Monday, March 27, 2006

Group dynamics

Just thot i'd post my feelings on group dymanics, or very roughly in chinese "一个组合的默契". after reading an article in Yen's blog...

you know.. having played in so many small groups over the years that i've played the guitar, i must really say that every group has its own distinct group dynamics (gd).

Take for instance, my very first Genus small group experience, playing this piece called "Aria" ( i cant even remember the whole song title, and the composer..anyway..) in my 1st year undergraduate life. The group consisted mostly 2nd year members, many of whom i really didnt know well at all, even at that time. I was simply a junior tasked with handling a really simple contrabass part. (think it was all single notes, and absolutely no complex rhythms) I remembered, Hui min *wonder if she is still working in Medicorp these days.. have not seen her on any news reporting channels lately* , who was playing the guitaron, really helped me settled in the group. Other than me, the other junior then was Chet Fui, who was really stressed out playing the Prime part. The group (at least to me at that time) was functional, but there was little interaction, little teasing and jokes, and hence little fun. Thus, my memories of it was also really limited to those bits i already mentioned above.

The most memorable small group i joined and played in my undergrad years in Genus must be the Tabajaras Small group. This was my 3rd year in Genus. The group consisted of :

(1) Kar Mun - musically strong and can play decent guitar, but tend to be overly critical, and sometimes he's just downright 'nasty' (like Simon Cowell in American Idol)
(2) Raj - the oldest bird in the group, aka the Maestro. As always the chords and rhythm experts, and the forever Mr Nice guy! :)
(3) Hon Kit - the studious Guitaron player, who suffers from fits of uncontrollable laughter at times, esp. if tickled by dirty jokes from (1)
(4) Ivan - then President of Genus. Loves hanging out with the guys in the group, cos he's definitely 'deprived' of male-bonding opportunity in his Committee (FYI - 8 gals, 2 guys)
(5) Ee Ping - the only gal in this testosterone-driven group. volunteered (or was it forced by us? hmmm) to do percussion with the Maestro (2)
(6) Me - Ex-president, determined to finally enjoy making music (and dirty jokes) with kakis, esp. after a siong year in Comm in the previous work-year

Listening back to our recording, we did a nice job with the medley. Especially since we've had no scores whatsoever to work with. It was simply listening to recording, and planting our own tunes + Chords + counter-melodies + percussion, etc... But what was truly memorable was we REALLY HAD FUN! The GD was fantastic, and each practice session was more like a fun gathering, where we tried out ideas, cracked jokes and suan-ed one another (i admit, we also suaned a lot of other genus ppl as well lah), and genuinely enjoyed the process of making music together.

I wonder if the current Genus small groups actually do have fun playing together or not... or was some of the groups formed purely becos Dom "forced" them to form a group and play... That would be sad.

Anyway, to more current groups...

Guitaresque has been formed and re-formed several times over. But throughout the changes in membership, we've always maintained it as a Guitar Quartet. I remember we were once called the Genres Guitar Quartet back then... Anyway, the transformation looked like this:

Kar Mun, Shu Hann, Raj, Ivan
Karen (In) , Kar Mun, Shu Hann, Ivan * Raj (Out)
Liang Shan (In), Karen, Shu Hann, Ivan * Kar Mun (Out)
Alex (In), Liang Shan, Shu Hann, Ivan * Karen (Out)

** Reads like a substitution list of a football team eh? :)

Of the original 4, only Ivan and I remained. But that is hardly important.. What is though, is that throughout the years of playing in the quartet, we've continued to improve and develop as better ensemble players. And perhaps strangely, even though we had all these "substitutions" throughout the years, the GD got richer with time too. We have better 默契 now then we ever did before. For instance, some of us are able to "read" how the other player is gonna pull-back the tempo, or execute a rit. and will react instinctively to 配合. Other times, it's just the sensing the "nods" and knowing when the guy is going to 'come in' for the next note, the next phrase, etc.. (And yet, all the time, we're laughing at our mistakes during practices, poking at one another's "indian improvisations", and total disregard of rhythm/tempo signs, even at "blackened" guitar strings that should've been changed years ago! )

Perhaps it's becos we've all become better players over the years. Perhaps it's becos we are playing on better (and more expensive too!) instruments that we didnt have before. Or perhaps it just simply a matter of us finding the right mix of people to enjoy the process of music-making with?

Which brings me to my other small group - Masak.

Unlike Guitaresque, which is a all-prime quartet, Masak is a Niibori based 5-man group. What is similar, however, is that we've also had to "substitute" a player. After ATKS pulled out of the group, Hansen joined us.

It's difficult to make comparisons between Masak with Guitaresque. Firstly becos the 2 groups play different instruments types (prime vs niibori). Secondly, the style and the selection of repertoire is totally different as well. Where one plays a lot of technical and classical guitar pieces (we're trying to change that lah), the other does mainly easy-listening pieces like contemp, and popular songs. Thirdly and most importantly, the GD of the 2 groups are quite different...

When i come to think about it, this is really weird, becos currently, the 2 groups have 3 common members in them - me, owls, and Alex. But the practice feel and atmostphere is quite dis-similar. It has felt a littled dull and has that almost like go-thru-motion feel recently.

Take our most recent performance - Suteki da ne. We met up only for 3 brief practice sessions, and off we went onto stage for performance. It really felt to me as if Masak had performed a song for the annual concert, either becos we were obligated to put up an item (to fill a time slot? ), or becos we wanted to show "we can do it" to others? Or simply to convince/reassure ourselves that the group still has a role to play, a future to look forward to...

Somehow, the process of making music together and more important -the enjoyment of that process , felt somewhat secondary to our objective of producing a concert-worthy song for R&R.
No doubt we've had our time issues and scheduling problems to deal with. people working overtime, overseas, basically over-exhausted from personal commitments...I admit i myself am also guilty of that at times. But what disturbs me is that i don't feel any sense of that anticipation, or excitement, or even the little feeling of 'guilt' sometimes when one didnt prepare your own guitar part before coming together for practice. To sum it all up - maybe there's a lack of "freshness" in our practice. Reasons for this? I can think of a few possibilities:

1) irregular practice time (correctly highlighted by Yen), so no constant follow-ups and less opportunities to develop our GD as well as group identity
2) lack of new musical direction and challenges.
3) players now have another 'alternative' to satisfy our hunger for Niibori-styled ensemble playing - the Small Ensemble (as Snowparang pointed out - that's become like a Masak-plus). So the eagerness and excitement (and thus the willingness) to play in a Niibori quintet seems less appealing than before

Unless and until something is done to help navigate the group back on its course ( and i dont pretend to know what that may eventually be ), i think the feeling of disconnect and disinterest in Masak and its practices will grow. 但是,如果我们就此解散了的话,那将是一件非常令人婉惜的事。。。

It's up to the group members to redefine what we want to do together, to achieve together, and to decide if there's a need to remain as a quintet playing together. Afterall, even IF we should decide to disband, we'll still be playing together in the small ensemble right? *see what i mean? - refer to factor (3) above*

But if we should decide to remain performing as a regular performing quintet, then the members have to find the little bits of extras that will set the Masak practices apart from the small ensemble practices. Be it the excitement of playing new genres of music, new repertoire choices, more musically/technical challenges in the songs, or even the joy of teasing one another, the jokes, the laughs....the camaraderie. I feel that at the end, it's really up to the members of the group to reach a 共识.

But, having said that, it is also clear that in order for any group/organisation to move forward, there must be a leader, one who must take responsibility and lead the way...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best regards from NY! »

7:02 AM  

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