Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jan Hendrickse

I don't know if you have figured this out about my class schedule yet, but it is set up more in terms of 'times you should be available' rather than as specific classes at specific times. For the past three weeks-ish we have been working with Jan Hendrickse on Tuesday mornings. These classes/seminars/lectures have been the first ones that we have had that are not experience based, but are instead more theoretical. So we sit in desks as opposed to standing in a circle. (We're still in a circle though, circles are very big in the professional development department.) I don't think I've talked about the classes much yet, and if I have it certainly hasn't been in a whole lot of depth because each one we have blows my mind a bit and then I am reeling for a couple of days -full of all sorts of information and new ways of thinking about what it is that we are/I am doing here.

So here is my slight attempt to get a little bit of this into words:

Guildhall and the professional development department in particular are big on 'reflective practice' which basically means thinking about what you are doing so that you can explain why it is that you do what you do. Nice, right? It isn't something that I have had before- for pretty much my entire education so far I have done (basically) what my teachers have told me to do (okay, so I've always been stubborn and this is a gross oversimplification, but deal.) Practice scales, play this piece, this is how you play in an orchestra, the orchestra music is already chosen, follow what the conductor tells you to do, this is the proper way to play this particular excerpt, etc.

I have always had the feeling that if I were a *real* musician, I would not only have a mystical relationship to what I was playing, but I would practice all the time and then talk about how what I was doing I was doing for the love of it all and because I could express myself through music. I'm not saying it wasn't an actual feeling for other people, but it was never true for me, and certainly not in the structure of training to be an orchestral bass player, which is what I was doing. So instead of feeling devoted to music and like I was on a clear and well lit path I would seriously question why I was trying to be a musician. (I would roll off of beds I was sitting on and crouch in the corner trying to get away from family members who were trying to get me to say that I was a musician. Remember that? Not pleasant.)

This is a totally unfair portrayal of my education. I had a lovely time at Interlochen and Peabody and learned quite a lot, but these niggling feelings were always there and during bad periods the above is accurate. The definition of a 'musician' as I understood it (and rigidly defined it) really didn't fit me. It never had.

So Jan, who can be found at, had us listen to questions and then write down our answers. Questions like: 'what activities currently constitute your work?' Work being everything that makes me a musician or an artist (I get to be an artist? what?), what my practice is (not what I practice, but what I consider to be the totality of what I do.) See how these are already big questions? And that was just the first one. I think it will be helpful for my explanation if I just write all of the questions down- so here you go:

What activities currently constitute your work?
Are these activities changing?
Is there a big difference between your practice up to now and your practice in the future?
Is your creative practice very diverse?
What idea, theme, or activity is common to all the things you do?
What are the materials you use in your work?
Where do people interact with, participate, observe your work?
What sorts of things inspire you to work?
How would you like others to respond to your work?
What effect would you like your work to have in the larger world?
Why do you want it to be received in that way?
Did you at some stage make a positive choice to work in the way you do?
If so, why?
When do you feel the most creative?
When have you done your best work?
And why was it so good?
What factors have shaped your work?
If you are a performer in a particular style, genre, tradition- do you try to subvert it, add to it, develop it, fuse it to new traditions?
Do you have a good healthy relationship to that music or not? (Do you hate it? Resent it?)
What do you do differently from the way you were taught?
Do you like to collaborate or do you prefer to work alone? Why?
Do you care what other people think about what you do?
How much does it influence the way you do what you do?
Do you feel you are mainly inwardly directed or predominately reacting to outward stimuli?

So the point of all of this is to eventually get an artist's statement so that you can explain to people (funders, your very confused friends and family, yourself, etc.) what it is that you do and why you do what you do. Which is impressively powerful stuff, because then it means that rather than becoming an interchangeable instrumentalist (this is also unfair, but still) you can be hired because of what you uniquely do. Which is pretty awesome.

Here is where my mind has been blown: if I get to describe myself as an artist and that description can encompass the totality of what I do and what I consider my work then that means that I am not tied to the bass or any particular instrument (or even an instrument at all if it comes to that) and I can focus on everything I think is cool and interesting because there will be a thread that goes through it and the whole point is to be developing as an artist and I get a little incoherent at this point because I am so excited and overwhelmed by the implications of all this. A definition tailored to me? And I don't have to always feel mildly upset because I'm not living up to some sort of ideal that I didn't mean to sign up for? Nice.

A little about Jan for those of you who didn't head over to his website: (I've lifted this straight from his biography on his site)

"Jan Hendrickse is a composer and multi-instrumentalist specializing in traditional wind instruments. Recordings and performances have included work with Howard Shore, Ornette Coleman, Nitin Sawhney and Tunde Jegede amongst others. He has featured as a soloist in recordings and performances with The London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Ulster Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, BBC Concert Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Viva and musicians from the London Sinfonietta.

He is in demand for film, TV and theatre work, and film credits include ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Passion of the Christ’, ‘Apocalypto’, ‘Troy’, ‘Two Brothers’, ‘Beloved’, ‘The Cell’, ‘Chocolat’, ‘The Truth about Charlie’, ‘Four Feathers’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ amongst many others."

So Jan has already defined himself as something quite unique and is getting work because of it. Though the TV stuff, while cool and attention grabbing is by no means the totality of what he does. (For instance, he teaches us!) And your artist's statement can be constantly changing depending on how you are growing and what your focus is at that point in time. Jan is going back to school next year.


Matt said...

that looks like some thought-provoking questions: "Where do people interact" (at work/schools)?

that spawns even more questions: what is interaction?"
thanks for posting that, casey!!!

Anonymous said...

Casey -

Terrific post!!

You are now reaching for some very profound questions - and answers.

I urge you to think my favorite classical Greek play - Oedipus the King (though 'King' is a poor translation). If you have not read it recently, I suggest the following site:

Near the end of the play, the sad, destroyed figure of Oedipus comes on the stage having just blinded himself and says:

"Who am I, Where am I going, Who hears my voice"

Well, leaving aside all that leads up to that point, those do seem to me to be some of the most central questions that one can ask.

Keep digging!!!!!

Dan G

Casitareina said...

Matt- your comments make my day. :)
Grandpa- Thanks for the link! I'll check it out