I find myself thinking about how to define creativity almost every day. (Who cares about defining it I hear you say? I do, because I value it, in all its manifestations and I also happen to think it’s crucial to the very fabric of an educational institution.) Ensconced in the exciting and driven atmosphere of a conservatoire, thinking about it and seeing it in action is inevitable. But what surprises me most is that creativity can be found in almost all areas of such an institution. It is implicit (but not always present!) in what we might call principal study, which is most usually the reason students chose to study at a conservatoire rather than any other educational institution. But it is much more obviously present in all other areas of what we do – particularly when students are thinking out of the box, designing their own projects, and ultimately the shape of their own futures.
Creativity is a rational and universal process; it is embedded in both technique and context. Furthermore, as a concept, it is not limited to practical performance and certainly not separate from academic or contextual studies. What often happens however is that students find it difficult to assimilate these elements (often but not always, taught separately) thereby producing a fissure in their learning. The perceived separation between the performing aspect of what they do, and the contextual and preparatory work that surrounds it, may be perpetuated in later musical experiences and possibly working environments. I think it is incumbent upon us as educators to help students join the dots, and there is no one way to do this of course. For example, it may seem that in the working world of historical performance the performer/participant is often offered the opportunity to engage, make choices and work creatively, whereas perhaps if you are an orchestral musician, the opportunities for this are less. Enabling students to join the dots and think beyond their instruments, to which their identity is often tied, is one way we can help them in the acquisition of what Bourdieu calls ‘cultural capital’. Acculturation is the cornerstone of the creative process. It is also crucial to the performance context, or, as the sociologist himself characterizes it, the ‘habitus’ of the performing artist.