Klarinet Archive - Posting 000243.txt from 2002/06
From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: [kl] A (musical?) game
Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2002 19:44:39 -0400
When I was at school, I sometimes played a word game with a friend. It
can be played with a larger group of people too.
The game is to spin a tale (often beginning "Once upon a time...") as a
collaborative enterprise. One person begins, and if there are only two
people involved, they contribute words alternately. With more people,
you go round and round in a circle. You can do it in writing if you
I've often thought that this constitutes a (highly simplified) model of
the essence of what happens when you play music in a group. The reason
is that in both situations, at any one moment everyone has a more or
less vague idea -- a mental model, if you will -- of what the story, or
the piece, is 'about'. But because these models aren't quite the same,
you have to keep on updating your model to include what someone else has
In the musical analogy, what you're adding isn't different *notes*, of
course. You have to play the notes and phrases that are in your part.
But you might, and good players do, make contributory modifications of
dynamic, slight (or even larger) changes of tempo or atmosphere,
slightly heavier or lighter interpretations of the articulation, and so
on, all without going so far as to be arguably contradicting what's
written, but so as to have the piece 'be alive', in its own terms.
In the word game, if it happens to be my turn at that point, I mostly
think of my job as being to make it possible for what has just been
added to be *retrospectively right*. Part of that is giving the next
person the chance to say something that 'fits', too.
Of course, it's more than that. Because the fun of the thing is when
someone makes the whole thing shift in an unexpected direction, by
contributing an unexpected word, but without losing grammatical
coherence. Then everyone has to make big mental shifts in order to
I suppose you could think of it as a sort of virtual ouija
board, because when it works well, the story seems to take on a life of
But -- and here's what I think is interesting -- the whole thing can be
totally wrecked by one person. I gave up playing this game with my
children a few years ago, because they wanted to do things like, "Once
upon a time, there FISH!" They found that funny, you see, whereas I, in
my spoilsport way, was after something that I knew could be entertaining
in a more subtle, and therefore funnier way.
It was like saying, "Mornington Crescent!" at the wrong moment, for
those of you who know that game.
I thought that I could explain this to them, but I found that actually,
it was quite a deep divide. They just thought I had no sense of humour,
and was trying to control everything.
I think I similarly want music to take on a life of its own, and that's
perhaps why I sometimes resent playing that seems to rub the nose of
something that's 'trying to grow' in the ego of one particular player's
choice, and moreover in a way that it's impossible to recover from.
Has anyone else tried playing this game? And had similar experiences?
_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE http://classicalplus.gmn.com/artists
tel/fax 01865 553339
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