[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [7/15] Considering the pragmatics of musicians’ creativity

In a world where the standards of living seem to rise rapidly while quality of life dwindles, “creativity” has become a buzzword used by many in a wide variety of meanings and contexts. In politics, in business, in society at large, “creativity” is linked with “innovation” to form two horses harnessed side by side and galloping towards the so-called innovation-driven economy of the twenty-first century. It is a concept following up on Bell’s (1973) description of a new economy driven by information, knowledge and service rather than an economy simply producing goods. Creativity as means and motor of a modern economy.

In the arts, including music, creativity is not just means and motor, but also the end and motive of all activity. Artists employ their mental agility and make flexible use of concepts, constructs or devices (just as any creative person would do) because they feel the need and urge to produce, to (de)construct, to create. In the act of creation, means and ends are intermingled in a very pragmatical way.

In the world of plainchant, the composer and singer – historically often one and the same person, maybe more suitably to be described as a developer or a replicator working with different levels of musical memes (to use the term coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, as applied to music by Steven Jan in 2007) – started off with a particularly pragmatic approach to a liturgical text. The developer of plainchant had first of all an excellent knowledge of the form and content of the text to be set, and acquired an expert use of musical language in close relation to that text. The recitation of a liturgical text in its simplest musical form was nothing but a recto tono rendering of the text, transforming it, in its richest form, into an often very complex and ornate melismatic format. Decisions on simple versus complex delivery of texts were made according to practical cirumstances, ritual and communal roles, specific textual character, and expressive potential. A present-day performer will try to understand the practicalities behind these decisions, leading, in the best circumstances, to a new practice in plainchant performance.

Consideration of what could thus be called the pragmatics of musicians’ creativity, the expert use of musical language, the context and transformation of different constituting elements of music into something new and the traceability of this transformation in the work of musicians, are all key elements in a most favorable development of ‘research in and through musical practice’ as a discipline.

Hendrik Vanden Abeele

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