Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Professionalism in Music (Audio Included)

To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some . . . just people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father's camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form. That's my opinion.[1]

Francis Ford Coppola’s statement highlights, among other things, that conventions associated with professionalism can be constrictive; artists must address how the concept of professionalism relates to their practice to ensure it does not become counterproductive.

Professionalism in music is often tied to expectations regarding instrumental technique, appearance, behaviour and marketing, but is not always considered to be essential to Great Art. John Coltrane says “When I go to hear a man, as long as he conducts himself properly, and moves me with his music, I’m satisfied. If he should happen to smile, I consider it something added to what I have received already. If not, I don’t worry because I know it is not wholly essential to the music.”[2]

At the beginning stages of music employment professionalism usually refers to basic instrumental abilities, social skills and expectations of personal presentation.[3] As a musician evolves, however, the framework of professionalism can become a constrictive set of conventions that stifle creativity. In fact, proficiency within these conventions might even substitute for creativity. Scott Tinkler’s view is not uncommon: “ ‘Yeah, they’re good players, but . . . BORING!!!’ ”[4] Some musicians, such as Paul Bley, are more extreme: “Rehearsals are counterproductive. Repetition is a downward spiral.” Tinkler’s comment refers to instrumental technique, while Bley’s refers to marketing (well-rehearsed bands, in the traditional sense, usually produce music that is consumable; there are definite beginnings and endings, changes between sections happen together, the group moves as a homogenous whole).

Such conventions, to be made productive, might themselves be used as concepts for improvisation. Such explorations, done with integrity, become ironic statements that move beyond the realm of proficiency and into the realm of Art. Irony, in this context, is “an acute awareness . . . of the forces playing upon the self as an improvisation proceeds,”[5] and allows the artist to creatively use what has come before, free from the original context. With this in mind, musicians might identify and question their conventions of music making, opening new creative possibilities.

Here's the performance that accompanied this paper:

I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)


Bahr, Fax and George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola. "Hear of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse." United States of America, 1991.

Berliner, Paul F. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.

DeVito, Chris, ed. Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews. First ed. Chicago: A Cappella Books, 2010.

Peters, Gary. The Philosophy of Improvisation. London: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., 2009.

Zolin, Miriam. "Scott Tinkler in Conversation with Adrian Jackson." Extempore 2 (2009).

[1] Fax and George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola Bahr, "Hear of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse," (United States of America1991), closing lines.

[2] Chris DeVito, ed. Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews, First ed. (Chicago: A Cappella Books,2010), 121.

[3] Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 48, 304.

[4] Miriam Zolin, "Scott Tinkler in Conversation with Adrian Jackson," Extempore 2(2009): 27.

[5] Gary Peters, The Philosophy of Improvisation (London: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., 2009), 68.


  1. Hey Marc while I agree with the sentiment behind what you are saying it seems that you yourself have locked your own ideas into your personal construction of what constitutes creativity or art.
    Repetition might be the downward spire but maybe the downward spire is where something amazing will be discovered.
    For a creative thought to occur the brain needs to move into a place of cognitive dissonance and confusion before equilibrium can be achieved leading to a previously unknown concept - or original thought..
    Repetition can produce this confusion or dissonance because of its counter productive nature - something you present as a negative.
    Or were you alluding to this with this statement Irony, in this context, is “an acute awareness . . . of the forces playing upon the self as an improvisation proceeds,”.

    I do love how this post seems to argue for 2 polar perspectives (or does it) and the name of your blog is dualism Aside that same dualism is what makes Scotts version of boring completely different to another's.

    And what is the conceptual context behind the representation of ironic creativity coming from a fat little girl in the state of Ohio?? Has no one who is fat little female and from Ohio ever produced a creative moment before in history so therefore if it happened it would be overwhelming and a huge cultural shift?

    Hey Marc I have a new blog url www.kynanrobinson.wordpress.com where I am getting down a lot of thoughts regard creativity and education would love to hear your comments.

  2. Hi Kynan,

    Thanks for reading.

    At no point do I lock myself into any dogmatic statement as to what constitutes creativity in art, but simply that conventions are worth questioning to explore other avenues of art-making. I'm not saying that repetition, or professional convention, for that matter, is counter-productive, but that it can be if not treated carefully.

    Irony is a way of making repetition productive. The process you described is the knowing, ironic employment of repetition to allow for new concepts. Paul Bley's comment that repetition is counter-productive refers, when read against his stance towards improvisation and industry, to be a rebellion against professionalism, both on extra-musical and musical levels. I'm not saying that repetition is counter-productive, but that it can be if not treated carefully.

    Coppolla's statement is ironic in that it refers to the possibility that technology might allow beautiful art might to be made without the self-important arts apparatus, but that this possibility could not have come about if it was not for the apparatus in the first place. Hence technological development in the art form contains the seeds of it's own destruction.

  3. Fantastic... thanks for the clarification.