Strategy storytelling and musical experimentation in an ontological perspective

By Anders Kryger

My wife recently gave birth to our second daughter. Now I’m enjoying some weeks off together with my wife and children, and what better time to read a book on the bringing up of children. I chanced upon the book Mesterlære by Peter Bastian; ‘Mesterlære’ is Danish for apprenticeship or protreptic a la Socrates and Danish philosopher Ole Fogh Kirkeby. The book is a biography as well as a philosophy of life.

I first got interested in Peter Bastian when he did a talk at my high school. Bastian is a professional musician and plays the basoon and the clarinet. Before he came to the my high school, he had bought a coke at McDonald’s, and while he spoke, he cut holes in the straw and played it, like a clarinet. We couldn’t believe the beautiful tones that came out of that normal straw. I began exploring the world of Bastian, who, as well as being a physicist by education, was also educated at the Danish music conservatory. Bastian writes interestingly about physics and music theory and practice. He plays in my favorite band Bazaar, which is a Balkan folk-inspired improvisation trio with basoon/clarinet, organ and percussion. The trio is known for playing as one entity: Bazaar is a shared consciousness, which plays the three musicians.

In the book, Bastian describes how he was mentored by Romanian conductor and composer Sergiu Celibidache and Bulgarian clarinet player Nikola Jankov in a protreptic dialogue, e.g. Celibidache taught him how to ‘get out of the way’ [Danish: komme af vejen] in classical music, to become transparent, so as not to be a filter between composer and listener. In teacher/student relationships, Bastian argues for vertical as opposed to horizontal development. Vertical development describes development where errors are addressed and reflexivity is required, and where emphasis is on hard work in order to set a high standard. Horizontal development, by contrast, describes development where emphasis is on being good enough and on juxtaposing performances. Vertical describes a situation where the child is in flow (cf. Csikszentmihalyi), supported through the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) by the parent or an older or more knowledgeable child or peer. The effect of verticality is transcendence, he argues, and he links the bringing up endeavor to spirituality, not in the religious sense, but in a moral sense.

Quote from the book (my translation) on Bastian’s renowned Danish Wind Quartet: “The development in the Wind Quartet is a development that always continues where we stopped, and there is a considerable element of repetition. The same goes for Bazaar. At the same time it is obvious that something new can only happen when we constantly take chances. Repetition and risk.”

In storytelling about organizational strategy, which I am researching in an industrial PhD project; repeating things that worked in the past may be necessary, but it may not bring about new, strategically desired developments in the organization. In emergence, risks are necessary, argues Bastian. One such risk could be to describe several possible futures in the strategy storytelling, in order to make a bet on one of them, which may become more likely to happen because of our storytelling. Just like in musical composition or improvisation – you need to put the melody at stake and risk the composition falling a part in order for something new to emerge. Storytelling and musical experimentation alike generate agency – the desire to act. In the project, I’ll be looking into the desire to act as effect of storytelling.

Meanwhile, Peter Bastian’s book Mesterlære was a good reminder of the necessity of horizontal and vertical development in the bringing up of children, and a satisfying dose of philosophy.

Links to books:

  • Mesterlære by Peter Bastian [Danish]: http://www.peterbastian.dk/boger/mesterlre-en-livsfortlling
  • The new protreptic by Ole Fogh Kirkeby: http://www.cbspress.dk/Visning-af-titel.848.0.html?&cHash=2ef5a58109&ean=9788763002332
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