Face The Music utilizes the blues as its mail tool — giving today’s corporate citizens an opportunity to express their truth and how they feel about it in song; and by stating this clearly, they find themselves outside of their blues, where they can consider them with new perspective, renewed energy, and take innovative actions to create the future they want.
No one knows who “invented” the blues — no one person invented it. It had many fathers and mothers as it evolved from other forms such as jump-ups, field hollers, songster ballads, church music and African-derived percussive music. Its inventors were dealing with the harsh realities of the post-slavery South, laboring long and hard days in the cotton & cornfields, in mills, on railroads, and in chain gangs.
And no one knows exactly where the first blues was created, although the Mississippi Delta, that long triangle formed by the meeting of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers which stretches roughly from Vicksburg to Memphis, was certainly among the first places it evolved into a very singular style all its own.
But right around 1900, there it was. The blues.
And it has captivated and transformed all popular forms of music since then until the present day. Through some alchemical magic which could only have happened in the American South in the 1800‘s because of a series of calamities and collisions of peoples and their musics and instruments. With an indomitable spirit of creativity, several Western African musics got involved with a mix of other American folk music and begat the blues and gospel, which begat jazz, and swing and rhythm and blues, which begat rock and roll, disco, rap and every other major popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries. That’s why, in a Face The Music interactive program, we’re not particular that participants use only the blues — they can choose from any of it’s many descendants!
Today’s global workplace reflects the diversity of the sources of the blues: nationalities, genders, ethnicity, language, age, race, styles — they all are in the band together making their music daily. One of the goals of Face The Music is to help people listen to the “music” they’re making and the harmony or discord with their fellow workers, and to become more conscious of what that is and what they would like it to be.
Blues music is in the DNA of just about every popular music you hear today almost anywhere on the planet. It’s everywhere, like the air we breathe, but like the fish who doesn’t know that water exists, most people don’t even know that what they’re listening to every day is a form of the blues or a derivation from it. The blues just can’t get no respect!
From its earliest forms, one of the principal themes of blues music, besides the endless battle of the sexes (its all-time favorite topic), is work. Perhaps West African work songs that became the work songs of the African-American slaves had a lot to do with that. Most West African cultures had traditions of rhythmic songs and chants to help make the work go easier and shorter and these call-and-response songs translated well to the monotonous work of the cotton fields.
Face The Music brings the blues into the 21st century office place
“Great team building event – fun and work related at the same time.”
McNeil Consumer Healthcare – Val =Corace, Director, Leadership Development – When asked what did you like about FTM
“Our experience with FTM was wonderful. Since it was a surprise to the employees, they had no idea what they were in store for at our session. The interaction was great, the support of the musicians to the employees working on their songs was wonderful and the entire program created the effect we had hoped it would: Working together as a team and yet having fun!
Face The Music is a great and extremely creative way to get participants to get to know and work together, while at the same time have some fun. It’s such a novel approach and totally unexpected by employees (a stage, a band, etc), the outcome exceeded our expectations. Employees innovating, strategizing, laughing and having fun. It was a magical night for us!”
GE Consumer Finance – Michael Peacock, Manager Communications
“The training – well it was good. But the Blues, – it was great.”
Bank of America – Michael Hall, Senior VP, Regional Manager – Europe, Middle East and Africa
Many of these early work-related blues songs involved problems with management:
“Well, captain, captain, you mus’ be blin’, Look at yo’ watch! See ain’t it quittin’ time? Well, captain, captain, how can it be? Whistles keep a blowin’, you keep a-workin’ me.” - from a levee camp working song
“Got one mind for my boss to see, Got another mind for what I know is me.” -early blues
We still see this mindset in places today, but there is a movement to creating workplaces where people bring their whole self to the job; all their talents, values, dreams, truth, spirit, humor, and caring. It’s not just about singin’ out your blues; what do we really want here? What’s possible? Benjamin and Ros Zander assert that “it’s all made up,” so why not make up the best thing we can imagine?
Some were songs about changing one’s career path:
“Take this hammer and carr’ it to the captain, tell him I’m gone, This is the hammer that killed John Henry, but it won’t kill me.” -Spike Driver Blues (Mississippi John Hurt)
…or even being laid off:
“I was lyin’ in my bed this mornin’ an’ heard the mill whistle blow like it was cryin’ Arkansas Mill has cut all that timber Ain’t no more work for that man of mine” Arkansas Mill Blues
Work was a reality one had to live through and a fine topic for the blues but it was much more than that; it was an opportunity to tell the truth, away from the attention of the overseers and bosses, about a truly unfair situation. As we evolve, we have the opportunity to make work much more — more better — by bringing the truth home to the workplace.
African-American writer and cultural critic Albert Murray refers to the blues as “a highly pragmatic and indeed a fundamental device for confrontation, improvisation and existential affirmation” reflecting “improvisation as heroic action” and being, essentially, “a way of responding to traumatic situations creatively.”
