Do you want to have your spirits lifted? Have you ever wondered where the artistic inspiration came from? Do you want to witness talent overflowing, simply, like a river?
Here’s an interview of an AMAZING little girl on The Today Programme I found thanks to my friend Gwyn Teatro from Vancouver. Not only is she amazing and incredibly gifted, but she’s describing the creative process in the most simple and clear way possible. Her communication skills are simply delightful. Truly inspiring for our next generation of girls!
Her name is Alma Deutscher. She wrote her 1st first opera aged seven, a violin concerto at nine and now, aged 11, a full length opera, Cinderella, which will be premiered in Vienna.
The first part of this very short interview starts in a predictable way, in which the child prodigy is counting her blessings. Not my cup of tea. Wait one more minute. When the interviewer, Sarah Montague, asks her about how she feels and how she includes rope skipping in her creative process. Rope skipping!!! And storytelling and imaginary play weaved together! This immediately made me think of the state of flow and the 7 patterns of play, by Stuart Brown. Bear with me till the end if you are curious about unleashing your creativity…
Since every word she used captivated me, I wrote the transcript, so that I could insert some of her brilliant quotes (and eventually translate it to my French readers)
Alma: “I started playing the piano when I was 2 and the violon when I was 3 and actually I started to compose when I was 4. So writing things down on paper.” (jaw-dropping, that’s when you tell yourself, another precocious child, publicized as a circus animal)
Sarah Montague: “You just found that the music was coming to you?”
Alma: “Yes, I didn’t even know that it was called composing then. I just sit at the piano and played the ideas I had in my head.”
They play a little bit of the violin concerto she composed at 9…
Sarah Montague: “How do you feel when you hear that?”
Alma: “Well, when I was playing with the orchestra, then in the beginning I thought that they were a little bit suspicious. You know they looked as if, you know, who’s this little girl? But then when I turned to them and I played my cadenza, I think they changed their mind immediately.”
Sarah Montague: “I heard that you compose while you are skipping. Do you still do that?”
Alma: “Yes, I still do that. I have a skipping rope, which actually I don’t skip with, I just wave it around and I tell stories in my head and then sometimes a melody just pops into my head. And so that’s how I get my tunes. Or sometimes when I’m waking up or I’m falling asleep or in the middle of a night and I am asleep.”
That’s when she tunes into the mental state of “flow*”. After that comes the hard part, developing the idea. Alma is very realistic about this part. Incredibly mature. More than most adults.
But getting the tunes for me actually is the easy bit. But then, having to sit down and developing it into a proper piece and combining it with other melody in a coherent way, polishing it, that’s the really difficult bit for me.
Sarah Montague: “You are being likened to Mozart. How do you feel about that?”
Alma: “Well, actually I think that if I was again just a little Mozart I would be a bit bored. I would be just writing exactly what Mozart had written before. I think I would prefer to be a little Alma.”
Such wisdom! An old soul in a little girl’s body!
One cannot help to think of Alma Mahler. I am curiously right now reading a biography of Alma Mahler by Françoise Giroud, the Art of being Loved. Alma Mahler is remembered as a Muse for many Geniuses. But she was an extremely gifted musician and composer herself. She capitulated under Mahler’s injonction:
“The role of composer, the worker’s role, falls to me, yours is that of a loving companion and understanding partner … I’m asking a very great deal – and I can and may do so because I know what I have to give and will give in exchange.” Gustav Mahler
The result is heart-breaking
“I sit down at the piano, dying to play, but musical notation no longer means anything to me. My eyes have forgotten how to read it. I have been firmly taken by the arm and led away from myself. And I long to return to where I was.” Alma Mahler
Little Alma is maybe taking her gently by the arm and leading her again to herself, into her own soul’s desire. Thanks to a magical skipping rope…
Flow and play
Here’s a definition of flow, an experience combining the 6 factors identified by Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi:
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
- Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist and the founder of the National Institute for Play. In the broader sense, play is defined as engaging in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, there are seven properties that describe play:
- It is apparently purposeless
- There is an inherent attraction to it,
- While doing it there is freedom from time,
- It diminishes the consciousness of self
- It has improvisational potential (open, not ridged),
- It has a continuation desire which makes you want to do it more.
Play shapes our brain, fosters joy, creativity and innovation. Play helps us experience a state of flow.
So, next time you find yourself with a big presentation to prepare, do not search for ideas in your laptop. Get up and bounce! Wave your skipping rope and imagine stories, just like Alma. Or go and have a walk in the forest and let the stories pop up into your mind. Or go and walk in a museum and be inspired by art. Personally, I swim and float, day dreaming, and again swim until I am wasted physically. And calm and alert mentally. Ideas overflow.
There is no limit to what you can come up with. Explore, test, play, as long as you keep on having the relentless desire to do it more.
Associating physical activity with art and imagination seems to be a pretty good recipe for unleashing our creativity.
And do not let anyone take you firmly by the arm and lead you away from yourself.