Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday 21st October - In Deep Trouble (of the paperwork kind)

I'm currently up to my neck in paperwork of the worst possible kind, and I don't mean my tax return - that is a treat for another day!

No, this kind of paperwork is to do with tracking back through my records of instrument allocations, as part of my work as a peri music teacher.

Notes and spreadsheets and annotations that seemed fine at the time suddenly become a morass of strange numbers, cryptic comments and indecipherable abbreviations. Normally the process of recording, and reconciling the instrument numbers slides through unchallenged; the year ends, everything gets thrust into document wallets, shoved into a box and I start over again with the new year. 

This year has been different. I have spent hours and hours tracking back through old emails, drawing charts plotting the journey of clarinets through the year from child to repair to child, trying to find and understand all the paper trails snarling around the computer, my notebooks, various ring binders...

It is not helped when instrument number 424 suddenly morphs into number 429 - that baffled me for a while until I realised that the numbers 4 and 9, handwritten on the instrument cases, could easily be mistaken for each other. And were there 5, or 6, or 7 instruments sent for repair from that school? Did they get put on "the van"? Why have they not turned up at "the stores"? Why are the numbers so mis-matched? Closer inspection of  the paper work reveals that I may well have slipped a row when reading off the numbers from one spreadsheet and entering them onto another...

Why can't I do something as simple as write down the the numbers, and the children they were allocated to, and keep track?

This kind of accuracy is not in my training. As a performer, you do spend a lot of time in the early stages of learning a piece getting everything - notes, rhythm, phrasing, dynamics, fingering - I really do mean everything - exactly correct, and the first phase of my record keeping has, as far as I know, always been accurate.

But then, the exact edges of this perfectionism need to give way to artistic interpretation. A "Digital" exactitude becomes an infinitely variable "Analogue" reproduction of the score, as the human interface between score and instrument breathes life into what was mere mechanical obedience to the instructions on the page. You only have to listen to the difference between a synthesised play through (for example, using music-writing software such as "sibelius" or "finale") and a live performance to see what I mean. The live performance may well have slips and wrong notes, but it will also have that quality of "Life" which gives it real meaning and beauty.

This appears to be what has happened to my record keeping. The initial phase of recording instruments and names, way back last September (I'm talking 2011 here!) seems fine - neat, accurate, clear. As the year has progressed, these careful rows and columns have been overlaid by layers of human interpretation, and now nothing makes sense any more.

The good news is that I may have solved one conundrum, represented by the picture at the top. The missing instrument may well be a phantom instrument that I added the inventory as an error back in January. I'm not sure if I can actually PROVE this, however. I thought I had solved the other problem, but then I had a glass of sherry and the solution just evaporated into thin air. Back to the paper piles!

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