Creativity Isn’t a Thing: It is a Way
By Corey-Jan Albert, Music in Common Board Member
The synagogue where I belong has an innovative religious school program, centered around integrated curricula, hands-on learning and opportunities for creative expression. It’s exciting and fun – especially for someone like me who believes that creativity is all about process over product. But not everyone is as comfortable with thinking of themselves – or their students – as innately creative. So, the religious school administration asked me to give a short talk about what happens when we reframe a classroom environment to be about creativity, not being first or best or right or wrong.
It’s a concept that’s so relevant to Music in Common that I was asked to share the transcript of my talk on our blog:
Hello! I’m Corey-Jan Albert, and I’m here right now to talk with you about the importance of creativity in your curricula and in your classrooms. So, let me start by asking you this: How many of you think of yourselves as creative? [show of hands] Great! What I’m about to share with you should add validation to the way you already think and work.
Now, how many of you have ever been told – or have told yourselves – that you’re not creative? [show of hands] Okay. To all of you, I have a newsflash: THAT. STORY. ISN’T. TRUE.
Maybe you’ve never been taught the basics of painting or music or writing or whatever. Maybe you’ve been taught the basics, but you weren’t given the right outlet to really work with them.
Maybe you’re unpracticed.
But do you have a life of the mind? Do you think about stuff? And do you find that sometimes, you think about things differently from other people? Are you a problem solver?
Then, guess what: You’re creative.
If this comes as a surprise to you, then I’ll be you’ve got an inner editor and critic who is very… assertive. Your inner editor is the voice that says, “That’s no good.” Or, “so-and-so’s would be better.” Or, “Don’t do it that way.” Or simply, ”No. Just no.”
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a place for that person. Your inner critic and editor are very good for honing creative work once a draft is done – but they don’t belong in your initial creative process.
I know – that person can be very pushy sometimes.
But I want us all to do an exercise that I do with a lot of my students before we get started on a new creative project together. Everybody, stretch your arm up, extending your fingers high toward the ceiling. Now, I want you to hinge your wrist and point your fingers down toward the ground. Now extend them back up toward the ceiling. And back at the ground. Keep doing it. This is all of you, waving goodbye to your inner critics and editors for a while. You can welcome them back later when you’ll need them. But we don’t need them now.
You know what generally separates people who aren’t creative from people who are?
People who consider themselves to be creative give themselves permission to try new things – to do it differently than the ordinary way everyone else might expect. We also give ourselves permission to do make mistakes. And here’s why that’s hard: Somebody tell me why I’m even talking about creativity to you today?
[Here, one of the teachers answered, “So that we can be more innovative in our classrooms,” but I would have responded the exact same way no matter what anyone answered]
When I just said that to you, it felt really good didn’t it? Of course, it did. Now, what if instead, I’d said, “WRONG.” That wouldn’t feel good at all – even if I immediately followed it with why it might still have value or why it’s just one of many reasons why this is important.
That’s because we’re conditioned to believe that right answers are rewarding, and mistakes are bad. Except that they’re not. Mistakes are how we learn. Mistakes are how we grow. And mistakes are how we discover new ways of doing things. If you took one of my classes and you never made any mistakes, you wouldn’t get a good grade because you wouldn’t be learning anything.
Creativity isn’t a thing. It is a way. And a lot of things change when you start with the knowledge that you’re a creative person – teaching a classroom of creative people. You get fresh ideas. You get more engaged students. You solve problems. And you have a lot of fun. Because creativity is is a way of retraining our brains to feel rewarded by something better than “Right” answers.
So, how can you implement this in your classrooms? Lots of ways, but for a start:
1. Try to avoid the trap of teaching in terms of right and wrong. Of course – some facts are true, and some are not. I’m not saying to teach in an alternative-fact way. But when you’re asking your students questions, try ask questions that allow them to bring their creativity to the table. Ask them how things make them feel or why it’s important to study what you’re studying. Find ways to get them to solve problems rather than answer binary questions.
