When it comes to the dichotomy of the Hedgehog and the Fox, the line is in the sand. The Fox and its breadth of ideas are one group of people. The Hedgehog and its adherence to a central idea are another. Virtues and drawbacks of both animals take center stage and questions arise: What animal would Mozart or fill in the blank genius be considered? Is it better to be a hedgehog or a fox in today’s times? Do we need more Hedgehogs and less Foxes?

Stephen Jay Gould, however, has a refreshing take on such a contrast by refusing to think of it as so. The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox explores how a gap between science and the humanities came to be and how such a lacuna can be mended. In the introductory chapter of the book he champions an integration of both the Hedgehog and the Fox:

“Rather, in our increasingly complex and confusing world, we need all the help we can get from each distinct domain of our emotional and intellectual being (the fox’s diversity again). Quilting a diverse collection of separate patches into a beautiful and integrated coat of many colors, a garment called wisdom (even better than the hedgehog’s prickly cover), sure beats defeating or engulfing as a metaphor for appropriate interaction”.

Quilting ensures a multitude of ideas (the Fox) while bringing them together through a central idea (the Hedgehog).

In any musical endeavor we can lose ourselves in the many creative opportunities that present themselves. Too many patches but nothing holding them together. This is where a central idea, be it key values or tenants, comes in to stitch these various experiences together.

Then we can have a central musical idea but keep it rather insular, not reaching out to other people or influences. A quilt that does not keep us or others warm. Allowing the base of the quilt to grow out, adding patch by patch, can help create a more generous and fulfilling quilt.

What is exciting about this quilting metaphor is how it is ongoing in our musical lives. Patches can be musical influences, other musicians and people, locations, distant fields of thought, and whatever else will become a part of us. The stitching that holds the patches together can always change and grow as well. Quilting is a process.

And process, especially in music, may be all we got.


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