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Leaders as "play"-ers

Yesterday after a morning meditation, I wanted to spend time listening to music while I wrote. I recalled that Chick Corea had passed on last week at the age of 79. I was not overly familiar with his music, and so I searched on Apple Music for something to listen to. An album title grabbed my attention, “Chick Corea Plays”. It was released in 2020.

In the title it was “PLAYS” that grabbed my attention. The opening recording on the collection is titled, “Chick Talks Mozart and Gershwin (Live in Clearwater / 2018)”. So I listened...

Chick was playing with the music, and with the audience. It struck me that it was his stance, his position, his approach, in relationship with the music, and with those who would listen. He was playing the music, the music was playing him, and he was inviting the audience to come play.

I thought of our young friend Lev, who lives in Slovenia and has been learning piano since he was very young. His mother, grandmother, and great aunt, all have a profound sense of the foundational importance of music, particularly the music of classical composers. We have been able to watch Lev, and his sister Eli, practice piano over the years whenever we would visit, since the time when they were both very young. They have both become wonderful pianists, capable of performing great, and complex, classical pieces.

What I noticed in watching Lev grow into his experience with piano, was his “play”-ing while practicing. When he sat at the piano, he would enter into a playful relationship with the keys, the piano bench, and the music. It was a full bodied experience. You could see his body move, shifting in his seat, and his hands lifting, rising off the keys, floating back down for the next set of notes. His head would tilt, and his mouth quietly humming the melody as he breathed. He was “play”ing with the music, and allowing the music to play with him. Perfection was not the goal in these practice sessions, play was.

For very young children, play is work, and work is play. With children who engage in some practice of music, art, sports, reading, writing, one never knows how long their attention will be held by the practice. However, a playing stance holds potential for duration, and their capacity to stay in relationship with that which they practice.

I have just finished listening to Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s audio book, “The Art of Possibility”. In one chapter Ben speaks of “one buttock” playing.

“A young pianist was playing a Chopin prelude in my master class, and although we had worked right up to the edge of realizing an overarching concept of the piece, his performance remained earthbound. He understood it intellectually, he could have explained it to someone else, but he was unable to convey the emotional energy that is the true language of music. Then I noticed something that proved to be the key: His body was firmly centered in the upright position. I blurted out, “The trouble is you’re a two-buttock player!” I encouraged him to allow his whole body to flow sideways, urging him to catch the wave of the music with the shape of his own body, and suddenly the music took flight. Several in the audience gasped, feeling the emotional dart hit home, as a new distinction was born: the one-buttock player.” “The Art of Possibility.” Rosamund Zander & Benjamin Zander.

I was reminded of watching Lev play as I listened to this section, but what captured my attention upon reflection was “Several in the audience gasped...”. The relationship of the audience with the music and the “player” had shifted, they were moved.

This all serves as a metaphor as I think about the art and practice of social change; the importance of “play”-ing in sustaining practices that can move people by inviting them into movement. If moving people is important, it is helpful if leaders can be “play”-ers.

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