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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Blissful ignorance

We are inclined to berate ignorance without pausing to appreciate its better points. The ignorant may well have some distinct advantages over those of us who have enjoyed the benefit of a long and arduous education and can now proclaim ourselves fully informed authorities, masters, knowledgeable experts in our business. We may however be quite unaware of the tunnel vision from which we suffer.

If we accept the possibility that those innocent of the traditional tutored wisdom may be imaginative, inventive and visionary, then we may also find blissful ignorance is a creative force to be reckoned with. Our disciplined scholarship may make us blind to the possibility that someone without it may have a startling creative talent. Or if such talent is suspected, we may be tempted either to educate it into conformity with accepted training (and therefore destroy its originality), or disallow it.

Marie Bernarde Soubirous, the daughter of an impoverished miller of Lourdes, saw the Virgin Mary who pointed out to her a forgotten spring in a cave on the bank of the river Gave. But she was ignorant and therefore not permitted to have visions of that kind, according to the church. We are all inclined to exclude those whose gifts do not fit the accepted formulae, and yet this arrogance might lead us to miss the exploration of the most imaginative new pathways by an individual who can excite with challenges to conventional structures, harmonic and contrapuntal processes, and the apparent limitations of instrumental technique. (Britten, who did not play the guitar, countered Julian Bream's objection that a passage he had written was 'technically near impossible' by suggesting a way and relaxing technical constraints with lateral thinking).

The weight of traditional education and the often intimidating authority of teaching can exclude any questioning by the innocent mind, which is then forced into a state of inferiority, an unjust reward for what may have been an enlightening and revealing challenge. Behind ignorance there could be an imaginative journey worth making. Recalling her childhood, Alison Uttley remembered asking her teacher where the flame of a candle went when it was blown out. She was made to stand outside the classroom for her impertinence! But then, teachers must protect themselves from such challenges.

Copyright © 1 June 2004 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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