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A Plexus Workshop Where Playing Made Music

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, January 9, 2017

A Midwife to Music Inspires New Songs

Did your grade school chorus director tell you to just mouth the words and not sing? Were you told to hold that clarinet in the right position during the concert, just don’t play? 

Jon Gailmor knows how to heal those childhood wounds and restore the joy of musical participation.  In rapid succession, Jon can be funny, thoughtful, trenchant, gentle and provocative as he encourages groups of people to create lyrics, rhythm and melody in bursts of collaborative enthusiasm.  He’s a highly accomplished musician himself, great with guitar and voice.  And he can use those talents to bring forth musical gifts from people who are surprised to discover they have them. “Part of it is spontaneity,” he said, describing the process. “It captures the heart, and where you are. Here’s how I characterize my skill: I’m part catalyst and part midwife. I can be an audience for you, and I’m objective.”

At a recent Plexus Institute workshop in Washington DC, hosted by Lisa Kimball, an entrepreneur, organizational development consultant in healthcare, education and businesses, and former Plexus Institute president, a small group of adults decided their first song would be about complexity and the environment.  It was a universally engaging topic that allowed ample opportunity for modification and change of direction.

Jon struck a D chord that accommodates a range of voices. “I’m a back beat guy,” he said, illustrating a steady downbeat 1 to 3 rhythm, commonly used in classical and military music. Those present called out a profusion of ideas and built on the ideas of their neighbors. Land, seas and starlight met toxic fumes and human folly.  Jon encouraged alliteration, metaphor, free wheeling discussion and advised finding “mouth friendly” words.  The verses are the beads and chorus is the thread that connects them, he explained as he drafted proposed lyrics on a white board. 

“We’re destroying the planet, trash in the sea,” the first verse began, combining several thoughts of contributors.  The conversation probed why we do these things, and how we enable heedlessness.  Are we willing to lighten our footprints? If we don’t want government intervention and regulation, and we want personal responsibility and control, the whole issue of climate change becomes ideologically fraught, observed Bruce Waltuck, who spent much of his career designing business process improvements in federal agencies.  

Lynne Feingold, who has worked in the arts and studied music and improvisation, suggested lyrics representing survival needs of living creatures, endangered by pollution and environmental degradation.  Ann-Marie Regan, an organizational development specialist who works in a highly complex health care institution, offered subtle refinements that smoothed the flow of lyrics.  The chorus, a group-creation, was optimistic. 

“We got this/together/ solutions are learned each day

Green power around us/ sun, wind water/ lead the way.

Another more lighthearted song celebrated the diversity and unexpected juxtapositions of life in Washington, DC, where an Afghan can driver is likely to be a poet and you might run into Peruvian holy men contemplating fate. The words were deliberately whimsical, and message cheerful.

  “Everyone’s welcome/ the rainbow lives here,” the chorus announced, “DC’s our home, where love conquers fear.”

When the songs were finished, Jon made CDs of the group singing them, and those present reflected on the experience.  “We jumped right into the process, and something good happened in the way we interacted and listened to each other,” observed Marc Narkus-Kramer, an executive with a background in music and engineering.  “We all worked together elaborating on each others’ ideas, and no one had too much ego involved.  This is the kind of thing that could be used in business. It could be used to create mission statements, or to get un-stuck. I’ve done some of these things in corporations, and it’s liberating.”

“It is kind of a liberating structure,” Lisa commented.  “The structures of the music and the lyrics are strengthened in the process, and some extraneous things are eliminated.” 

“We didn’t need specific criteria, but we did need to make words and music fit,” said Rich Bataglia, a musician who has taught improv to children, adults and individuals of all ages who have disabilities.   “Improv has some simple rules and complex theory.  And you don’t have to be a poet or a musician. People who can’t sing can be very helpful in crafting a melody.”

Learn more about Jon Gailmor here.


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