My friend has a story about one of his buddies who recently organized a “Bach in the Bar” event. Instead of the Aerosmith cover band there would be, well, the Bach cover band: Classical music filling the college bar. The goal wasn’t to have a concert but more so put classical music in a place it wasn’t usually, creating a stimulating juxtaposition; to have conversation and clanging cascade over the counterpoint.
The result? Most people in the bar took it like a concert. Absolute silence and respect for the performers and Bach. That wasn’t expected at all.
Why did this happen? Was it because classical music demands this austere reverence? Should Bach not play second fiddle to the yelling of drinking buddies?
Perhaps this moment says more about how we treat the music than the music itself. Maybe Bach wouldn’t mind his music not being the center of attention. Besides, he was competing with God all the time when he played the organ for masses.
Writer Lewis Lapham recalls an old professor telling him that “education is a self inflicted wound”.
A self inflicted wound usually occurs when a person injures herself in order to take advantage of being injured. Within that metaphor, a person educates himself in order to take advantage of being educated. It’s done for its own sake.
Then there is the wound itself: a shock to the entire body. When we discover something incredible it digs into us deeply. A shock is sent through our worldview, ideals, and even life plans. Wounds are both painful and euphoric (ie: bodily chemicals being sent through body to numb pain, etc.). Education is difficult: we put our beliefs, our very selfs, on the line in pursuit for knowledge. The payoff, however, is something extraordinary.
In a sense, music is a self inflicted wound much like education is. The wound pierces the tough skin that protected us from humiliation, frustration, and alienation. What pours out is the beauty of what it is to be human.
Music doesn’t merely happen on us, we choose it. It’s self inflicted for a reason.
“…the joy that comes when you stop feeling threatened by other people’s accomplishments and let yourself be open to the beauty that they bring into the world”
That’s William Deresiewicz on what he was missing with the high achieving cut throat mentality he had in his years as a student.
In a sense, music passes through the high achieving cut throat mentality. It is all about being “open to the beauty that they bring into the world”. Other people’s accomplishments, from past and present, combine to create a fertile artistic world for us. We want people to compose, perform, and listen well.
If nobody did, well, let’s not imagine that world…
Gertrude and Leo Stein’s home in Paris between 1903 and 1914 wasn’t just a living space but one where artists and intellectuals came to socialize and discuss the seismic shift in modern art that they were both witnessing and producing.
Albert Einstein’s apartment during his years at the Swiss patent office wasn’t just a break from his research but an extension of it. Friends would come over to discuss not only physics but clocks and philosophy which only stoked his own thinking.
The practice room is a pivotal role in the life of a musician but the living room can be easily neglected. Hanging out and discussing music or anything else isn’t just a break from music. It’s a stimulus.
All it takes is a statement, a question, or an opinion to lead us on to something. What better way to create more moments for this to happen then to gather often?
“A literary situation begins to get interesting when one writes novels for people who are not readers of novels alone, and when one writes literature while thinking of a shelf of books that are not all literary” – Italo Calvino, “Whom Do We Write For?”
So what about writing and performing music while thinking of a playlist that’s not all music? One doesn’t listen exclusively to music: radio shows, podcasts, interviews, debates, speeches, NPR, and everything in between take up our listening time. What will music that exists next to these options entail?
Better yet, how does one perform and present preexisting pieces, classical rep comes to mind, within a world where it isn’t only music on the shelves but podcasts and NPR?
Music doesn’t exist in a bubble. Now what do we do about that?
In his lecture on the ‘Enigma of Shakespeare’, Jorge Luis Borges notes how “Shakespeare had the power to multiply himself marvelously”. Shakespeare’s characters, from major to incidental, are so well formed and pivotal to his vision. Borges concludes that “to think of Shakespeare is to think of a crowd”. He is everybody and nobody at the same time.
The best composers are enigmas in this way. In Schubert, thousands of feelings and characters are whirling around, sometimes in just one movement. Closer to our times, John Zorn’s aural universe encompasses chamber music to jam bands and everything in between.
Perhaps to think of music is to think of a crowd. Music runs an almost infinite spectrum of possibilities. Anyone that partakes in music chooses to explore this spectrum; chooses to be a crowd.
The bonds of the military are so powerful. Recruits come in as separate entities but leave as one unit. That bond is sealed through acts of valor and bravery, soldiers risking life and limb so that their fellow comrades may live.
Each soldier has no doubt that the man next to them would risk his life for them. Sure, soldiers treat each other like friends and family, but this bond goes beyond that.
Musicians? Sure, musicians treat each other like friends and family, but would the musician next to you risk themselves so that you may gain? We’re not even talking life and limb here. How about time and energy beyond the minimum?
When was the last time you’ve heard any of these: You should come to my concert. Listen to my album. Record my music. Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.
Perhaps we can learn something from the bonds of the military. There is something greater than ourselves. Music teaches us this and yet we choose to forget. Me, me, me…no.
Simon Sinek has written and spoken a lot about this, especially with examples of the military.