Early in my career (actually, before my career started) I was introduced to a book which not only greatly influenced me, but probably changed the direction of my life. The book, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by the author Johan Huizinga, was written in 1938 and describes and analyzes "play." I had long been rather fascinated by that word due to its multiple meanings - particularly as it related to music.

I knew that humans were not the only species that enjoyed play. Dogs were frequently observed frolicking with their owners or even other dogs or a host of other animals. For no seeming reason, other than play, they run around the yard, chasing other animals or even chasing their own tails. The internet is replete with cute miniature goats involved in nothing more than playing for the joy it brings. Click here to see goats at play.

Human youngsters are notorious for playing at a very early age, but play continues through puberty, into adulthood, and throughout life. In addition, we use the term "play" to describe many aspects of life - we "play" musical instruments, we attend "plays" at the theater, we "play up" (emphasize or exaggerate) or "play down" (minimize) certain aspects of events which impact our lives, we "play around" during idle time, children have playmates, we "play" CDs, DVDs, and "playback" recordings on our TVs and phones (which has an altogether different meaning from "foreplay"), we play with others and we play with ourselves, and perhaps the greatest use of play is associated with sports of all kinds - from "playing" a game of chess to "playoffs" at the end of football season. People even referred to war as a game.

Online dictionaries have an amazing number of additional definitions of the word, "play."
"play" (tamper with), gambling (OR gamboling), free motion, amarous flirtation, light movement (as in a play of colors), played with her food, play on fears (to take advantage of), play it safe, play like (pretend), play a trick (to mock), play havoc (wreak), play the stock market (speculate), play both ends against the middle, play by ear, play possum, play the field, play with a full deck, Playstation, Playmakers, Play-Doh (as opposed to Plato?), Google Play, playwright, etc.

Play with your food
This appeared in my email (1/16/2020)

With so many different definitions of "play" what exactly is it and how has it influenced our lives? Huizinga masterfully defines "play" and all of its ramifications. The book can be read online (for free) by clicking here or purchased.

After digesting the contents of Homo Ludens (humans at play) I determined that my approach, as a conductor, would always attempt to make music as artistic and excellent as possible, but also to encourage the participants to have joyous fun as they brought great musical works to life. Because of this hope to include the "play" element in everything I did, I departed from some techniques other conductors employed. Excellence through intimidation was not my approach. The following is a note I recently received from a 1978 student regarding my "play" technique.

It was formative for me. I don’t think you realized at the time what an impact you had on my future work. Before you, I was exposed to Sturm und Drang method of conducting and interpersonal communications. Your positive relationship with your groups made me realize that it was not necessary to have tirades to get results.

I work [both in college] and in another community [musical organization]... and am often tempted to behave like [those other conductors.] You reminded me that there are better ways to get good results.

As I recall, I probably used the "play" technique as a conductor more for my own sake than for other participating musicians. I believe that, as a result, my life has been filled with greater joy and happiness.

Make a joyful noise!

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