2. When you’re putting your lesson plans together, start with why you’re doing it – what’s the point of your lesson? And then, think of all the different routes you can take to get to that point. Don’t stop at one or two. Come up with a ton.
3. And remember that bye-bye exercise? Do it again. Send your inner editors and critics on vacation while you’re coming up with those approaches, until you have so many different ideas that you’ve got to hone them down to something manageable.
4. Give yourself and your students permission to make mistakes – and reward them! Any time you run into a dead end or a “wrong” answer, it’s an opportunity to be problem solvers, to learn new things, to think creatively!
5. And – this one is really important – about all those ideas: At some point, you’re going to have an idea that won’t leave you alone. The kind of idea that makes you chuckle a little and think, “I can’t really get away with doing THAT, can I?” The answer is almost certainly yes, you can, you should and maybe you must. If you’re concerned that it crosses some line that you don’t think belongs in this religious school environment, bring it to the attention of one of our education leads or our clergy. They understand this and will help you figure out how to make it work. But when you get those ideas that tickle the fun parts in your brain? Pay attention.
Finally, encourage the kids in your classes to think about themselves creatively, too. You think that even at their young age they’re not conditioned to want RIGHT answers? They most certainly are. But make no mistake: they are all creative – each in a different way and it’s part of your job to give them permission to tap into that, to encourage them to tap into that and recognize that as good as a right answer feels, being creative feels even better.
Have you seen this video ? Or this one? These are just two examples of the FIVE JAMMS programs YOU made possible this year - programs that brought together diverse groups of youth including refugee, immigrant, American-born Black, White, Hispanic and others to work together to write a song and create a music video. But these aren't just any ol' songs. These are incredibly powerful messages written from a place deep inside - honest, vulnerable, real. Voices yearning to be heard, yearning to make a difference.
How can we change the world if we can’t be heard
How can we change? How can we change?
How can we change the world if we can’t be us?
How can we change? How can we change?
The power we have, nobody can take it away
And these songs don't just magically appear, either. They spring from the hard conversations about race, religion, place of origin, and so much more that our participants engage in before setting out to create together. As the world grows more enraged and polarized, we need those conversations more than ever so that we can better understand one another.
Don't underestimate the power of your support to #EmpowerYouthAgainstHate. Just read the lyrics to their songs to see for yourself what YOU make possible when you donate to Music In Common.
Todd, Lynnette, Marisa, Patty, Avarie, Jason, Rosa
Today is Daniel Pearl's 55th birthday.
Every year when today rolls around, I think a lot about my friend...birthdays we celebrated, gigs we played, camping trips we took. Those days were filled with fun, adventure, hard work, and laughs....lots and lots of laughs. There are many things I loved about Danny - his quirky sense of humor, his perfect pitch, his undying loyalty to friends, the way there was always room for at least one more at the table, his love of life and thirst for the truth. I loved how he embraced the simple things.
One sunny Sunday many moons ago in Atlanta, Danny invited Carrie (my girlfriend at the time, now my wife) and me over for brunch. Danny's mom had just sent him a brand new bread machine. At this point in his life, Danny was the consummate bachelor living on his own. The bread machine was the perfect accompaniment to the only other appliance he owned, a juicer. It may come as no surprise that brunch that day consisted of - you guessed it - fresh baked bread and fresh squeezed orange juice...and that's it. But to Danny, sitting in his kitchen with good friends that sunny, Sunday morning, this was no less awesome than Sunday brunch at Murphy's, one of his favorite neighborhood bistros. And he was right. It was the best bread, the best orange juice, the best brunch I've ever had.
I've often wondered if Danny were alive if he would still see beauty, wonder, and humor in the simple things, if he could still find the silver lining in today's complicated world. Somehow I think he would because that's just who he was.
