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Wednesday, January 16


Laura Barrett is a playful polymath, an intellectual romantic and a Torontonian born and bred.  She is best known as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with solo recordings on Paper Bag Records, but somehow she also finds time to perform in an all-female Weezer cover band appropriately dubbed Sheezer, as a sometimes member of the Hidden Cameras and (full disclosure, my band) Henri Fabergé and the Adorables. To add to her already busy schedule, she is pursuing a Master's degree in teaching at OISE, a program combining teacher certification and a qualitative research paper in a subject of her choosing. She is investigating how teachers invite their students to engage in creative work.

Henri Fabergé: What are you learning about creativity in your research?

Laura Barrett: The research specifies two criteria for a product or work to be considered creative: novelty and appropriateness. And this is the thing: "novel" you can define, you know it when you see it, something is new, no matter how mundane. But the "appropriate" aspect, that is obviously up for debate. It has a lot to do with issues of taste.

HF: Do you think your approach to teaching in general has been affected by your experiences as an artist? In your work as a songwriter and performer you challenge certain established truths...

LB: I don't think you need to run counter to established truths to make good art, there is good art that speaks to things that are very true and eternal. I'm specifically positioning my paper as an extension of what Sir Ken Robinson talks about regarding divergent thinking---how do we encourage divergent thinking and innovation, because we don't know what our children or our students are going to need in the future. So it's best to get them being as dynamic and resourceful as possible, and best to give them a range of stimuli, an atmosphere of openness, an ease of expression. Where that runs into problems is, do you have any real authority as a teacher? What if these creative acts are antisocial, anti-authority? Are they dissent beyond what is reasonable? 

HF: So you would like to keep your intellectual activism out of teaching.

LB: No, I think it can be part and parcel. Granted, you are part of a public system that is funded by the government. It's a public trust, a great honour and a great pressure to manage thousands of micromoments, ethical and psychological and moral and cognitive and physical. Classroom teaching may not be my final destination. I might continue in research and get my PhD in Applied Psychology and Human Development. 

HF: And has studying to be a teacher affected the way that you approach your artwork?

LB: I don't think music and teaching share the same drive. Music is something that is very much for me, it's very self-interested, and teaching is something that I have to remove my ego from as much as possible without preventing myself from doing a good job. It's not my attitudes that I want to be inculcating in these children; I want them to be asking me lots of questions, I want them to be interested in exploring, I want them to love learning. I can't even necessarily preach things that I think are universally sound, because preaching is the surest way to get people to turn off, unless they're already in the temple. They have to find things themselves. 

HF: I guess I meant, in terms of communicating ideas to an audience or at least communicating ways of understanding or modes of thinking, has that changed the way you view the music you're writing, or the performing you're doing?

LB: I think the main distinction between art and teaching lies in the kinds of information you're trying to transmit, though I don't mean to use the word "transmit" to describe my teaching practice. It implies a container model of learning: “This stuff is in my head, and it goes to your head, and I’ve taught you.” Whereas in reality you should be knowledge-building, you should be engaging in critical thought and building a world of knowledge for yourself. To a certain extent you need some mentor or guide who has more pre-existing knowledge and then the job of a really good teacher is to get the kid to start thinking like a scientist or a philosopher so that they can build knowledge long after you're gone. Some of the philosophy I’m thinking about when it comes to teaching has definitely made its way into my lyrical content, but I'm not approaching art-making in any different way. Music becomes my escape, a refuge, not necessarily done for money.

HF:  If it was a possibility to be a professional musician would you have trouble with that, because it would no longer be your escape?

LB: I have a lot of difficulties reconciling art-making with money-making. I would rather money not be the deciding factor in my musical development. I think it's worth money, I think it has value, and I guess I could be Laura Barrett: musician, composer, writer... but I don't think I could ever do one thing for the rest of my life, that's really what it comes down to. Laura Barrett: can’t keep still.

HF: As an artist would you want to have the ear of the entire world, or are you happy to perform to whoever happens to be in the room? 

LB: Do I have a right to have a conversation with the whole world? What do I have to say that is worth hearing by the whole world? No one does. Maybe the Dalai Lama.

HF Well, would you prefer a large audience that has flocked to come and see music they are already familiar with, or a small audience where you can see that change in perception during that creative conversation?

LB: A small audience. Because that is me going viral very slowly. Maybe the contagion metaphor is not that pleasant. When artists get picked up by major labels or appear on some TV show, that results in a big leap in their audience, I find that very interesting.  But building a relationship with my audience is an organic process that I don't want to rush.   Our whole conversation has been one of size, really, the realm of influence. T‪eaching is like a series of small concerts, with one crucial distinction: you certainly don't want your students to be focused on your performance, but rather their own.

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