Insight: ensemble performance is like a conversation in which everyone can speak about the same topic at the same time and the result makes sense.
In conversation there is:
- A narrative thread – a connective tissue of meaning (or at least the expectation of one) which amounts to a certain continuity of content
- Immersion in a shared field of meaning that stimulates thought
- A certain self-perpetuating though finite energy (the conversation has a certain life of its own)
- A social subtext (a network of relationships)
- A desire to understand and to be understood which means that language itself is always a concern insofar what is meant and what is said aren’t necessarily the same.
- Certain general guiding principals/rules:
- speak one at a time (which introduces the difficulty of balancing attention between the thoughts being expressed and one’s own forming thoughts.)
- what you say next should have something to do with what was just said
Where the conversation analogy applies
In music the narrative threads are compositional; are relatively prescribed, based on time signature, key signature, modality, tempo, melodic construction, rhythmic motif all of which contribute to a relatively coherent gestalt (or palette) of mood(s) and ideas. The performers are immersed in a gestalt – a shared field of meaning – that offers a certain self-perpetuating though finite energy inspiring the performance.
And always at issue is the network of relationships among the musicians, though often for the sake of the music.
Where the conversation analogy fall short
- One point of difference is a matter of emphasis: music inspires greater personal investment in its creation leading to greater motivation toward cooperation than most conversation topics do. The question is: what is it about music that brings this about?
- Musical performance, being based in time, rhythm and mood is more bodily and is hence able to express what exceeds words. And being mostly non-verbal sidesteps the barriers to understanding inherent in spoken language.
- In conversation, the social interaction generally takes priority, opening the possibility of “chit-chat” where the topical content is relative unimportant but the social interaction is. The social situation is always at issue. In ensemble performance, the creation of music generally takes priority over (and even requires putting aside to some degree) the social situation. The motivation for maintaining good relationships among fellow performers is more commonly derived from their shared commitment to the music.
- In conversion we take turns speaking. There is prescribed rhythm of interaction between listening and speaking. In ensemble performance there is an ebb and flow to which instruments come to the fore but it is common for all to be making sound at the same time. Listening and “speaking” are simultaneous.
- In conversation, listening requires attending simultaneously to what is being said and what one might say next. In ensemble performance, holding back as other instruments come to the fore is much less because there are still ways to actively participate.