As the Octobers pass by, I wonder too, is the world forgetting who Daniel Pearl is? Do young people know his name, his story, and what he stood for? Has the unconscionable immorality of what happened to him started to fade? Have we lost our ability, desire, willingness to see the common humanity in one another? I confess these are the things that keep me up at night.
But each year today, October 10th, I reaffirm my commitment to face those questions head on. To fight to my very last breath to eradicate the hate and violence that took my friend's life. To make sure the world never forgets Danny Pearl. It's not always easy and I'd be lying if I didn't admit there are days I want to give up. But I won't. I promise you that!
I am beyond proud of the work of Music In Common these past thirteen years, work that could only have been accomplished with the unwavering commitment of an amazing team who see their involvement more as a calling than a job, board seat, or volunteer gig. When the hill feels too steep, the battle too fierce, and the world too complex we find strength and inspiration in the life of Daniel Pearl to embrace the simple things and keep on keeping on.
Happy 55th birthday, Danny Pearl. I miss you like mad.
Music in Common has had such a tremendous impact on my life. I no longer see music as just something to help me through life. I see it as a tool to break down barriers and stigmas and the things we’ve put up to avoid seeing each other. Music for me is now a way to bring people together that I thought would never talk to each other.
This experience has truly been one I’ll never forget. I’ve made lifelong friends and I’ve gained so much self confidence. I’ve seen first hand that if you work together with people that you can really achieve anything.
Music In Common is really not like any program I’ve ever done. Going in I didn’t know what to expect and I also didn’t expect it to shape my perspective on life and my perspective on music as much as it did. It teaches life skills. I teaches you how to care. It teaches you how to love people, how to see people… how to really see people instead of seeing them for the stereotypes that they’ve been put under.
If everyone in the world experienced Music In Common I think it would be such a peaceful coexistence. I am really happy that I’ve had the chance to participate because it’s really changed my life.
It's easy not to listen and gloss over the words on the television. Or the radio, or the newspaper, or what your friends are talking about at work. Amplify makes that harder.
From the beginning, Amplify emphasized the great importance of not just listening, but feeling what the other young individuals in our community and our world are going through. It was incredibly eyeopening to connect with teens from around the world just by listening to their songs. Music is the most wonderful thing in the world to me. I believe that it is the universal language. It relies on the emotion and purpose of a thought, and not pronunciation. The beauty of it is, you are not required to speak, or even listen, to understand. All you have to do is close your eyes, and let the music trigger your deepest memories.
I will never say music saved me, instead, it gave me the strength and courage to save myself. Amplify gave me confidence in my voice and reminded me that even I could make a difference in the world. Amplify has truly shifted the way I view music, opening up more doors of possibilities than I ever imagined. This program is proof that I can combine my greatest passions into something both beautiful and impactful.
I am truly grateful for the memories and experience Amplify has given me, thank you for inspiring and bringing to light the people who care.
~ Elisabeth Enoch, Amplify Berkshires 2018
It makes sense that the unthinkable brutality this week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL would be a crystalizing moment, no? But the heart-wrenching truth is that since the massacre at Sandy Hook in 2012 there have been at least 138 people murdered in over 200 shootings in schools. Read that again and let it sink in… I’ll give you a moment…
Like so many others, I am heartbroken, angry, disgusted, and bewildered. Even with an unimaginable number of mass shootings and deaths (my research to give you actual statistics led me down a rabbit hole of wretched oblivion), we continue to argue hatefully rather that to reasonably address the horrific realities that allow this to be happening. The fact that so much death is taking place in the place we freely send our children to learn, socialize, interact, express themselves, and discover the world and each other is utterly and deeply disorienting to my mind and heart.
Are you afraid? You probably are and justifiably so. But, do we realize that for many of us, our very existence has come to be based in fear? Probably not. Our fears can overcome us to the point that we think they are the only truth. This leaves us only to argue, defend, react, and live from the pervading and all-consuming belief that we are all out to get one another. Self-preservation at all cost is crippling and, literally, killing us. So we pray and hope.
