The Person First—And Together

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40351764

The time is 12:00 noon, Tuesday. The door to my studio is open and I am waiting for Jeff, Mary, and Chris. Their lesson is scheduled for this hour. All four of us seem to look forward consistently to seeing one another at this time; during the week we seldom have the opportunity. As each arrives there are warm greetings with conversations about the week, some of which have to do with practicing and music; but many exchanges are about our daily lives outside of our musical ones.

We gradually settle down to inter-group concerns. Our talking and listening seem to be centered more around one person at one time as we start to sort out why each has come to his lesson. From the conversation each begins to know gradually what he needs to do for the day as regards his music and tries to relate each person's needs to his own. We always find ways to do this even though the music may be as wide in stylistic range as Granados' Goyescas, Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 109, and Liszt's Paganini Etudes.

By mutual agreement, each decides whether he needs to listen or perform. The lesson begins. Performing and listening, discussing and challenging motivations for performance solutions, comparing each one's viewpoints regarding someone else's repertoire, fitting new concepts into other performances. Suddenly, everyone is concerned and performing his own composition or explaining for himself his colleague's problems on the music in question, asking for others' reactions, flowing with each person's perception of the musical problems; improvising "under" someone's performance to point out a rhythmic or melodic fragment upon which the group decides the composition is built, or improvising "after" the composition to discover a modulation or the composer's motivation for his materials; suggesting fingering solutions for a specifically difficult and unsuccessfully performed musical passage, transferring a successful approach to highlighting a phrase to another's composition—while I listen and support their interests. When solutions to their problems seem difficult to find, I remind them of the principles and concepts with which they have been working in such a way so as to indicate additional modes for going about the fulfillment of their needs.

This is a description of a group lesson. Although group lessons vary in flexibility, fluency, and originality, they all have the same bases for their productivity.

There is a changing pattern in our educational assumptions as to the most effective and desirable learning situations. The operations of Conditioning Learning (stimulus-response) do not apply to group learning. In groups the learning phenomenon is Dynamic Learning, a perceptual and conceptual process contributed by gestalt psychologists. Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) was largely responsible for bringing this point of view for learning into the interaction field of social psychology through his work in Group Dynamics. Teachers have long known that students respond to stimuli other than the words of wisdom emanating from the teacher. And while this may be still desirable, we are interested in other stimuli such as interactions of students among themselves as well as those with teachers.

Dynamic Learning in Groups consists of two kinds of experiences: 1) an integrative, confluent experience explained by Roberto Assogioli (b. 1888) as a process by which a person experiences a greater degree of integration and harmony with his personality as well as in relationship to others and his environment; 2) an experience where a metamorphosis of goals emerges as total interest in the group increases. Interests change when the group perceives possibilities for gaining satisfactions from its environment, when individual interests emerge, when new perceptions of members are added to the total activity of the group.

There are no equivalent experiences to Dynamic Learning for individual learning environments. Because of Dynamic Learning, students actually experience in group environments the phenomena of evolving, changing, and becoming.

 

In order to understand the experiences of Jeff, Mary, and Chris, foundations for their interactions and productivity in their group need to be reviewed. These foundations are predicated upon Pragmatic Philosophy, Humanistic Psychology, Gestalt Theory, Sociological Opinion, and Group Dynamics.

The Pragmatic philosopher views reality in a specific way. For him, reality means simply a relationship to his emotional and active life in which he believes. Whatever excites and stimulates him is real; whenever an idea appeals to him, he turns to it, accepts it, fills his mind with it. Whenever, on the contrary, he ignores it, fails to consider or act upon it, despises it, rejects it, forgets it, insofar as it is unreal for him, he disbelieves it. David Hume (1711-1776) stated his understanding of reality when he said that belief in anything was simply having the idea of it in a lively and active manner.

William James (1842-1909) has stated, "I live by the practical faith that we must go on experiencing and thinking over our experiences, for only thus can our opinions grow more true; but to hold any one of them as if they never could be reinterpretable or corrigible, I believe to be a tremendously mistaken attitude." Practical is an important concept in pragmatic thought, and James defines it as the distinctively concrete, individual, particular, and effective as opposed to the abstract, general, and inert.

