What Chamber Music Taught Me about Learning

January 27th, 2018

Last night, I participated in a chamber music gathering at a friend's place. It was an interesting event to think about in the context of learning. It reminded me a lot of the samba school that Seymour Papert talks about in Mindstorms.

There was an equal mix of amateurs and more advanced musicians. Some were even professional! The music ranged from spoken word & performance to electronica, americana, and singer-songwriter. Each person had something to learn from one another. There were specific elements to the design of the event that guaranteed this atmosphere, so I'm recording them here. It's interesting to think about in context of other types of creative learning environments like littleBits and scratch.

1 - value is up to the audience
While some performers were extremely talented technically, others were more talented in their songwriting. Although some were objectively more talented musicians, you wouldn't have known from the format. The hosts handed out a program that listed the acts from start to finish, and all that was printed was the performer's name. This reinforces the concept that showing up is the meaningful act that ensures learning and progress towards goals. By leaving it up to the audience to decide how "legit" each performer is, it allows audience members to have unique relationships with each performance. One performer's piece made me feel very nostalgic. Another rekindled my interest in poetry. Yet another inspired me from a songwriting perspective. This brings to mind the concept of "likes" on common creative learning platforms. It reduces your relationship with a project slightly. Over time, one develops an expectation for what something with a lot of "likes" looks like (mass appeal, high production quality, etc). Ways to organize creative works that don't attempt a quantitative scheme are more successful.

2 - high baseline presentation
The space that performers performed had both environmental and social elements that made it so that the simplest performance felt quasi-professional. The lighting was interesting. Performances were preceded by a round of applause and some hootin & hollerin. Performances were followed by a louder round of applause. The programs that were handed out were designed and reinforced that the acts were prepared for in advance. There were decorations that said "chamber" on the walls, hand-made, which communicated to everyone that the organizers spent time to prepare the space (literally and figuratively).

3 - community and goodwill
We ate food together before the performance which gave us all a chance to get to know each other as people before getting to know each other as musicians. This instilled a baseline level of trust and connection that the rest of the evening built on.

These three things can be applied to a lot of other creative learning environments!