I want to tell you about my journey to attempt to define play.
Do you enjoy defining things as much as I do? When I understand the definition of something, I feel like I possess the word. I own it. It is mine.
I have recently decided that I needed to play more. I was hearing about play everywhere, it seemed: in discussions about my singing practice, in the music teacher classroom, in my children’s learning world, even in advice about marriage! Everyone has advice to give about play. It is the missing element in everything. We should all be playing more! We can learn more and better when we play. Play can help us to think more creatively about our problems.
And so off I went to add play more to my life. It seemed like it would be so simple and intuitive. (How quickly I underestimate my ability to overthink things!)
First let me say that I do have some play in my life. I am not a total boring person! I love playing games with my private voice students to help them to discover new things. I use play to teach my children Math or get them to eat their vegetables (just ask Abigail about cucumber world!). I also celebrate the play of my children! I love hearing them play using the ideas we have just learned in science.
I started examining how much I play. I began asking questions:
- What is play?
- How do I know if I have played?
- Do I play by myself or with other people?
- Can I get better at play?
First I needed to define play. I wanted to have a definition so that I would know if I had done it! But even this tied me up in knots….and couldn’t quite figure out the way that it fit into my life.
So I asked for help. I asked several of my friends who are much wiser and more playful than I what they did to be playful in their every day life.
Let me introduce you to one of the TVF Faculty members and an incredible human, Michael Hanko. He frequently amazes me with the playful and wonderful ways he teaches and sings.
“I have a habitual idea of playfulness that dictates that playfulness show up as childishness or silliness. While I don’t rule out these possibilities, I actually tend to experience playfulness most often in the “serious” areas of my life, like teaching or cooking. In these arenas, I feel playful when I am so taken with an idea that it completely absorbs my attention. It’s amazing how any kind of work can become play when I am fully engaged in it.”
Michael Hanko – teacher, singer, explorer
Another inspirational Alexander Teacher that I greatly respect for his playfulness is Pedro de Alcantara. His invitation to see the playful possibility in each moment is a gift.
“Playfulness is being open to the moment, and welcoming it with creativity and joy. Each moment is full of possibilities, awaiting discovery; the adventurer and explorer responds to the moment, interacts with it, learns from it.”
Pedro de Alcantara – cellist, singer, learner
One of the best parts about TVF has been getting to know other singers through our community. Midge is the most spectacular person. She is an incredible musician (singer and pianist) and is delightfully playful. Her joy at life and games is inspiring.
“Playfulness is any moment when I can be free and present enough to allow room for humor, silliness, smiles, laughter, goofiness and light-hearted thoughts to come up rather than the heaviness that usually results when I succumb to my own inner turmoil. Taking the time to joke, give an encouraging smile, and enjoy moments in life for what they are, and being truly present in the moment open the possibility to freely play the day away. Sharing joy and celebration always feel playful to me.”
Midge McMoyer Smith – joyful, mischievous, lifelong learner
I began to be interested in what other professions might have to say about this idea. Peter is a fantastic fashion designer, married to Michael Hanko and I was so interested in what he would have to say about playfulness in his life.
“For me, playfulness means doing something spontaneously without worrying about what the outcome might be or how I might look to others. It means drawing on the childlike part of me whose primary goal is simply to have fun!”
Peter Lappin – designer, sewer, writer
One of my dearest friends, Rebecca, is one of the most playful people I know. She is so good at making people laugh and enjoying everything!
“I believe playfulness can best be defined through unplanned moments of the day when there is almost a whimsical feeling that comes in that usually starts with… “what if” it’s the wonder that is allowed to be lived out and enjoyed. Playfulness I would say is what brings joy to me and those around me. It also enables me to see, whatever I am working on, from different perspectives which usually leads to inspiration. I believe we have lost our ability to imagine and imagine things into being… this is where playfulness and the whimsy needed to step out of our “adult” boxes comes in. When we simply imagine and dare to see the “what if” played out. More balloons less boxes!”
Rebecca Gibbons – teacher, adventurer, friend
Thomas is currently doing his masters at Rhode Island School of Design. He is a very talented visual artist who also happens to be my brother. He is one of the most thoughtful and insightful people I know and I was very interested in what he would have to say about playfulness being a part of his life.
