I am privileged to work in a place where I have frequent interaction with professionals in many different areas of the arts. Every week I engage in meaningful conversations with authors, artists, and yes, musicians. One such interaction is my running conversation with a local artist. He and I like to share our different perspectives of the creative process in the arts. He is a creator of images while I, as a composer, am a creator of sounds. We have both benefitted from these conversations and have learned many ways to re-imagine our own creative crafts. However, this is not the topic of my post this week.
Not all of my interactions with other creative individuals have been as positive. This past week I was shocked to hear firsthand, from a fellow musician, how much people can dislike classical musicians and their music. This individual, who I will call Martin, saw that I had a Stravinsky score on my desk as part of my analysis homework. He was absorbed and looked over my shoulder in fascination. As our conversation continued, I learned that he was a former Music Education major at the Berklee College of Music. Martin suddenly stopped talking, looked at me in disbelief and said, "...you classical guys. I don't get it. Why do you do this? What is the point?" Before I could respond, he exited swiftly. I sat in disbelief. I would have thought a fellow musician was 'on my side.' Instead I was left alone and seriously considering my answer to Martin's question.
Before I could gather my thoughts, another individual, Leila, approached and saw the homework scattered about my workspace. Leila is from Mexico and is an ESL educator. Her reaction to my analysis work was the opposite of that of Martin. She was excitedly effervescent. She began to tell me her life story involving music. Leila, in her younger days, was partially educated in music and used to travel to impoverished villages to play accordion for children. She would play transcriptions of classical works for these poor children and their families. She dramatically recounted some of her most exciting concert experiences and could still recall the oppressive climates she playing in. She was excited to see me involved in classical music and we shared some of our favorite experiences and what music has meant for us both.
She left to teach a class and I finally had time to process all the information I had just received. I was surprised to see Martin completely revile my work while Leila was ecstatic. So I began to think, "why do I do what I do?" The answer is quite simple. I enjoy it! And why do I torture myself with difficult analysis projects? Because by learning what great composers of the past have done, I can learn to be a better musician, performer, and composer.
I like to think that part of Leila's positive attitude comes from a positive experience in music. Her experience was rather unselfish and altruistic. Is Martin's negative attitude the result of unrewarding and self-fulfilling endeavors? In my personal opinion, I think this might be so. I get the most reward from music when it is shared with others unpretentiously. When I remove myself from the equation and allow my focus to be the audience, I get the most out of what I am doing. This inevitably begs the question, who is our music for? I will let you answer that one on your own.
I hope that in reading this, you begin to ask yourself the same questions I have asked myself. Why are you a musician? Why do you do what you do? All music, regardless of genre, popularity, or your own personal success, is a wonderful thing. I am flabbergasted when I face cynical attitudes in music. Perhaps I am too naive or innocent, but I cannot comprehend cynicism in terms of music. I am simply too enthralled with the beauty, power, and complexity of it to be pessimistic! I would hope that you don't allow negative thoughts and unfulfilled wishes to sour your love of what you are doing right now and what you will do in the future.