Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Moments of Conception 037 -- The School Song Scene from Lean On Me

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the bathroom scene in Lean On Me:

What can we learn?

Art is anger management. Joe’s school is riddled with abject poverty, low test scores, brutal gang violence and dangerous drug problems. And yet, his students can sing like angels. How is that even possible? Simple. The severe conditions that oppress their daily lives become the very fuel that enables their art. Blues music, after all, isn’t just about knowing which notes to play, but also knowing why they need to be played. These poor students may not experience happiness in their suffering, but that doesn’t prevent them from metabolizing that suffering into something that brings happiness to others. It’s a powerful lesson in humility and gratitude. The students remind us to approach creative work as thank you in perpetuity to the forces that shaped us. Both good and bad. Recognizing that, most of the time, we’re just taking dictation. When life is speaking to you, are you taking notes, or just taking notice?

Constraints are catapults. Clark doesn’t anticipate this fountain of musical talent. And frankly, neither do the students. Why should they? Nobody believes in them. Not their parents, not their teachers and not their communities. But once the principal mandates that all students have to learn the school song, and be able to perform it on demand, everything changes. The song opens a vein and their whole culture comes out barefoot. And this moment becomes the positive turning point in the movie, sending the school on a upward trajectory. Not to mention, instills a profound sense of school pride: By thy side we’ll stand and always praise thy name, to ever lend our hearts and hands to help increase thy fame. That’s not a school song, that’s a church hymn. So what allowed it to surface? Clark introduced a constraint into the creative process, forcing the students to restructure everything in the system around it. What constraint will set your creativity free?

Participate in the energy exchange. The real magic of this scene isn’t the song, but how the song changes people. The boys are back in good standing. The class erupts in applause. The instructor becomes a hero. And the principal transforms from a radical tough love disciplinarian to an encouraging, sprightly, almost lovable leader. Which is interesting, considering the phrase alma mater literally means “nourishing mother.”
That’s the power of art. It’s the great infection. A form of communication that aims at eliciting a recreative echo. An act of bringing humanity and connection to change someone else. And so, any performance, singing or otherwise, is more than just how people experience you, but how people experience themselves in relation to you. It’s not about being the life of the party, it’s about bringing other people to life at the party. When you walk into a room, how does it change?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?