Sunday, July 14, 2019

Radical Originality

It looks promising that the title of these last four days is “The Storm That Never Came.”
And thankfully. Every few hours, the word was “Nowit is coming!” And it never did. 
Eight of us spent the day at our host’s lovely house prepared for the worst and it never did anything but drizzle. Twice our phones went off with emergency alerts and both times nothing happened. Believe me, I’m not complaining. 

Meanwhile, I spent some of yesterday morning working on my book, a section about blending in (one of music’s great gifts) and standing out (also). I quoted an 18thcentury English poet I had never heard of, Edward Young. I saw the quote in the Nobel Museum in Stockholm and liked it. So I went to Mr. Google to find the source and there was a whole page about the topic of “Originality.”

Even as we, like most societies, are deeply conservative in terms of wanting everyone to conform to some norm, not ask too many questions or have too many original thoughts, we also value novelty, be it the next phone ap, avant garde art or the next “new” idea about education. Sometimes it goes too far, mindlessly asking “what’s new?” instead of “how can we do or think the old just one inch better?”

But isn’t it interesting that the word “original” comes from “origin,” which could mean the first of its kind, but also attention to the origin of the idea/practice/ invention. Just like the word “radical,” which we associate with wild-eyed leftists throwing out the old ways, actually comes from “pertaining to the roots, of or having roots.” For me, the most interesting original thought and radical practice is simply looking at origins and roots from a new perspective, honoring the past with attention to the present and a vision for the future. That well describes my own work in Orff Schulwerk and in fact, Carl Orff himself created a new compositional style based on his study of Medieval music and texts. 

Here are some thought-provoking quotes about “originality” and what a blessing to be out of survival mode where I have the luxury of thinking about things like this instead of “What’s my escape plan if the predicted storm really hits?” Enjoy.

• We are all born originals – why is it so many of us die copies?    –Edward Young

• When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes. –John Shedd

• Originality is unexplored territory. You get there by carrying a canoe – you can’t take a taxi. –Alan Alda

• The world in general doesn’t know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger. –W. Somerset Maugham

• The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.  – Mark Twain

• Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it. – Laurence J. Peter

• Originality is a thing we constantly clamor for, and constantly quarrel with. –Thomas Carlyle

• Others can give you a name or a number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you yourself can only discover from within. –Thomas Merton

• The original insight is most likely to come when elements stored in different compartments of the mind drift into the open, jostle one another, and now and then form new combinations.    –Eric Hoffer

• The will to originality is not the will to be peculiar and unlike anybody else; it means the desire to derive one’s consciousness from its primary source. –Nicolas Berdyeav

• Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. –Sir Cecil Beaton

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