How do you solve the problem of…?


Not quite the lyrics from the chorus of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, but a phrase that is asked, and if not asked, often deliberated over, by many people.  To find an answer, I use the process that has helped me many times during my career as a composer and performer.  Think of five, ten, twenty or one hundred ways of solving the question and then pick the most suitable one to resolve the issue.  These solutions are not just considered in black and white, each solution will have a set of consequences and these are also thought through during the process.  My concern in this blog is: are we passing this (or any similar) system of thinking on to the next generation or does an instant access to information mean solution finding is becoming the specialist’s realm? 

The main descriptions of ‘problem’ in various dictionaries define it adversely as; “difficulty”, “obstacle”, “impediment”, “bad situation”, “involving doubt or uncertainty”, but also more constructively as; “puzzle”, “challenge”, “something that invites resolution” or “a question that needs consideration”.  The word problem is the problem, the connotations of a “problem child”, “Houston we have a problem” and the use of “problem saturation” in the media are mainly unfavourable although “a problem shared is a problem halved” has a far more productive tone. 

How do we perceive uncertainty and the unknown and what strategies are there to find a way to use these factors in a creative and beneficial way?  Many artists have accepted limitations on their thinking as a way to channel their creativity.  Igor Stravinsky in his book Poetics of Music describes “Will I then have to lose myself in this abyss of freedom?  To what shall I cling in order to escape the dizziness that seizes me before the virtuality of this infinitude?”  This he clarifies with “My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.” 

Creating works of music, art, literature, drama or film inevitably necessitates confrontation, often in the mind of the artist, that will have to be resolved.  My thinking is; what are the concepts, what are the range of solutions that could be used to complete the work and what choices will I make, once I have made these choices what will need to be considered next?  The innovation (or concept) may be original but what invention (or practical solutions) will be needed to bring the idea to fruition?

In England education has moved too far towards assessment and measurement of achievement (both for pupils and the establishments in which they are being taught) to the detriment of creative thinking.  Ten years ago the workshop with “problem solving” as the theme elicited many ideas and practical solutions.  The students of today seem uninterested in thinking up ideas or for many the concept is new.  Their first thoughts are to look it up on line, it has not let them down in the past. 

If study and research relies on facts (and opinions) found on line, who will challenge the politicians, scientists and arts communities in the future?  Where will the thinkers and creators come from?  Will ideas be imported from a different culture and dressed up as original or be developed from existing theory?  Who will develop the new and radical ideas?  If it is anything like the stories from many entrepreneurs, the new talent will mainly come from individuals who left school with no (or very few) qualifications, not a good advert for an education system.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, James Hutton, Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin had many difficulties coming to terms with the observations and philosophies they discovered being at odds with established religious doctrine.  Already in this century the theories of Albert Einstein are being challenged by the experiments with the Hadron Collider and the theories from scientists like Peter Higgs.  Where will the next group of creative thinkers come from, especially if the answers and questions cannot be found on line?

Some of these ideas are important chapters in the continuously evolving reference book of human knowledge, others are paragraphs describing ideas that led to different thinking and eventually another chapter.  We must continue to nurture creative talent, in whatever discipline, make ‘problem solving’ and thinking around problems an integral part of any curriculum.

Some facts, some opinions, just about right for an on line blog.


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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2 Responses to How do you solve the problem of…?

  1. leegascoyne says:

    In a lot of ways we are all sucking on the teat of Google and it could be argued that searching for information on the internet does solve problems e.g. a ‘problem’ arises in front of a student and they seek a solution through the most obvious, easy and least resistant path of an internet search. Therefore in their eyes the problem is solved and Google Power reinforced. The crucial difference, as you point out, is that when this is applied within a creative field, the spontaneous self discoveries of an inwardly searching student (the true creative?) become seriously undermined by this outwardly focused habit. I agree that within an education system, nurture in it’s most sensitive form is needed. But of course nature also plays it’s part. Many of the artists and thinkers you mention were compelled to reflection, introspection and creative jumping off points that self solved problems the individual faced on their journey. To challenge the system that seeks to measure that which by it’s own design, it’s nature, is to question measurement and redefine it… is a problem…

    • Systems are there to be challenged, to be made fit for the user and not for the convenience of measurement. Difficult in an age where ‘like’ and ‘rate this’ appear on every site.

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