed. But it feels we’re really asking ourselves a lot of questions at the moment about what we do and why we do it. Where what we do currently sits in the wider scheme of things. And it’s being asked of us, again, be it by government, by policy-makers, by funders. And that’s an unnerving thing. It’s a thing that makes us unsure about what the lifespan of this work is, and whether this work can keep going, or this ensemble can keep going. And again, we’re at a point, I think, where we need to have confidence about what this is all about. The idea is strong. It remains strong. It remains dynamic. It continues to change.

I guess one of my over-riding questions is: What if we were to regard these first thirty years, dare I say, of this field of work, as the foundation? We have laid a strong foundation. And that foundation is defined very much by the people involved, the commitment, the spirit of the work, what it is about and the ethics behind it. I won’t give all the words, but all of them are powerful human forces that require people to work and think together, not in silos and just as individuals and small groups. It’s very easy to become rather idealistic about it, but I genuinely believe we carry that with us into this next phase, and we are into a period where we can refresh and renew and build new possibilities, while bringing other things with us that we know work and should be part of that future landscape. Of course, the other side: ‘Yes, but if there’s no money, where on earth is that going to come from?’ But I would argue that there is always space for good ideas and good approaches, and what I’ve been hearing this morning is a great representation of that.

So, having said all that, and referring back to the essence of this work and how we begin to define and capture it so more people understand it, I’ve just spent a little bit of time, and through conversations with Renee (Jonker), Guy (Wood), Detta (Danford), and others, thinking: What lies at the heart of this work and of the skills, the sensibilities and the approaches behind musicians, artists, leading and guiding in collaborative, socially engaged, participatory settings? If I could just refer you to the large sheet for the moment (see pdf attachment), which is the big A3 diagram in colour. And the first thing I’m going to say is, obviously, this is a personal response. It’s always the rider. This is not the new methodology, the new prescription of ‘this is what you need to do.’ And goodness knows that’s what we are all struggling with and pushing back on, often, when we’re asked to write up what we just did in that project or that particular workshop. I, as you can see, took a visual approach.

Now, at the heart of it, the starting point, which I’ll come back to in a minute, I just sort of went to the fundamentals of music. If we just take rhythm, melody, and harmony as a starting point, which have been a starting point for some of the discussions we’ve been having around the handbook.

I’ll take you from the top left of the illustration, where – and forgive me for my bad writing – but I will sort of walk us through it almost as a way of just setting a texture for us to discuss through.

So right round the outside here, we’ve got these connected things of ‘artistic’, ‘identity’, ‘shared’, and ‘social’. That’s circling the whole thing. None of this is exhaustive, but these are some key words for me. For me, the heart of the matter of what this work is about is how we, as musicians and leaders, connect to people, to the place, and to the purpose of what we’re doing. Thinking more generally about what music is to us, as a society, as human beings. We are conditioned to respond to music, I would argue, as we could see, fantastically, in the film this morning with the mother and baby. Again, there is no one way of doing this, but if you just take the principle of parent-child, heartbeat and rocking, the connection one feels, and I think some cultures are more connected to that connection perhaps than others, and it’s all down to the speed and the rate of our societies and how much time we take to connect those things. The impulse of music - our impulse and need, to sing, play, and dance. This fundamental human right that has been written about many times - that music is a right and a necessity, and that our disconnect from this experience has come through ingrained perceptions of those who ‘can’ or those who ‘can’t’. Either you can do music: ‘Oh, I’m musical – or I’m not.’

I wanted to get back to the pure, basic principles of almost why I’m doing what I do, and what it was that enlightened me.  Having had years of musical training, the moment I went into my audition for what was then the Guildhall School’s Performance Communication Skills course and did a workshop as part of my audition, that was probably one of the first moments I felt connected to ‘this is why I want to do music.’ And I think we’ve probably all got those moments for ourselves. This combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the fear that can come with that, and actually how these environments that we talk about, and that we lead and guide people through, can allow those things to be introduced – the familiar and the unfamiliar. But you feel that you’re in a safe place in order to experience those things, to take risks, to try things out that you haven’t tried before, whether you’re a musician or whether you’re not a musician; whether you’ve improvised before or whether you haven’t improvised before; whether you’ve played away from repertoire or haven’t. And by doing that, we are removing barriers. Music essentially effects change by touching humanity.

So from that, as we think about the environment we play into, we’re talking, I think, about a level playing field. An environment where you can find your voice as long as it’s being led, guided and facilitated in the right way. There’s no fixed method to how you do this. I’d say it emerges, and that’s always what’s excited me about this work. Of course, we may have our starting points to catalyse or stimulate some creative thinking or some ideas, but essentially it comes through the people in that moment in that place. And, again, through that environment; through the right facilitation, mutual trust – there is trust all around, and I heard that word this morning more than once – it fuels the process. It accelerates that sense of newness, innovation, trying things, innovating. But it happens as part of a process rather than: ‘This is the moment we’re going to become risk-takers or innovators.’

