TEDxBANFF is Now a Memory & I was Wrong about Creativity

TEDxBANFF, from the stage, about an hour before the kickoff. For some reason, I didn’t think to get my camera out, once things got started

I think I made a respectable, if a bit shaky, performance yesterday. After I was off the stage, I felt the same way that I always feel when I’ve done something for the first time — wishing I’d done things a different way and knowing that I will the next time.

I was fallowed by two other men (no women in the TEDxBANFF lineup) who talked about the future of schools and the magic of empowering unsuccessful classroom learners, and another talking about wind energy and energy literacy (Oh Gawd! Another literacy). They were all excellent presi-performances.

But! We were all blown out of the water by the 18 year old guitar player. Calum Graham has been playing guitar for four years, which was perhaps the most surprising thing that I learned about the young man, who’s performance epitomized surprise.

I had a conversation with the Calum before the TEDx about guitars — and I asked him, as one must, “What kind of music do you play?” He compared his style to Chet Atkins, I suppose because I looked like a Chet Atkins guy from his 18 year old perspective. I then told him how much I liked Leo Kottke, and he replied that he was probably somewhere between the country tone of Atkins and the folkiness of Kottke. After finally listening to Graham, I knew how uncomfortable he must have been with my question.

I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect, as a guitar player myself, that no one taught him how to play guitar. I doubt, also, that he spent a lot of time trying to sound like James Taylor or even Mason Williams (though he does a mean Calum’ized version of “Classical Gas”).

As I lay awake earlier this morning, trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about today in St. Albert and tomorrow back in Banff, and kept coming back to Calums performance, it finally dawned on me that he was playing the guitar. He was playing beautifully crafted and polished assembly of wood and strings. It was a mistake for me to try to think of guitar players I’d seen when I saw him on the lineup, because it was not trying to be a guitar player. He was playing the guitar..

..like he invented it!

You see, I was wrong yesterday, when I said that you had to have a goal in mind, a problem to solve, or product to sell, in order to be creative. I doubt very seriously that as Calum began teaching himself to play guitar, that he had any specific outcome in mind except the joy of making music. It was him and the instrument, and he taught himself how to get music out of the thing.

His hours of practice and experimenting for the joy of the effort, led to a performance and CDs that I know bring great pleasure to many people, and that joy seems to have led to a truly inventive (creative) way of playing the guitar.

It’s like I said to him, before he went on stage, “Surprise me!”

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.