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Matt Roberts' Music Blog

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vulnerability and Connection In Music

I recently watched a TED talk by researcher/novelist/speaker Brene Brown on the subject of "The Power of Vulnerability". I found this talk very inspiring, and immediately thought of how these ideas could be applied in all sorts of situations.  These situations included more than just the area of interpersonal relationships (although I did immediately e-mail the link to my girlfriend Bryn). One really exciting thought was about how these ideas could apply to making music, and art in general.

Maybe I should back up here and tell you the gist of what the video is about.  Dr. Brown is a researcher who has spent over a decade collecting peoples' personal stories about connection, and then analyzing them to understand the reasons why human beings do or do not feel connection.  What she found was that one of the biggest reasons we do not feel connection is shame, which she defined as the fear of disconnection. People who do have a strong sense of connection tend to be those who do not feel shame as intensely because they have an intrinsic belief that they are worthy of love and belonging. Furthermore, she goes on to say that they have three other things: courage (which she defines as the ability to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart), compassion (for themselves and others), and connection as a result of authenticity (that is, they naturally act in a way that reveals their true self, which inspires others to do the same, resulting in the opportunity for connection).

Isn't connection exactly what we as musicians - or as artists - are striving for?  But it is easy to feel shame - the fear of disconnection - in relation to music or art-making.  Unfortunately, this fear leads to exactly what we are afraid of - making bad art.  For example, last week I visited New York City and sat in at the jam session at Smalls. I was very nervous to play in a jam session in New York for the first time, and the host gave me some very intimidating vibes before allowing me to play, so I was feeling a lot of "fear of disconnection" while I was playing - basically the fear that I wouldn't be accepted by the other musicians in the room.  Consequently, when it came time for me to solo, I had virtually no interest in saying anything profound, I just wanted to get through it without anyone thinking that I didn't deserve to be up there. I didn't make any attempt at developing my musical ideas, my hands shook, I think I may have lost the form... it was doubtlessly not a high point in the history of music, and may have even ended up making the other musicians think exactly what I didn't want them to.

I think this sort of thing happens all the time with musicians - fear getting in the way by causing bad musical decisions, difficulty focusing, etc. (I also find this "fear of disconnection" a hurdle while composing.) But the other side is that I think if a musician could come to terms with their fears, they might be able to achieve that "connection through authenticity" that Dr. Brown was talking about, except with their audience.  Not only would they make better musical decisions and be able to focus better, if they were able to convince the audience somehow - perhaps through their music and they way they acted - that they were presenting their real self in an unafraid way, I think that would likely result in some powerful musical experiences. I like this idea because it makes the job of making music seem very meaningful, since it would mean making good music involves developing and sharing skills (energies? vibes?) that are important to all aspects of human activity, not just music.

Anyway, check out the video, and I'd love to hear your comments!

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  1. Hey Matt,
    Great writing!! Such an important subject to think about and well connected and explored in our musical lives. I hope you're doing well and wish you all the very best in 2011. Take care,
    Andrew Kay

  2. Matt! This is absolutely one of my favourite TED Talks. I repeat Brown's quotation all the time to myself:

    Great correlation to music.