Just Sayin’: Creativity or Repackaged?

So, how creative are we human beings? I believe it was Solomon  who said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” And who knows, maybe he was  quoting someone when he said that. The manuscripts of his writings have gotten a  bit smudged over the years.

But I have wondered from time to time, even though we may not  be giving a direct quote, is all creativity based on something that has gone  before? Music, writing, painting, dance . . . even inventions and engineering,  even medicine, math, philosophy … it all stands on the shoulders of what  goes before.

So, just where does plagiarism leave off and creativity begin?

I’m sure that must be a valid question. And it gets my  standard answer: I DON’T KNOW. It’s one of those questions that if I knew the  answer, I could write a book and get rich. We all recognize that if  something is used word for word; stroke for stroke; step for step , one must put quotes around it and  attribute it.  But that leaves a vast gray area which goes from being  inspired by something to copying something verbatim. What if you build on  information or  a foundation that  had gone before? Every time a  painter uses Titian red , does he  need to give credit as such? Every time an architect builds a house across a  stream , does he need to credit  Frank Lloyd Wright for the idea? Every time a choreographer uses a certain dance  step , should the original  choreographer be credited? I know that’s done in ice-skating ; when a performer does certain jumps  they are named after the person who invented them. But in many  instances that information is lost in antiquity or unavailable.

Just how far can one go before tipping over that edge into  plagiarism ? If I copy a poem and  change two words, is that plagiarism? How about ten words? How about the rhyming words? What if I’m inspired by a piece of music ? How far can I use a music quote  before it is considered an infringement? And yet, with only twelve notes in our  musical vocabulary, don’t you suppose that most all of the combinations have  been used?

O.K., here it comes. Here’s MY take on creativity and  plagiarism … and yes, my opinion and $3.00 will buy you a cup of coffee … usually. Creativity is frequently a repositioning for elements gleaned from  other sources in our lives. We may not even know or remember the source. But the  creativity comes in the juxtaposing of those disparate parts into a new creative  whole.  Repackaging, if you will. Maybe no one before you ever thought of  putting Twinkle Little Star (Mozart) into the 5/4 rhythm used by Brubeck.  So then, is it mine or Mozart’s or Brubeck/Desmond?

Even if it isn’t a direct quote, it’s always simpler, kinder,  more generous to credit the inspiration whether it’s needed or not. How easy to say, “I was inspired by so and so or such and such.” That validates both the giver and the  taker … and with the price of parking, validation is essential.

Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years.
A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes . . . she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.

Adrienne Jacoby
Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years. A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes … she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.
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9 Responses

  1. Avatar CoachBob says:

    Okay, so now I'm humming "Twinkle, Twinkle" to a 5/4 rhythm. Thanks a lot! I won't get that outta my head all morning and I'm headed to the SSNP to entertain for 3 hours. You've done a great disservice. "Pay backs" next Monday at 4pm sugar.

  2. Avatar Joanne Snyder says:

    Wonderful article Adrienne. It brings to mind synthesis of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains, and I quote since this was Bloom's idea, "Synthesis: Builds a structure or pattern from diverse elements. Put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure." The best creativity in any field comes with experience and exposure to past creativity and innovation in that field.

    I am so annoyed when popular musicians fail to acknowledge their inspiration or mentors, or pretend that they've never had music lessons. It gives a lot of people the notion that creativity, musical ability or success is simply the result of "talent." Again, great article Adrienne.

  3. Avatar James "Jamie&qu says:

    I was one of Bill's early students in Maywood, CA. Played 1st Alto in the Dreamtimers.

    Credit where due: He provided me with the training and encouragement in performance and theory that got me started and has served me well to this day. I continue to be involved in instrumental and vocal music in SE Idaho. Thanks to Bill Jacoby!

    Ed Sherman has been a friend since high school (and now Sheila). I lost track of Bill for years. Ed facilitated a reconnection, and my wife and I visited with Bill in Medford approximately a year before his death. It was a profoundingly meaningful reunion.

    Thanks for this opportunity, Jamie

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    Bill's family continues to be blessed by hearing from people Bill touched . Thank you for writing.

  5. Some musicians play by rote…others with soul, using the same piece of music. You are one of the former, Adrienne. (As is my grandson who learned piano from watching the fingering of other piano players. His favorite music was classical. He has since stopped playing all together. Something different going on here.)

    I am enjoying your writing, Adrienne. Been thinking about the plagiarism/creativity thing lately myself.

  6. Big mistake in former RESPONSE as follows. You, Adrienne, "are one of the former" types of musicians. Please change the 'former' to 'latter'. You play with soul..it's part of you.

    So glad I proofed my response. Should have done that before I clicked on 'Submit'.

    Sorry!!!

    • Avatar `AJacoby says:

      And you were a party to my embryonic beginning playing for youth services at church. People would come in with choruses they had learned at youth camp or visiting another church and want to sing it, so I would just try to play it from their singing it to me. Great training ground, fur shur!!