Pragmatism is not a closed philosophic system. While the Absolutists' way of believing in truth is that they know they not only can attain truth, but know when they have attained it, the Pragmatists think that although they may attain truth they cannot infallibly know when.

As a consequence, a social organism, in our case, the group of Jeff, Mary, and Chris, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that other members will simultaneously do theirs. Wherever a desired result is achieved by their cooperation, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of their faith in one another. Its system is based upon what is important to the individual as the truth of any matter and whether he assigns validity to it. John Dewey (1859-1952) expressed the dilemma of an absolutist when he wrote, "If we once start thinking no one can guarantee where we shall come out, except that many objects, ends, and institutions are doomed. Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place."

And so our performance group continues to move on, pursuing its unique interests, not predicting the results of its activity, only having confidence that its needs are real; truths can only continue to emerge and clarify themselves.

 

Humanistic Psychology, the Third Force in psychology because of its desire to encompass the other two mainstreams of psychology, Behavioristic and Freudian, helps us understand some of the relationships Jeff, Mary, and Chris have to one another and to their music.

Humanistic Psychology began to develop in the late 1930s. It brought new emphases into psychology. These were an increased awareness of the complexity of personality, an increasing holistic orientation, and a trend toward thinking about the positive, self-actualization, peak experiences, creativity, psychological Utopia, values, and transcendent experiences. These emphases have not always been true. The Behaviorist does his best to emulate the physical sciences, particularly physics. The model of man is conceived to be the result of his inherited characteristics and more importantly, his conditioned reflexes. The behaviorist actually pays little attention to man's behavior, often contenting himself to study the behavior of animals in which the experimental variable can be more easily controlled. Behaviorism generally focuses on partial responses of the organism, on simpler problems, for which manageable techniques of study are available, rather than on the behavior of the organism as a whole.

It remained for Freud and the early psychoanalysts to bring the person into psychology as an object of study. But the sick person, not the well one, became the focus of attention. Psychopathology is valid; it cries out for treatment and care. So, understandably, over the years there is a continuing emphasis upon research into the nature of human and emotional and mental distress, in the attempt to find some cure for them.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), generally thought to have fathered the Humanistic movement, was not the first of the humanistic psychologists. Gordon Allport's 1937 Personalistic Psychology and H. Murray's 1938 Need-Press Psychology were on the scene before Maslow's 1954 first statement of his humanistic position. Quite independently, they arrived at a common theoretical position which S. Maddi and P. Costa have called Humanism in Personology.

Now we begin to understand the independence and activity of Jeff, Mary, and Chris in their group. Maslow, like Allport and Murray, saw man as proactive, that is, actively seeking stimulation, rather than merely reacting to stimuli; as possessed of a psychological organization, being a structured whole rather than a mere summation of parts, and revealing a unity at any one moment as well as over long periods of time (holism); as psychologically complex rather than simple; as capable of functioning rationally; psychologically unique though possessing much in common with all other men. Trusting this concept of the individual, there is no question in my mind, as the teacher of this performance group, that I must accept the motivations, activities, and results of this self-energized group.

And so we see Jeff, Mary, and Chris in their lesson pursuing their uniqueness, realizing their commonness with one another, accepting their personalities in all of their dimensions, and seeking peak experiences that feel self-actualizing and creative. They are pursuing their needs, integrating themselves with their music and its performance. They are pursuing Aldous Huxley's "Here and Now" which feels at all times to all members complete and at the same time extraordinarily complex. The process is real, active, and fulfilling.

Much about Humanistic Psychology is not new. Holism, whether in biology or psychology, has been stressed earlier by the philosopher Jan Smuts (1926) and by the neurologist Kurt Goldstein (1939). Carl Jung (1923) had conceptualized the process of individuation long before Maslow began to write about self-actualization. And both Jung (1928) and Otto Rank (1936) were forerunners of Abraham Maslow in thinking of neuroses not so much as a state of illness but as a condition carrying within it the possibilities of further development for understanding personality.