Whatever you believe about life or God or the universe… there is no denying that we have free will. While we may pray or hope or wish for change for a better world for ourselves and our children and grandchildren, we must also realize that there is something else for us to do.
And, whatever you believe about our right to bear arms, there is no denying that it is our responsibility to treat weapons with the same common sense caution as we do so many other (including far less lethal) of man’s astounding inventions.
Lawn darts are outlawed but automatic rifles are not. We need training and a license to operate a car, but not to purchase an instrument of war. One man carried a bomb in his underwear and we have airport body scans. Not to mention fireworks and guard rails and glass containers and sealed packaging and having more that 5 cats…
And there is this… After 58 people were murdered and 850 more wounded by a man at a concert in Las Vegas, House Resolution 367 – “The Hearing Protection Act” – is being proposed to make it easier to obtain the very type of “silencer” he used…. to preserve the shooters hearing. WAIT!!!! WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!!!! True.
Have we lost our mind? Yes. Yes, I think collectively we have. But as I said, “there is something for us to do”. The doing, giving, saying, and acting may be different for each of us, but we must all DO SOMETHING.
For me that something is Music in Common. As I hear the stories and visions and demands from the students who survived the shooting in Parkland, I think about MIC participants with whom we have worked over the past 8 years. Whether they live in the United States or the Middle East, they represent the generation that is about to inherit our rubbish. They have something to say. They have said it in over 40 songs that can been heard here.
Like the teens in Parkland this week, they have questions and concerns and ideas and demands and perhaps even solutions. But do we hear them? Are we really listening and valuing and respecting their voices? They can’t vote, so do their voices matter?
Let’s remember that teens sitting at lunch counters, riding buses, writing their stories, speaking out loud and marching in the streets have already altered our collective views of segregation, child labor, civil rights, and war. Do not underestimate the power of a generation whose inheritance is our collective madness.
They are a generation who has more technology in the palm of their hand than the entire world had just 20 years ago. We use it to monitor them, sell to them, preach to them… let’s use it to hear them and to protect them.
Music in Common gives young men and women a place to speak their minds, a place to listen to one another and to exchange ideas, empowering them with tools to collect their thoughts and put them to paper. We offer a platform to put creative energy to use, to use the power of music to express themselves and to share their values, questions, visions, hopes, dreams and yes, demands, widely. We give them a worldwide stage where they can be heard and feel valued.
And, most inspiring to me is that from what I have seen, they are willing and eager to engage with open minds and they are far less divided and steadfastly opposed to one another than any government, community, culture, or religion. We can do better and be better by listening to them.
Their collective mind is not lost, it is determined.
This is me DOING SOMETHING. What are you DOING?
In Peace ~ L
MIC Director of Outreach & Engagement
by Alisa Eisenberg
Healing takes many forms. In this contentious political climate we all need a little help navigating stress. Imagine being a young adult trying to find your way at this moment in time or the difficulty being a recent refugee and finding your voice. This article was written for those healing an injury but the concept of resilience serves all of us. Music in Common fosters resilience through social connection and empowerment by honoring all participants stories. Our voices are meant to be heard.
It takes a moment to get an injury. Healing takes whatever time it requires. That’s the stark reality. And all the good stuff happens in the middle. The element of surprise seems a common thread throughout our lives. And yet we hate surprises, most of us. Change being the most difficult thing we manage. So how do we cope with life? We make meaning from the stories we tell ourselves. Consciously and unconsciously we strive to shape our stories around a general theme. The themes we choose say a lot about us as individuals. Bad luck, good luck, deeper spiritual messages, familial histories, whether we fall or rise is defined by our belief. In other words, our glass is half full or half empty of whatever interpretation we choose. So when it happens, life- I mean in the “man plans, God laughs” version- we each have a defining moment. How do we tell our story?
