I recently heard an album of two talented performers which drove home to me—yet again—the power of collaborative creativity. It wasn't a rock & roll partnership I was hearing (which is what I usually prattle about) but more of an impressionistic aural blend of two classically-trained musicians in full improvisational glory.
But whatever the idiom, the outcome was a confirmation that surrendering one's ego to a collaborative project can be a win to the third power. (This has applications to the business world, of course, where individuals of every stripe need to put their heads together to create new products, services, marketing strategies, business models, etcetera—a theme I will return to in the future.)
The album I'm referring to is 'The Return of Desire: Improvisations', performed by Eve Kodiak on piano and David Darling on cello.
Eve is a respected kinesiologist, cranial-sacral therapist, and author as well as a classical pianist and composer. David is a cellist and composer (once nominated for a Grammy) who has performed or recorded with the Paul Winter Consort, Bobby McFerrin, Spyro Gyra, and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Eve and David together weave their instrumental magic on this suite of original pieces.
I'm endlessly fascinated by collaborative undertakings that achieve exponentially greater success than individual efforts—especially in the case of two-person songwriting partnerships.
Lennon-McCartney is the classic (and my favorite) example. Despite the artistic and commercial success that John Lennon and Paul McCartney each achieved after the Beatles break-up in 1970 (Paul with exquisite songs like 'Maybe I'm Amazed', John with classics like 'Imagine'), their audaciously creative work together ('In My Life', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'A Day in the Life') dwarfs those individual achievements.
I would even argue that the best songs that John and Paul each wrote by himself during their partnership (for example 'Yesterday', 'Here, There and Everywhere', 'Strawberry Fields') surpassed all their post-Beatles songwriting achievements quality-wise, despite whatever wisdom and maturity each gained with age.
Why is that? John Lennon and Paul McCartney certainly retained their motivation to write great material, and even to outdo each other as songwriters. If anything I would have expected the quality of their solo writing to increase in value, given how much John and Paul were competing with each other in the 1970s.
Incredibly, these earlier solo compositions imply collaboration even when there was no overt exchange of musical or lyrical ideas between John and Paul. (After the first few years John and Paul increasingly wrote separately. They would sometimes finish each other's songs—such as 'Michelle' or 'We Can Work It Out'—but in the later years they didn't even do that.)
Perhaps when they were writing alone, but still working as a partnership, each was trying to satisfy the artistic criteria of the other. For instance when Paul was writing a tune by himself, he had in mind what would or wouldn't pass muster with John, so he continued to set the bar high. And he might have imagined the input that the John would have provided.
If that's the case, in a truly successful collaborative partnership the other partner doesn't even need to be present to affect the outcome. That's a mystery worth exploring.