The legacy of Maslow was that he restored full humanness to science by declaring all of our human experiences as capable of study. So many of the terms, phrases, and concepts now accepted, even into the national vernacular, are Maslow's: need hierarchy, self-actualization, peak experiences. The person first? Indeed! Jeff, Mary, and Chris expect it.

 

As we move toward the end of the Twentieth Century we begin to witness emancipatory views of human social motivation. One view is the German psychology of Gestalt, 1912, that was not translated into English until 1935 by Kurt Koffka, Principles of Gestalt Psychology. We are still trying to understand its theory, thought processes, and application. I must admit they are not mysterious to Jeff, Mary, and Chris. While they do understand themselves, a short investigation of Gestalt may help us to understand them.

Gestalt theory states there are wholes, the behavior of which are not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. Gestalt theory tries to determine the nature of such wholes.

For example, is it really true that when one hears a melody he has a sum of individual pitches which constitute the primary foundation of his experience? What he has actually is a part which is itself determined by the character of the whole, or what takes place on each pitch depends upon the complete melody. The life of any pitch depends upon its role in the melody, e.g., "b" as a leading tone to "c" is different from "b" as a tonic.

Another example, when a group of people work together and are productive, they never constitute a mere sum of independent egos. Instead, their relationships and enterprises become their mutual concern; each works as a functioning part of the group, and the results are invariably different from the results of an individual working in isolation.

The opposite of Gestalt theory would be to note the individual behavior of Jeff, then Mary, then Chris, then me, with the hope we would gain a deeper and more precise understanding of our group. We would be intent upon a systematic collection of data which would exclude precisely that which is most vivid and real in the living phenomena it studies. Somehow, the thing that matters would elude us. This Associationist view means breaking up complexes into their component elements: isolate the elements, discover their laws, then reassemble them.

In Gestalt theory meaningfulness is obtained when an event is determined by concrete, inner exigencies rather than blindly following external factors. A whole is meaningful when a concrete mutual dependency is discerned among its parts. What can we say about our experience with Jeff, Mary, and Chris which can give us a Gestalt for understanding it? The most vivid and real experience the four of us have during a lesson is when the last person performs his repertoire and realizes that the individual solutions which had been related to other performances have fused into a mutual one applicable to this performance. The phenomenon is that there is virtually no similarity in this performance to how it had been experienced throughout the week. The feelings of everyone are that we are experiencing all musics and personalities while simultaneously "riding" through them and witnessing what seems to be at the time, inexplicable changes in conception illustrating the Gestalt theory that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

The argument of Gestalt theory for musical understanding seems to be irrefutable, even though we witness an associationist approach in most of our musical education. At least musicians do not argue about the end result of understanding their materials, the means of arrival at this understanding is the arena in which there seems to be an eternal argument.

However, with Jeff, Mary, and Chris there is no argument. Their Group Gestalt permits them to hear Granados, Beethoven, and Liszt so as to identify common characteristics between composers and individual compositions, fit the unique characteristics of their experiences into perspective, understand divergencies, and build upon one another's idea, thereby creating new principles for action. This Group Gestalt has an explosive release for all of us, each of us feeling that we are finishing the lesson with so much more of our individual selves than when we arrived.

 

Having discussed the foundations of Music Performance in Group Settings—Pragmatism, Humanism, and Gestalt Theory—we can turn to the emergence of a relatively new field of investigation, Group Dynamics. Based upon these foundations, Sociological Opinion preceded and built a strong motivation for research in Group Theory.

From the middle of the nineteenth century sociologists started to discard the Cartesian tradition begun by René Descartes (1596-1650) and supported by Auguste Comte (1798-1857) which outlined a sharp distinction between the knowing, thinking subject and the external world; or, in short, a precise conceptual barrier was erected between the individual and his society. Karl Marx (1818-1883) started to realize that when man confronts himself he also confronts other men. "What is true of man's relationship to his work, to the product of his work and to himself, is also true of his relationship to other men." His was a holistic approach regarding society as a structurally interrelated whole. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) felt that once parts grow they are mutually dependent on each other; with growing differentiation comes growing interdependence and hence integration. Further, as groups grow, their parts (individuals) become more unlike; while groups exhibit an increase of structure.