Here’s where science enters the scene. Scientists have measured various components of healing. Social scientists have measured components of resilience. Studies show people with resilient qualities physically heal faster and better. Lucky for us, resilience can be
taught and learned.
So what makes up resilience and how can you be more resilient during difficult times? For starters we’ll look at “cognitive hardiness” (staying mentally strong). When cognitive hardiness is present daily life changes and events are experienced as challenging rather than threatening. Kind of like looking at a wave and imagining bodysurfing it instead of being pummeled by it. This keeps you solution focused and open to trying new experiences, looking for possibilities even if they aren’t readily apparent.
Here are two things you can do to boost your cognitive hardiness and improve your ability to deal with change: 1) Make a commitment to work, family, a hobby or projects on a day-to-day basis, giving you things to look forward to doing. This can include physical therapy and doing prescribed healing exercises on your own; 2) Nurture the belief that you have a strong influence over your life, that what you do has an effect on what you can achieve. This gives you a much needed feeling of control in a situation, like healing an injury, when you can feel powerless. It may even influence you to try an alternative solution, like acupuncture or reiki, to see if this adjunctive therapy can help?
This positive mindset can help buffer the damaging impact of stress on well-being and directly generate more effective coping behaviors. Individuals who score high on cognitive hardiness tend to cope with stress by direct problem-solving rather than by avoiding or ignoring a situation. They also tend to interact with others by giving and getting assistance and encouragement rather than by striking out or being overprotective, all important factors in healing. During illness or injury we are confronted by our own coping style and this is the time and opportunity to make needed adjustments and grow.
Social support is another well-studied and important factor in healing. We need each other in ways we don’t even understand. Our support systems directly and indirectly influence our longevity and well-being. Support can help manage stress by enabling us to see our situation through other eyes or by receiving empathy. This can be from our doctor, physical therapist, medical professionals, trusted friends, family and loved ones. Here are things you can do to effectively use your social support system: 1) Have frequent daily contact with others; 2) Express your feelings; 3) Have a confidant. These things directly enhance psychological well-being, mood, confidence and quality of life, especially in times of illness or injury. Merely having someone in the house is not enough. Proximity does not equal intimacy. Even small, focused amounts of time given
to another can provide much needed connection, which speeds healing and helps to decrease perception of pain.
Coping style is how you deal with work and life pressures and challenges. Your coping style determines whether you feel overwhelmed at each change coming your way or confidently feel “I got this,” knowing you can reach out for help if you need it. Positive appraisal (optimism) is defined as focusing on the positive to minimize what appear to be problems, pressures or challenges. You can do this by saying or thinking positive things about your situation. This can prove particularly challenging when you’re in pain or dealing with the unknowns of recovery. At these moments, I believe it is crucial to lead with a positive mental attitude if only for the reason that it boosts your immune system function; therefore, it can only help. Conversely, negative appraisal (pessimism) is well documented to decrease immune system function, increase perception of pain and leads to a more negative spiral of coping mechanisms, such as isolation. Many studies have shown that isolation and negativity interfere with healing. Furthermore, optimism has been shown to minimize perception of pain and lead to quicker healing. Biochemically speaking, you are releasing oxytocin and endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a feeling of well being. A strong negative response of feeling overwhelmed signals the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which creates anything from anxiety to depression to tense muscles and increased perception of pain.
When you “make a molehill out of a mountain” you are using another factor of resiliencecalled threat minimization. Knowing you can find answers or asking for help allows you to have a little control over some element of your healing. Minimizing challenges through humor can assist with releasing endorphins, the body’s natural antidote to pain.
Health habits are another element of recovery that cannot be overstated. Exercise, physical therapy, good sleep as well as daily relaxation, eating good nutrition, limiting alcohol and eliminating cigarettes are key.
