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Deep Play

nightowl's picture

It is the middle of summer at music camp. About 60 instruments are outside soaking in the open muggy air, wood expanding, and increasing their potential to crack. Before my quartet walks onto stage, we notice that our quartet teacher had somehow obtained our music and drawn cats and smiley faces all over it. This was supposed to encourage us to smile and interact more as we play. Once we had all sat down, adjusted our music, and right before we were about to play, we all turned to our teacher in the audience and forcibly smiled and purred at her. The next moment we started playing. All of us went in a circle and played our opening solos, we looked at each other right before our cues, and when we had parallel lines. The technical aspects of how to play were gone, and we connected by talking to each other through listening to each other’s music and responding.

From the audience’s perspective our quartet probably looked strange, smiling and making noises at the crowd before playing, and the way we played compared to a professional recording of Beethoven was not impressive. Then from a further removed perspective, playing quartets serves no practical purpose in the sustainment of life. However, from the inside, this moment was really moving to me because of the connection I made with my quartet members and the music.

Playing in the quartet was my “version of a playground” where I found a “refuge from ordinary life, (and) sanctuary of the mind” (Ackerman 6) Aspects of it felt like deep play, “Deep play is the ecstatic form of play. In it’s thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they’re taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity.” (Ackerman 12) I don’t feel deep play every time I play quartets, but it could be considered a trigger for deep play. There are many things that could trigger deep play. They seem to usually have a connection with testing oneself, “Healthy (“self actualizing”) people often experience such inherently rewarding moments as they discover their capabilities and limits.” (Ackerman 17) Considering the various ways Ackerman describes deep play, my definition of it is a change in environment or thinking that triggers a sense of euphoric accomplishment.

Posing a question, especially one I do not know the answer to could have expanded my first essay. Asking questions while writing expands into the unknown instead of staying with things that already assumed for fact. Questioning brings in the aspect of testing in deep play, which facilitates learning. In this class I have been taught to notice how answering one question, triggers another question. The sanctuary of space in writing where I can ask questions functions as the playground for deep play, which in turn invites the potential for deep play to happen.

Ackerman, Diane. Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999.