Georg Simmel (1859-1918) continued with the same sociological premise that groups impress themselves upon individuals allowing them to become specifically human. "Only through groups can man attain freedom." Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) felt that self-esteem is a reflection of the esteem accorded by one's fellow man and that competition is rooted in fear of loss of self-esteem. With Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) sociologists begin to confirm that society and individuals do not denote separable phenomena, but are collective and distributive aspects of the same thing. "A person's self grows out of a person's commerce with others. . . . Self arises through communication; one's consciousness of himself is a reflection of the ideas about himself that he attributes to other minds. . . . There is no sense of "I," without "you," "he," "they." . . . Because of how we perceive ourselves, we perceive others the same way, and perceive others perceiving us that way."

I am forced to smile to myself as I write the observations of these sociologists because these opinions all seem so natural and obvious to Jeff, Mary, and Chris. What reasons do they need for justifying that their group influences them?

George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) was at the forefront of Pragmatism and studied behavior of the individual as it lies within the social process: individual experience is dealt with from the standpoint of group. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in his Evolutionary Theory forced us to the conclusion that nothing is permanent but process itself giving biologic support to the foundations of Pragmatism. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) in his General Theory of Relativity explains that "lightning" becomes a fact out of one person sharing his experience with another person's. "The individual," he states, "is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human community, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave."

Karl Mannheim (1883-1947) lends sociological credence to Gestalt Theory by stating ". . . the figures emerge only in relation to the group against which they are perceived." Today sociologists are not constructing abstract barriers between thought and action—the process of the individual is organic by which every act of thought is an essential part and explanation of conduct.

All of the foundations thus far discussed are arriving at the same point—The Person First. Is there any wonder Jeff, Mary, and Chris are so different; and play and sound so differently from one another?

 

Group Dynamics became an identifiable field toward the end of the 1930s in the United States and has experienced a rapid growth since that time. One would realistically expect a rise of empirical research on the functioning of groups to clarify the psychology of the individual—the social situation being the factor in the determination of individual action because an isolated individual without some measure of group participation is unknown to human experience.

Though the dynamics of groups have long interested psychologists, however, the growing developmental psychology was preempted by the cognitive domain with the advent of Sputnik, 1958. The interest in cognitive development was additionally reinforced by the War on Poverty and the inauguration of Head Start with the results that cognitive development has continued to be a major focus of research effort.

The past few years, however, have seen a rebirth of interest in social development; and here, too, as we have found in sociological opinion, societal rather than purely scientific concerns seem to have proved the major impetus. It is probably more than coincidence that the student activism, "Watergate," and the impact of violence in television on children have their parallels in the intensification of research on internalization of moral norms. The women's movement has, no doubt, contributed to the renewal of interest in sex role development in society. And the very recent research on equity and their forms of distributional justice possibly reflects a sensitivity to societal norms and the rising demands of poor people and poor nations for a greater share of the earth's resources.

In the chapter on "The Study of Small Groups" from the 1978 Annual Review of Psychology the authors anticipate a return to a more holistic approach in research. For example, the effect of other individuals upon the performance of the single individual is of major research interest. Robert Zajonc supports this theory in two studies, 1965 and 1966, which found that "the mere presence of another individual whether co-acting or observing increases the general drive state." N. Cottrell, 1968, proposes that "the presence of others is a learned source of drive." As early as 1928 G.B. Watson in his study "Do Groups Think More Efficiently than Individuals?" found that the product of group thinking is distinctly superior to that of the average and even that of the best member of the group. Additionally, in the case of this research, the product of group thinking far exceeds the thinking of the best single member when compared to the superiority of the best single member over the average. In 1958, William Faust constructed studies that found, as had previous studies, that group performance was superior to individual performance; groups in the experiments solved significantly more problems than did individuals.

