Arts & Education Forum
Keynote 3: Arts + Values = Global transformation
By Kang So-Young, CEO and founder of Awaken Group
A friend of mine was supposed to attend the Arts and Education Forum at SOTA on the 5th and 6th of July, but because she had another work commitment, she sent me in her place for the second day. And what a day of strange coincidences it was, amidst the inspiring and thought-provoking sessions.
The keynote in the morning was given by Ms Kang So-Young, founder and CEO of Awaken Group, a global leadership development and Experience Design firm. She started the keynote by playing a short section of aria from Puccini’s La Boheme, and sharing how that aria evoked nostalgia and precious memories for her because she grew up listening to her mother sing it, and when she was old enough, even accompanied her mother on the piano. “Music and the arts have a magical power to evoke emotions”, explaining further the role of music in the arts to connect people.
Being a musician (a pianist) herself, she first talked about the mechanics of playing – technical aptitude, theory, and rote memorisation, demonstrating that by playing scales on the keyboard that was on stage. She linked this to Sir Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule that one had to practice something for at least 10,000 hours before becoming good at it. The same applies to music, or at least the technical skills aspect. She surpassed the 10,000 hour mark sometime in college, “but music is not like a computer. It’s an art, which requires interpretation, expression, meaning, and a point of view.” She continues, “until I knew myself, who I was, and what my beliefs were, I couldn’t empathise with other people.”
Demonstrating on the keyboard, she recounted a time in college where her teacher made her spend a whole hour on the opening bars to Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. The notes were clearly within her technical ability, but she was playing merely notes. Thus, the challenge was to play music, not just notes. Are we in danger of practicing technical competence but not music? How then, does one interpret music? Ms Kang’s answer to that was a simple yet profound statement – our art should be an outward expression of what’s on the inside.
She gave an analogy by using the diagram of a tree. The roots represent purpose, perfection, progress, fears, autonomy, greed, and all things on the inside. These then grow into expression, emotions, technical competence and decisions, as represented by the leaves and branches. Holding the tree and supporting it is the trunk, which signifies values. Values are a result of what’s on the inside, and they influence how one grows, just like a tree, from the roots to the branches. She gave an example of her own values in the way she works – to consciously choose (building, nurturing) relationships with people over perfection, technical competence, achievements and even excellence. However, this does not mean that she is not striving for excellence, but when a situation arises, she would rather compromise on perfection than the quality of relating to others she works with.
Showing some examples, Ms Kang then spoke on how modern art and music is getting more vulgar, as though it is the trend to express more negative emotions through one’s art or music/lyrics. Whose role is it to develop values on the inside?
Contrary to the negative art, there exists some artists whose works reflect all things positive. Highlighting the works of sculptors Antony Gromley (Angel of the North) and J. Shim (Pillar of Clouds), she mentioned that these artists use art as a reflection of their values and beliefs in harmony of nature to God. In music, Robert Gupta, 24-year-old and the youngest musician of the LA Philharmonic, set out with his project “Street Symphony”, where he plays the violin out on the streets or in prisons to reach out to the deeply ostracised, because he believes that music is medicine, and music is sanity (This author later found out that Gupta holds a pre-med biology degree).
So, what does this mean for music educators? Ms Kang then shared the three questions she frequently asks her co-workers as a guide in how to evaluate their progress – What?, So what?, and How?. The mission statement for her company was “Designing transformative experiences from the inside out to bring joy and beauty to the world”. This statement encompasses all three questions in the following way: Designing transformative experiences (what) from the inside out (how) to bring joy and beauty to the world (so what).
What? – There is a need to combine head (ideas, technical skills and theoretical knowledge), heart (values, emotions and meaning) with hands (performance, practicing, finding avenues to act eg. Community work)..
So what? – to evoke emotions like joy and excitement, which can be transformative, bring healing, and reconcile across borders..
How? – through learning experiences. She mentioned that learning has changed over the years, from lecture-based lessons to interactive/experiential, to action (practicing what you preach), to self directed (Kahn Academy, open university, YouTube) learning, then to augmented reality, just like how the teacher functions from teacher to facilitator, then coach/mentor.
In conclusion, she summarises that the arts is a powerful tool for transformation. It has the power to transcend cultural, religious and political differences, thereby creating a common language. “The world needs more beauty and joy. We are living in times of increased outward discord and dysfunction, and we (as artists/ art educators) play a significant role in shaping and guiding the head, heart, and hands of the future generations”.