Through that, you get active engagement; you find your way to fresh, vital, natural sounds. I got that this morning from the house band – a wonderful sense of empathy. What do we actually mean by empathy? Well, maybe it means the ability to feel what someone else feels, and to recognise that in the moment, and to respond, through words, through music, through movement, whatever.

I’m going to go to the top right (see attachment). Thinking of those key areas, core principles:

‘Rhythm’ itself – again, broad headlines, generic statement – is part of nature, and it governs our lives. Or it should, perhaps, govern our lives more than it does for some of us. It projects our need to participate. This is rhythm. It projects our need to participate. The narrative lies within us, and rhythm of things can bring that out. Rhythm is everything. It’s “walking, breathing, speaking” (in the words of Eiko). It is the difference between life and death.

‘Melody’, it’s the most...single most important and elusive element in music. It says something that isn’t tied to language. Melody is a form of expression not tied down by the modification of language.

‘Harmony’: harmony and community; colour and depth. ‘Harmony’ moves us towards what we dare imagine. Something beyond what we would normally think about and do.

So forgive the slightly religious look to this illustration (see PDF). Whether it’s the Star of David or an Indian symbol ... it wasn’t intended, but I guess, and again, this is just one ‘take’: it would be really interesting to hear how this gets unravelled by you when we go into discussion. Rhythm, melody, harmony. That sort of tri-thing. That thing in three. Compound rhythm, the essence of rhythm, thinking of it from a folkloric point of view, a lot of that rhythm is compound. It’s in three. Out of which comes melody and harmony.

Now, one discussion we had when talking about those core elements – this is Renee, Detta, Guy, and I – was when Renee threw in: ‘Oh, shall we have a fourth one? Texture?’ and one or two other words started to come into play, and having thought about it, at this point, I was keen to keep that sort of molecule, that triangular thing. And then actually, I thought: ‘Well maybe there’s a mirror to that, which comes to that.’ So mirroring that, from the other way, you’ve got ‘texture’ and all that you can read into that. ‘Form’, because form tends to emerge from the work we do as leaders and guiders in those moments. We shape things, whether it’s in the moment or gradually over a period of time.

I had several goes at this other word, and in the end I came out with ‘spirit’. ‘Spiritual’. This is a word I can shy away from, because that can throw up all sorts of things. Having just acknowledged there’s a slight religious connotation to this visualisation anyway, I don’t mean it in those terms. And, again, forgive me for saying what you may know, stating the obvious, “The spirit in music” and cultures. I remember, very much through Peter, a wonderful project with musicians in Tanzania, who don’t, as we know with many other cultures, don’t talk just about music. It’s much more holistic than that. Straight after one improvisation we were all doing, one of the musicians, Cassius, talked about – I can’t remember the exact word – something like ‘mizuka’. And it was just the spirit was there. And of course, in today’s modern world, we can think: ‘Oh, yeah, that’s all a bit old hat.’ But actually the human spirit, and the connectivity and creativity and sense of community that comes, for me, spirit is the backbone to that. It’s what you give out, it’s what you receive, between people and beyond.

So that’s that bit, and then quickly moving in I just got a bit creative then. This is a very elongated way of putting it. But I was trying to cover what I think we’re trying to write about in this handbook. The art of Leading and Guiding in creative, collaborative music making. Now, again, a point of discussion, but I’ve deliberately put the word ‘the art’, or the words ‘the arts’. It might not be the right way to express it, but I’ve heard many people today and many other times talk about the artistic imperative behind this. So with that artistic imperative comes the art of the work that emerges through this activity. And I think anything that is produced well through these processes are part of that artful experience.

‘People’ are at the heart of it. All of this. And from that we can pick up on the types of thing Peter’s written about a lot: the multifaceted roles that we take as leaders and guiders. As a composer, performer and improviser; as a curator, producer and arranger; as a facilitator and choreographer. We’re in the world now of working across art forms, which is really interesting, because I think this producing, curating role is as important as the skills that you have as a performer, composer – the more music-based skills – and how those things work together. And with that you connect, you listen, you respond as a leader. It’s part of the art.

