'Flow', Participatory Music by Stanford Prof. Ge Wang creator of SMULE at MSRI

with bonus: amateur defined

After a crash course including a life-sized image of 20 Stanford kids circled up onstage into a SLORk -Stanford Laptop Orchestra - (there is a PlORk at Princeton), our lecture turned performance - or perhaps 'demo' for those of us newly intiated. You ask, "A laptop computer transformed into many new instruments?" Where is the wood? the vibrating string or hammer? At least explain how the IKEA salad bowl speakers work.....

The PR getting me out of the studio was the promise of discussing how people are naturally musical, how now with the internet and prevalence of mobile devices, we easily and passively 'consume' music. Is music only a commodity? What about making it for its own sake? for fun? This is the fiery debate I'd come out on a school night to hear.

Ge waxed about lowering barriers to participating in music, affording access through this little item we are very attached to: our phones. "Mobile music making" he further ties (via animated tablature for his Ocarina and Piano Apps) to games - and - what can be called getting 'in the zone' or 'in flow'.  As a musician, and in sports of course, many of us can relate to being lost or finding 'the flow'. Ge describes that headspace as being in flow with a sense of freedom borne out of a perceived skill set and perceived challenge. During flow there is a complete sense of joy and unconscious merging of action and awareness. He says that people who are used to manipulating their smart phones can learn easily to make music on them. Clearly, some college students are diving deep into instrument identities making up and crafting their parts to be in the SLORk. 

Of course, dedicated Suzuki approach teachers might relate it to learning the Book One songs with all the tunes and rhythms already in your head! The doable challenge of playing the known piece when well matched with skills at the keys produces an unconscious 'flow'.


The last memorable point was dissecting the word, 'Amateur'. It used to very honorably be defined as "one who engages in a study, art or sport for pleasure rather than for financial gain". Derived from latin 'amare': love of the activity.  Today the definition often describes one who is a a non-professional, dilettante or dabbler, with superficial knowledge in an activity or lacking polish. Elevating the love of learning and playing music is what Ge really left the audience with- it kind of rescued my niggling questions about how or whether a laptop or a smartphone is a musical instrument.  

Meanwhile, keep the creative and active fun stoked with your child at the keys. Ask for a little song to reflect the emotions or activities of your day. Name the song. Do one yourself and try to remember it (use a smart phone to record it!) for your next lesson.