“To maintain a state of playfulness in a culture full of playlessness is challenging. It requires vulnerability. Playfulness is like a state of becoming. It’s a place of threshold. It’s a liminal condition that requires constant renewal. It embraces the unexpected, seeks out alternative paths, gets lost, challenges tradition, and defers judgment. Being playful doesn’t mean unlearning what one has acquired through aging. Nor does it mean returning back to a more adolescent or ignorant state of being. Playfulness adopts whatever skills, materials, and opportunities which are present at hand and uses them to their fullest. To be playful is also to be thankful. It’s an embrace of one’s immediate surroundings with an insatiable curiosity. It does not exclude others, but seeks to make room for other’s inclusion. It seeks to make opportunities out of the conditions seemingly void of possibility.”
Thomas Wilder – artist, thinker, friend
Isabelle is a multi-talented human being. She is a musician and visual artist and just generally an amazing person. She is currently a grad student as well.
“As a grad student working a couple of jobs, it can often be very tricky to prioritize playfulness in my daily life. I spend a lot of my time in classes or trying to make sense of dense theoretical texts, so I like to define playfulness by balancing something I love (reading) with something that’s not a challenge to get through. For me that’s comic books and graphic novels. The best thing is when I have a moment to let myself become totally immersed in the vivid worlds and story lines that some of my favorite ones offer, with their brilliant illustrations and sharp senses of humor. I’m still learning, but it’s also fun and lively!”
Isabelle Martin – student, writer, arts advocate
Another brilliant person I met through TVF is Missy. She is a very busy music educator and mother and I admire her greatly.
“For me, play has a lot to do with being child-like, and of course that diminishes necessarily with age. HOWEVER, I think as we get older we let it diminish way too much and we need elements of play in our lives to truly be human. So for me one of my favorite things to do that makes me feel like a child in the best way, is to listen to my favorite music and dance around the room or in my car. Few things make me feel as exhilarated and joyful, and that to me is what play is. I do this at least a few times a week- just let loose and connect with the music I love.”
Missy Smith Strong – wife, mom, teacher
My dad is possibly one of the most creative people I know. He is an educator and a musician and an administrator. He is also hilarious.
“Playfulness is to let go, to suspend the rules, to trust that humor and joy and imagination will host a different set of conditions and conclusions. Playfulness – in the activities of children and puppies – will allow the priorities of zest and enthusiasm to prevail over protocol and sensibility. Playfulness will lead to artistic productivity that might otherwise be locked away and hidden.”
Michael Wilder – work in progress
Catherine is a friend who is an amazing composer. I think composers are so inspiring in their ability to create brand new music and Catherine is no exception.
“I try to have playfulness in my life by fostering a sense of curiosity, and a willingness to look silly. Being open to try new things and experience embarrassment in the process. Our best work is done when we are performing outside of our comfort zone and I think playfulness and curiosity is the best way to get to that new uncomfortable place. “
Catherine Joy – composer, score supervisor and entrepreneur
Wasn’t that delightful? I think I have some pretty brilliant friends. (Thank you to each one of them!!!)
I love how their answers are all so individual and unique. Play doesn’t have to look the same for each of us. In fact, the more unique it can look, probably the better!
I learned that finding some sort of definition for play isn’t possible and perhaps not even desirable. Perhaps play can’t be something that I can say definitively that I have accomplished.
When I invite playfulness into my daily life, I become more joyful. I give myself freedom from the rules and the shoulds and the have-tos. I intentionally choose a joyful and creative space in which to think.
When play becomes another “should” or thing to do that happens, I have lost the entire meaning of the word. In the process of attempting to define play, I have discovered another thing that must be removed from the to-do list.
Is it possible I am already playing and I don’t realize it? I am removing play from my to-do list. I’m excited to discover what happens when I allow or notice the play that is already happening in my life and all around me. I think play is a very natural way of interacting with the world and I just need to join in what is already going on.
What do I want to do with no rules today? How would I like to enjoy that musical phrase or how can I interact with my children with a different perspective?
Karen Archbold is TVF Director of Operations (fancy title for the person who keeps everything running smoothly and Peter sane!) and a member of the TVF Pro Certification Program. She is based in the Chicago area and spends her time being a mom to three beautiful girls, making music, teaching her fabulous students and drinking expensive Australian tea!