There are many varied challenges to healing an injury and to practicing resilience. They include caregivers, the medical system, insurance coverage and billing, transportation, doctors and lack of information. Depression is a biochemical response that can be a normal part of healing. Especially with the passage of time and little relief from symptoms, the body may naturally conserve energy normally going to brain function to nurture vital organs or heal the injury. The result can be a biochemical depression that will pass. Understanding this is a normal phase of recovery is vital. If the feeling of being
overwhelmed or depressed lasts more than six months, you may want to seek professional
When looking to make meaning from an injury, patients can be encouraged to “walk gracefully through the fire” by learning and practicing key elements of resilience. This enables them to participate in their recovery and to gain valuable life skills.
Remembering to stay positive more often than not, to disengage conflict as quickly as possible and focus on solutions rather than challenges can offer much needed hope and a feeling of control. These factors lead to a more successful healing experience and recovery.
“Peace” is a word that is frequently used but not frequently explored. When I was growing up, peace was a circular symbol I would doodle in the margins of my notebook, or a two fingered hand gesture that was nothing more than a brief salutation of goodwill. As I got older, I learned what situations gave me inner peace and which ones did not. I learned what peace wasn’t by looking at the newspaper and media coverage of world events. I also learned that peace at large was the thing to which our most noble and inspiring historical leaders dedicated their lives. Peace was never a concept that was foreign to me, but it also was not a concept I ever explored in depth. I held it high in importance yet only accepted its vague meaning.
In September of 2015, I decided to attend the School for International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont for a graduate education. I had spent time working in humanitarian aid and was eager to gain wisdom on how to be a more thoughtful and engaged citizen. I wanted to learn the theory and best practices that come with contributing to the conditions of the world. I quickly felt drawn to my peacebuilding classes and was awed by the entire academic field dedicated to peace studies and conflict transformation (the area of study used to be known as conflict resolution, but was changed due to the philosophical belief that conflicts can only be transformed, but not resolved). I became fascinated with how various people all over the world conceive of peace and deal with conflict. I appreciated that the field of study involved the intellect but also emotion.
In my first day of class, my professor shared his belief that “peacebuilding involves the imagining of a social space that meets the core needs and goals of all parties.” My classes taught me that in order to effectively move through the world in a different way, I needed to engage all of myself while learning. So I began applying my interest and love for music to my studies. As a lifelong singer and lover of music, I became curious about the social space that music creates and how it might heal and positively transform relationships. For the internship portion of my degree, I had to look no further than my backyard to find Music in Common, an organization that offers collaborative musical programming for peoples of various cultures and faiths to build relationship. Music in Common has provided the space for me to put theory and practice into action.
For my research and capstone project, I explored the connection between music, healing and conflict. The stories and wisdom that I gathered from my research will continue to inspire me on my lifelong exploration of peace. It is my hope that this work can offer space for those reading to pause and reflect on the concepts that exist all around us and effect us as we move through the world. The title and abstract of my paper, as well as full access to the document, can be found HERE.
Music move us personally and with more meaning than any other medium in the world. In the past few decades, modern advances in neuroscience have proved via neuroimaging that musical processing involves almost every region of the brain, a task that no other stimulus can achieve. Science can show what is happening in our brain, but humans have intuitively known and utilized music for healing purposes since the beginning of humanity. This research examines the dynamics of continued scientific advancement in light of Non-Western ways of knowing. The study is an attempt to shorten the distance between music, healing and conflict. Through a qualitative research methodology, the correlation of music and healing was explored by interviewing musicians and healing practitioners in New England. Musicians and healers shared stories that help explain the role of music and healing in Western society and how they might transform conflict. This paper offers space for the peace-builder interested in music and healing to pause and consider the weight of their work.
MIC Western Massachusetts Coordinator and JAMMS Facilitator
Marisa was born and raised in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Her most joyful passion is music and singing. Marisa recently completed her Master's degree at the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont. She studied conflict transformation and specifically the connection between music and peacebuilding. She is curious how the social space created by music can heal and positively transform relationships, a pursuit that aligns perfectly with the mission and vision of Music in Common
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