Design in Music

March 16, 2011

In the book  A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink’s premise is that we have entered the Conceptual Age as creators and empathizers, progressing from farmers in the Agricultural Age, factory workers in the Industrial Age and knowledge workers in the Information Age.  He writes that we’ve moved from “an economy built on people’s backs to an economy built on people’s left brains to what is emerging today:  an economy and society built more and more on people’s right brains.”  Pink adds, that it is no longer sufficient for us to teach our children and build societies around L-Directed Thinking (left brain focused thinking), but we need to embrace the creative R-Directed Thinking (right brain focused thinking).  L-Directed Thinking is more sequential, literal, functional, textual and analytic.  R-Directed Thinking is more simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual and synthetic.

To complement L-Directed reasoning, Pink offers six “senses”  that are high-concept (“the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention”) and high-touch (“the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian, in pursuit of purpose and meaning”).  The first sense is Design. 

It is no longer enough, Pink writes, to create a product, a service, an experience, or lifestyle that is merely functional.  He says it is crucial today that we create something that is also beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging, from an economic point of view and also to be personally rewarding. Design must be a combination of utility and significance.

I was deeply touched by a study included in the book that showed the design of medical settings helps patients get better faster.  There is the tuition-free Charter High School for Architecture and Design in Philadelphia that has a 95 percent attendance rate for its students and one of the only high schools in Philadelphia without metal detectors, training the next generation of designers and diversifying a largely white profession.  There’s architect’s Louise Braverman and her Chelsea Court in NYC , constructed on a small budget but has colorful stairwells, airy apartments and a roof deck for tenants who are low-income or homeless.

Considering music, perhaps this is why I’m drawn so much to El Sistema music programs or new music  performances that engage with audiences (rather than the cold performances sometimes associated with new music).   Or performers who play with expression, meaning and deep musicianship. Or musical entrepreneurs who create their own ensemble by searching for more meaning in their professions. They are the expert designers in music making, learning and creating that combine utility and significance, building empathy, finding  joy, purpose and meaning in what they do.

Laura Lentz ©2011

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One Response to “Design in Music”


  1. […] discusses, creating design that is both about utility and significance (see post on Design in Music https://innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/design-in-music/) but surely it leads the way towards a satisfying, meaningful life with purpose and […]


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