Group Theory has struggled with the separation of the diagnostic from the therapeutic, the separation of the observer from the participant. Jeff, Mary, Chris, and I have a group. Our behavior is more than what can be understood through the physical, mechanical, and reductionistic methods usually associated with research. Our group can be more accurately described by our emotional involvement and the specific responses motivated by our emotions. Pragmatists, Humanists, Gestaltists, and Sociologists have given us the foundations for a research of human social motivation which can promote the good of mankind. The threads of a new view of human social motivation lie ready to be woven into the cloth of Group Dynamic Research.

 

The lesson is nearing its end. The group feels as if it has more energy than at the beginning of the lesson. Invariably, when we first meet we are a little "out of touch" with each other, and as the lesson continues we become more integrated with ourselves, the others, and our environment. We accomplish this by each member directing his own experience, stating "where" he is with each experience and expecting others to do the same. We know more about ourselves as the lesson draws to an end.

Our goals have changed. Metamorphoses have occurred regarding the dimensions of each composition; they have been extended and deepened. For example, half step pitch movement in Mary's "Requiebros" from the Goyescas was explored in terms of releasing tension as in a "ti" to "do" relationship in ascending passages and a "fa" to "mi" in descending passages. Unexpected changes took place achieving longer "line," movement across bar lines, more expressive phrasing, fewer accents, and a more expressive use of time through rubati and agogics instead of an excessive reliance on volume.

Jeff and Chris also experienced this concept discovering its effect in their repertoire. In actual performance or through discussion, we covered the group's entire recital repertoire.

Jeff's senior recital is in two days. Playing Schubert Impromptus Op. 90, Bartok Improvisations Op. 20, Beethoven Sonata Op. 109, and ending with an improvisation entitled Reflections, Jeff is captivated with the new meanings he has discovered for his program. Mary's senior recital is in ten days: Granados Goyescas, Beethoven Sonata Op. 57, Chopin Ballade Op. 38, and also ending with an Improvisation; while Chris' master's recital, which he is previewing in one week, is Bach E-flat and D-sharp minor "Prelude and Fugue," Book I Well-Tempered Clavier, Barber Sonata Op. 26, Haydn F minor Variations, Hob. XVII/6, Liszt Paganini Etudes Nos. 4 and 6, and Chopin Etudes Op. 25 Nos. 8 and 10.

This wide range of repertoire has been considered in the lesson, reshaped, and freshly experienced. Each member has "absorbed" not only his own repertoire but that of each person's enriching his specific program, as well as taking the trust, cooperation, and support of the group with him to the recital hall. I predict the experiences of Jeff, Mary, and Chris will have an aesthetic, artistic impact that each could not have without the Dynamic Learning that occurred in the group. Their audiences will benefit.

Problem Solving has been an important activity throughout the lessons this year. Each member has learned that the great enemy of problem solving is rigidified definitions (in our case, one interpretation) or the failure to see and explore systematic ambiguities. Without support and interest of the group to expand its interests, each member tends to withdraw from this preconscious conscious process of manipulating ambiguous symbols in patterns so as to produce new meanings.

Jeff, Mary, and Chris have learned that in their creative experiences every moment is unique and contains the potentiality for original expression. Each has learned that he is successful in his expressions when he is direct, honest, consistent in his own feelings, convictions, and integrity; and that he feels a genuine devotion and respect for his life and his environment. Each person's experience, I believe, is one of an independent creative-intelligence.

They have learned that to be a conformist is to be confined, restricted, and limited. They know from other experiences that when they conform they do not use their own resources but take direction from experts, authority figures, and traditional guides. During these moments each feels he has given up his actual identity to submerge himself into unproductive modes of behavior. The final outcome of such behavior is that each finds himself rejected by others for not being a unique independent self and eventually comes to reject himself.

The Person First—and Together? Can one learn otherwise? Ask Jeff, Mary, and Chris.

Read 2508 times

Last modified on Friday, 09/11/2018

Go to top