Creativity and Technique must feed off each other


World music has come of age. For Western percussionists, it is now essential to have some experience and knowledge in other world traditions.  Not just to be able to survive with a few gigs as a musician, but also so that they can better appreciate other cultures and negotiate intercultural relationships, which increasingly define our modern world. This is what Payton MacDonald, a composer, improviser, percussionist, singer, and educator from Idaho believes. He is also a singer and is currently studying Dhrupad vocal with the famous Gundecha Brothers. In 2012 MacDonald made his singing debut with Alarm Will Sound, singing John Cage's "Raga Music" at the River to River festival in New York City, at the Musikgebouw in Holland, and the Cork Opera House in Cork, Ireland. In spring 2013 he was awarded a Senior Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship to spend the 2013 2014 academic year in India continuing his vocal studies with the Gundecha Brothers.

His Fulbright Scholarship was for vocal training; how has that affected his music overall? Payton feels, “It has had a profound impact on my general musicianship.  I have become much more sensitive to pitch and to the extreme nuances of tuning.  Singing long tones in just intonation every day have had a centering and a calming effect on me.  It is a musical meditation.  I'm grateful I have Dhrupad in my life, it provides a wonderful yin to the yang of playing western percussion instruments.

What would he say to young musicians who want to try new things? Should they concentrate on the masters before trying new things or should they simply master their instrument and try new things? Payton says, “I think creativity is something that has to be nurtured.  I don't think one can ignore one's creative urges and just focus on technique and then suddenly one day be able to compose or improvise. This is an argument I have with my colleagues at the university where I teach.  They are resistant to the idea that classical students should develop their composing and improvising skills until they've learned their 'technique'.  But I argue that both must be developed. Simultaneously, as it is in the art and dance departments."

He goes on to add, “It has taken me decades to learn how to compose and improvise and much of what I've learned has been by simply doing it every day and finding for myself what works and what doesn't. That being said, there is no question in my mind that one should study the great masters of the past and also strive to build a very solid technique in all senses of the word. In addition to specific techniques, the most important thing you can get from the great masters is a feeling of freedom and creativity that always defines their work."

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