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  • Julian Chan

Communication

Here's what I can tell you about communication in music, in a jazz band at least.


In a "well-oiled" jazz band, every band member is able to musically feed off one another and react accordingly through a series of unspoken cues, ranging from head nods, rhythmic statements, melodic quotes, and other various types of cues depending on the band and its individuals. To the casual listener/audience member, it may appear to be some kind of ESP or "mind-reading" each other - and it's not too far fetched an idea, really. What the audience doesn't know is that the band would have been playing together for many years to have reached this stage, interspersed with band rehearsals to workshop tunes and familiarising themselves with each other's playing style. A magician does not go up and perform without having rehearsed his/her act and perfecting the process, while giving the impression to the audience that there's a "magic" involved..

So, what does this have to do with communication? Well, the communication that happens in a jazz band performance involve a series of musical and physical cues that is commonly understood by everyone in the band, and that understanding comes from having a prior agreement on what those cues are (usually off-stage in a rehearsal or something). It's not a "flash-in-a-pan" process or some nebulous kind of magic on stage. That makes an effective and beautiful performance, and the end result is that the audience come out of the show feeling good. I think I've gotten better in that process over time, while having the experience of performing for many years. Undoubtedly, I'm always learning, especially when I get the opportunity to perform with new people, or people that I don't get to perform with often.


So, here's my question for myself:


Why am I so bad at communicating with people on a human, non-musical level?

Yeah, communication is not my strong suit. In fact, I find that it's a bit too tight for me to wear - like me being too fat now to wear my nicely tailored suit (no thanks to all that emotional eating from this damn pandemic and lockdowns).

Earlier today, I ordered a pasta takeaway for me and my wife, and we ordered a penne for our choice of pasta. We like our pasta really al dente, so the time it takes for the pasta to be ready for collection until we sit down and eat it means that the pasta would be still cooking even after it leaves the cooking pot and softens. Knowing that fact, the smart thing to do would have been to ask the restaurant to pack the pasta and the sauce separately.


I didn't do that, of course. I just assumed that they would do that, because it's a takeaway.


When I collected the pasta, I saw that they had packed the pasta already mixed with the sauce, and the staff said that penne is harder than spaghetti so mixing it would cook it well. I mentioned to him that the opposite would have been a better option - but I know it was my mistake for not informing them in the first place, and assumed that they would know better. If I were to think ahead and anticipate that, we would still be able to eat the penne still somewhat al dente and not soft. It was still a yummy dinner, nonetheless.


Assumption is a dangerous way of thinking. It is also a way of thinking that many of us (well, I know I did) grew up with as part of our socio-cultural programming as a society. My rather trivial pasta scenario above is just a classic harmless example. But imagine that situation in human relationships. How many times have we made decisions involving family, friends, etc with the assumption that it was what the other party wanted? How many times did we get in trouble because of it?


To say the least, it has been a difficult challenge to break out of this mindset, and I fall back into the same trap - although less often than I use to (I hope). One of the biggest challenge I've had in this was that I have had to be really honest with myself and establish my boundaries with other people (that's for another blog post), even if it means that I run the risk of offending the other person. In this day and age, I've realised that self-care is definitely something we need to look into more, and something I've neglected for very long time. It means that I can't assume what the other person is thinking or feeling, all I can control is my ability to ask and voice myself out when I need to.


The act of finding out what another person wants or feel by simply asking and not assuming could save ourselves a lot of trouble, and I think it does get the result we really want out of that interaction.


Have a good day, everyone. Stay safe.

"Don't Make Assumptions" - Rule No.3 of Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements.

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