Not Straight and Narrow

Day 184 Week 27 Q3 Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Meandering is OK. You do not always have to follow the straight and narrow. Most creative outliers know this. In fact, most creative outliers do not know how to follow the straight and narrow, even if they sometimes wish that they could. The experiences and outcomes that society holds out as satisfying do not always satisfy those who are wired differently. But remember, your unconventional thinking is valid and accepted, especially if you spend time with others like you, assuming you can find them because they are not necessarily joiners.  

Can non-joiners spend time with other non-joiners? Of course, they can. Just as conventional beings tend to spend time with each other, so do outliers, although usually in smaller numbers. Marching to the beat of a different drummer does not necessarily make you parade material. If you would like to march in a parade, then you better have the same tempo as those around you. People who march in parades generally do not welcome those behind them speeding up and slowing down. In fact, they don’t even like people who speed up or slow down, and never mind who does both. Then again, it is not clear how many outliers want to march in a parade.

But what if you want to play music in an ensemble? You had better find out the tempo and also in what key people are playing, or else the music will not sound very good. This is why, amongst outliers, musicians tend to be more social than artists. Once, when I was the dean of the school and the chairman of the art department retired, I was advised by a chancellor to put a music professor in charge of the art professors.  I was stunned by this suggestion, as I had assumed, being an engineer, that engineers would like to have an engineer in charge of the engineers because they might not respect anybody else and that the same would be true for artists.

It turned out that the artists respected musicians as outliers like themselves, so they accepted a musician to be in charge of their department. But the reasoning behind this was what surprised me the most. The chancellor said artists like to do their own thing in their own studio and are not as social as musicians. He said musicians not only liked to perform more than artists did but they were required to collaborate most of the time because most musicians were not solo artists. Have you ever seen an orchestra with 100 musicians playing together, both in time and in key? It is very noticeable when they don’t, but then again, perhaps playing in an orchestra is more like being in a parade or a chorus.

Now, from my perspective as a jazz musician, the floor in this thinking was that I did not think I’d be able to play in an orchestra or be in a chorus either because that would require me to play the same notes that I played the last time, which was seemingly impossible for me. After all, that is why I became a jazz musician in the first place because I was not capable of sticking to the straight and narrow. Fortunately, nobody was requiring me to.