The Dangers of Creativity

I have written about creativity before here and to summarize, I do believe creativity is important – it can be and is taught in music lessons, but I am very skeptical of the claim that it can be taught independent of context as there is little evidence to support it is a directly transferable skill. If it was I would be a good cook and could draw something better than a stick man. I also said in my previous post that the most musically creative people I have met had one thing in common – they had acutely listened to wide range of music for a long time. Just like the best writers have read the most books, the best composers have listened to the most music.

This post is about what we can lose in Music Departments if we are focused completely on creativity. The context is a point that someone made to me recently that if there is no creative task in a music lesson, we shouldn’t be teaching it. This is a dangerous idea because much of what we do in Music is not creative but does lead to creativity. Large parts of the curriculum are not intrinsically creative – for example, learning the violin or recorder isn’t very creative, singing songs isn’t creative and putting on a musical where you tell everyone what to do is not a creative task for students. I would go as far as saying that 80% of what we do in Music is not directly creative. So the idea that we should be providing more creative tasks is attractive, reasonable and fair-game. But the catch is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of how people become creative. The danger is that our string groups, orchestras, bands, and choirs can become undervalued and in our weekly lessons, whole class ukuleles, recorders, and learning to play keyboards can be considered “just performing”. My main gripe is that in the gallop for creativity we consider Performing to be the inferior and unattractive cousin to the relevant and cool cousin Composing. What some people forget is that most creative composers have spent years performing and without these skills they wouldn’t be any good at composing.

There is nothing wrong with a lesson where there is no creative task. I will repeat this shocking statement – there is NOTHING WRONG WITH A LESSON WITH NO CREATIVE TASK. There would be something wrong if we never did creative tasks at all but often we don’t recognize or value that many of our performing tasks result in creative individuals. This is why performing is indirectly creative.

What I want to do is reassure Music Teachers from the onslaught of what I call the “creativity police”. Don’t feel that what you are doing is inadequate because it is performance-based. These are things that matter deeply to students and are appreciated by parents who know the true value of what we do. Be confident in your programs and don’t let the CP stop you from teaching what you know your students need to become truly musical and creative people.