A couple of other things. There’s this little cyclic thing going round, which has always interested me, and it’s something that I think is very distinctive and dare I say unique about this process, this way of working. You can embrace both the cyclic and linear side of this work, particularly within Western Culture. We talk about the linear nature of our culture, and the linear nature, even, of Western music, particularly Western classical music. And it tells a narrative; it forms a line. We have the capacity in this work to combine a linear approach to creating things and what the outputs are with the cyclic things that go round and deepen, and the cyclic nature of things sits very strongly in other cultures around the world. And I think the combination of the linear and the cyclic helps define the form and the shape of things that come out of this type of approach to making music.

And then, unapologetically linked to Peter and his writing a while ago, is where you’ve got these two lines going across. There’s the horizontal side to this work, and again I think there are lots of ways of interpreting that, but for me, it definitely is the vernacular. It’s the ability of this work to capture everything that’s out there in that moment. You could call it ‘street culture’; you could call it ‘popular culture’. It’s what people bring into the room; it’s what they’re into; it’s what they come up with; it’s the immediacy. And at the heart, I think, it’s folk. It’s people. It’s the folkloric thing. There’s ‘folk’ in the traditional sense of the word, but there’s ‘folk’ in terms of people and their identity and what they have. Some of that might be informed by what they hear and see on a daily basis; some of it is absolutely from them, and comes out as something new.

Again, combining things. You’ve got that combined with the vertical, which is where you start to think from the ground up. Where you start to transcend things. And, of course, there are big debates about the role of the arts and music in society. And I think, again, it gets too bogged down in the world of traditions and the assumptions they carry. Classical music should be there because it transcends everything. It takes us to a higher place. As do many other musics, and a lot of the music that comes out of this type of creative, collaborative processes can be transcendental, it says things that can’t be said through words, and it connects with audiences like I rarely experience elsewhere, including more ‘normal’ concert environments. So the combination of the horizontal and the vertical.

I just wanted to put this out there as a starting point for what might be part of this guidebook, trying to get to the heart of what it’s about. I just wanted to say one more thing. The roots of rhythm, melody, and harmony, the way those terms are often described and analysed, and have been over many decades – even centuries now – is usually coming out of a particular genre or canon. When bringing all of those elements together, I mean to do it in the broadest and deepest possible way. The way, for example, bluegrass, celtic, samba, western or indian classical music , to name but a few, draw on and pull on these elements. All of these ‘styles’ count, how rhythm, melody and harmony are approached and felt - each and every one of those are valid, and I think this creative collaborative workshop process has a very powerful way of approaching those core things beyond ‘canon’ or ‘genre’ and producing things that are different and new.

The last bit – I’m moving into the coda now – going to the bottom right, is then to the practitioner. The leader. The leader, guider, musician. And I guess one question, just for thought, is: ‘Where does the leader sit in all of this?’ Even when I was trying pick a place in the illustration: ‘Oh, where does the leader go?’ in the end I didn’t write it, because I thought: ‘I’m not sure I can put him or her or that group who are leaders in just one place.’ That’s something that’s so interesting. Whether you’re leading from the front, or from within, or alongside, leading through words, through signs, through signals, through your instrument, or just literally sitting on the side and not doing anything. All of that is valid. But what are the values and the principles and the skills, even?

So ‘leaders who understand the variables’- this is towards the right (see pdf); ‘the profile of participants’, ‘social and cultural contexts from within’, ‘leaders, guiders of musicians, who understand the interconnected elements of a creative and collaborative process’. And with that comes ‘high-quality artistic practice that delivers social outcomes, improvements in well-being, in health, in community cohesion, and in social justice’. And those last few words are definitely not from me. I believe that they come from Peter, and actually he’s written many things, as we know, over the years, but there’s one book he wrote more recently called Being – In Tune. What I’ve done as a reference point, is take Peter’s many definitions of what is quality, what’s good practice, what skills do an artist or a musician and a leader need. Well, I actually just pulled off one pretty comprehensive list, and it’s on both sides (see attachment), that covers artistic qualities, interpersonal skills, creative skills communication skills, and attitudes. And I think the big challenge for us, as we refresh, renew, keep moving on, look ahead, is how we really connect that writing and that thinking, that framework, that frame of reference, and what it is saying, the challenges that sets out, with the actual doing, and how one begins to recognize, capture, and, where necessary, to tick those boxes and measure the value and the impact of that work.

So I’ll just finish with these questions;

What is the future of this work? Holding onto this - how do we define it? And I mean: How do we define it particularly musically and through the practise of the work. I guess with that, should we define it? How far should we define it? And when defining it, is it through community? Is it through ensembles, through artists, through policy? Or is it some of all of those things? And I guess the very last question I wanted to throw out. What do we hold on to, and what do we potentially let go of in order to move things onto that next stage?

I think that’s it for the moment.

Sean Gregory, The Hague, 12 May 2016