So, a core element of the blues is telling the truth as a form of creative action in a situation that is causing stress, frustration, or hardship. As blues singer Booker White said, “Well, sure, blues is a feeling! But you can write the truth with the blues.” And it can also be used to express the truth of triumph, celebration, and satisfaction, when those are the feelings.
And it’s this connection with work and telling the truth which inevitably leads to a revivification of the human spirit and a renewal of vitality (“It really is this to me: it’s a relief, for pressure.” — Henry Townsend) — which brings Face The Music to an organization near you. FTM carries on the tradition of the blues in the modern workplace. It’s a hundred years later, and our blues are different, but the blues still works its magic.
And since blues music is in all of our bones from a very early age, people of all backgrounds can understand it and use it. People rise to the creative challenge and the opportunity to tell the truth. And it is ALWAYS an uplifting experience. It releases the bugaboos of the workplace by naming them in a kind of reverse voodoo, often humorously. As Murray says, the blues song is also a “remedy” for the blues, a “vaccination” of the spirit against that which saps us of life and feeling. It calls out the “devils” by naming them and ridiculing them, making them small, and easier to “stomp.”
One thing’s for sure; writing and singing the blues will do you a whole world of good. So, why not join the modern corporate blues minstrel when she/he sings:
“All these initiatives, hittin’ us left and right, Keepin’ it straight is keepin’ me up at night; A reorg is comin’ out, shakin’ up my team, Changin’ who I work with is gonna make me scream.
Can’t take more change, At least not right away, Give us a break, At least for just one day”
Change Blues by an anonymous FTM participant team (confidentiality agreement)
So celebrate the creative human spirit with the blues. And have a joyful truth-telling!
LCS is system for idea evaluation and debriefing that was created by one of FTM’s founding partners, Mitch Ditkoff, of Idea Champions. It has been successfully practiced by many different kinds of organizations as a way of assessing ideas without killing them, and debriefing for organizational learning. It was introduced to this writer as a debriefing process on a Face The Music gig.
FTM just finished its very first event back in 1999 (OK I won’t make a Prince joke here) for FIS, a Nestle company. Having worked a hard day’s night, I was packing up and eager to go home, when I was unexpectedly asked to join our team at a nearby table for “LCS”. I was like “what?” “No…Alright.” The facilitator lead off by asking us what we liked about the event we had just performed at. Well this isn’t so bad I thought to myself; someone even said that one of the groups I lead did an outstanding job, (“I like this process”). Everything good got kudos.
Now for Concerns and Suggestions. (What? “Hey, wait a second, I was just doing great!,” I secretly thought to myself). We went around in a circle and we were asked to voice ANY concern and then address it with a suggestion. Yes, it was a little hard taking in a concern, and my first impulse was to defend, but the facilitator said to “just, take it in”. To my surprise it wasn’t that scary because this was an open forum and even the top dogs (if I may) were open for concerns and suggestions. Remember, it was our first gig ever and there were a lot of concerns, and a lot of room for learning and developing the process. All the concerns and suggestions (and likes) were reviewed, considered, and the FTM core team made decisions around those they would take action on..
LCS on the Road:
“Ken, could you get off the phone so we can finish the LCS?” Road Manager, Jim Kwiecinski, Musical Director, Ken McGloin, Carl, the limo driver, and drummer, Dean Sharp.
“C’mon you guys, just stick with the process!” Dean Sharp, Ken McGloin and singer, Amy Fradon
Face The Music has been doing LCS ever since and it has helped our company to grow. Each gig or event is a learning opportunity that builds upon the last and the company processes get tighter and more refined. The whole team tends to be more engaged, knowing that their ideas have a forum to be heard, and they’ve seen their suggestions make a difference over time.
I also teach music in a private school in upstate NY, and I’ve been (I hope it’s ok, Mitch) using LCS at the end of each semester with the students to debrief the class — and it’s had a great impact on my classes. We are even going to Vienna next year as a result of LCS.
Well, I Liked writing this article for you. My only Concern is I didn’t leave myself enough time to write it. Suggestion: I pay more attention to my calendar — and one more Suggestion to all of you reading this: Have a Great Summer!
For a free white paper on how to facilitate an LCS session in your organization (it’s dirt simple), e-mail us at: email@example.com with the subject: “I want my LCS.”
The Face The Music Songwriting Contest is an international songwriting contest that begins now! The Contest is open to amateur and professional songwriters who submit entries in only one category: Business Blues. We are looking for a great song in the blues idiom that reflects current themes in business life.
You don’t need a professional recording. Entries will be judged on originality, melody, composition, and lyrics.
The Winner will receive a cash prize of $100 and his or her song will be re-recorded by our band and featured on the new Face The Music CD.
All submissions must be received by August 30, 2006. Please send a non-returnable submission in one of the following formats.>