Tuesday, October 17, 2006

group improvisation: a question of leader(ship)

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Something interesting happened in class this week. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to handle this. I don’t mean to sound negative; I’m fascinated that this turned up, and, anyway, we’d probably have to deal with this issue at some point… I just hoped that that some point would have been some point in the future (like, quite a few months into the future).

The word that encapsulates this issue is leader(ship).

Don’t see the problem?
That is one loaded word.
Did I say loaded? I meant there’s full-scale, über-density, hyper-congestion embedded in that little word.
Do we mean commander? The executive? Administrator or manager? The MC? Or the referee? The prompter? Possibly we mean trailblazer or the pathfinder. That who-is-followed, perhaps? (Tautological, I know.) Or might we mean coach, midwife, guide, sage?
I suppose because of my own views about group improvisation, and the particular practices and traditions I operate in and around of, I think, naively, that I was expecting this issue to be inconsequential to the students as well.
There you have it. The teacher was spectacularly wrong, flummoxed, fill-in-blank.
Okay. Now the bright side of all of this is the idea, unspoken as such by the students themselves but articulated nonetheless, that group improvisation is in some way society-in-miniature. A big topic that I need to return to in the future, but let me say this much here: Somewhere hiding behind the question of the leader(s) and of leadership was that notion that we can parse, discuss, and maybe understand collective improvisation sociologically. That maybe there is no difference between creative, musical interaction and social interaction in general.
When asked to think of the social or the political, we maybe instinctively think of the macro-social, the party-political, of contests, votes, elections, and ‘tough decisions.’ Of leaders and leadership. (And I think this was what the students were doing.) But the social and the political may also be the small, the intimate, the informal, the ad-hoc. Perhaps all we have to do, for the time being, is to imagine social contexts in which the concept of leadership is peripheral, or even irrelevant.

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