The Life of a Musician -- a Feast

November 27, 2019, 9:44 PM · I've never seen the 1987 Danish movie "Babette's Feast," but I do know a famous quotation from the film:

"An artist is never poor."

violin still life
"Still Life with a Violin" by Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

The movie would make for excellent Thanksgiving viewing, as it centers on a woman, Babette, whose ultimate art is the creation of fine French food. Except the woman - a trained chef who had worked in a famous French restaurant -- can't fully practice her art. She is now a refugee from war, destitute and living in 19th-century Denmark, working as a cook for two sisters who are part of a Lutheran sect that rejects such pleasures of the flesh.

After living in austerity for many years, Babette wins the lottery. But instead of using the money to return to Paris, as everyone expects her to do, she spends all of it preparing a very special dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of the founding pastor's 100th birthday. Though the sisters are reluctant to try this potentially sinful food, they agree to do so and everyone loves the dinner in the end. In fact it serves to unite the community. Later, when the sisters discover that Babette actually spent ALL of the money this way, they are dismayed -- now Babette will always be poor!

And that's when she says, "An artist is never poor."

But wait, isn't she still broke?

Well maybe so. But "poor"?

Anyone who counts music -- or any other art form -- as a significant part of his or her life has a certain kind of abiding wealth.

Can you practice your art, can you make your music? Do you have opportunities to appreciate it in others? Do you carry it around as part of you? Does it capture your imagination?

Given a bag of gold, the artist might spend it on violin strings, or paint brushes, or one very fine camera lens. Imagining something and then creating it - this is the ultimate reward to an artist, and little else competes with that.

The artistic mindset allows one to continually see beauty and imagine potential the world. It's a lot like gratitude.

I'm grateful my life centers on music: exploring it, teaching it, discovering it anew. I'm grateful for the little girl who visited my third-grade public school classroom and sparked my initial desire to play the violin. I'm grateful for the times I've played my one small part in a huge orchestra, for that larger-than-life feeling of oneness and deep harmony, created by so many people cooperating to one end. I'm grateful for the remarkable performances I've witnessed. I'm grateful for those times when I'm standing alone in my studio, playing Bach, and suddenly I feel a connection to the past, to my soul. I'm grateful for the moments when I say something that helps spark a new kind of creativity or understanding in a student.

Such rich experiences.

What makes you feel grateful?

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving (if you are celebrating it!) and a holiday season full of music.

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November 28, 2019 at 12:16 PM · Yes, movie is just wonderful. Thank you for such a lovely article. We can all share our abundance in the love of music.

November 28, 2019 at 03:13 PM · I have seen the movie. A good scene is where the sisters are "teaching" Babette to make milk-toast. "Soak it! Let it soak!"

November 28, 2019 at 03:55 PM · Clearly I must see the movie!

November 28, 2019 at 05:09 PM · Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Now I want to see the movie too. It sounds like a nice "holiday movie" (lol).

I am not a professional musician, but I am thankful for the joy that music brings to my family's life.

November 28, 2019 at 07:35 PM · The great ballerina Suzanne Farrell once said that she was encouraged to pursue art in her life because her mother said "if you have the arts in your life, you are never alone". And neither are you poor, in my opinion. Happy Thanksgiving, to Laurie and everyone here.

November 28, 2019 at 08:46 PM · I, too, am thankful for the feast of music!

November 29, 2019 at 03:05 PM · Thank you, Laurie.

Yes, the Artist is never poor.

As a matter of fact, I have always believed that the Artist is "Richer" than most and that is why they give so much of themselves.

The Artist gives of themselves in all they do to bring to those around them that which they have inside.

Reading your words are oddly validating for me and I'm thankful for you sharing them.

November 29, 2019 at 06:20 PM · At one of those painful annual "performance review" interviews with a previous employer, I was asked "why are you here?" Part of my answer was "This is not my life, this is the job that pays for my life". They did not appreciate that answer. The musician and artist is usually financially poorer, but has a richer life. A phrase from some violinist's autobiography that I try to remember; "it is a privilege to be a professional musician."

November 29, 2019 at 06:58 PM · Happy Thanksgiving Laurie! Babette's Feast and Yiro Dreams of Sushi are possibly the two most inspiring movies I've seen - inspiring in terms of what we do as artists/teachers.

Thanks for the post!


November 30, 2019 at 03:56 AM · The movie is a visual masterpiece. If you turn off the sound, it will remind you of the greatest of old silent movies.

November 30, 2019 at 09:58 PM · I have been a professional folk fiddler for over 40 years and this year I have almost retired, the reason I say 'almost' is because I still play regularly for no money in 'jam sessions'. Sometimes it's Reinhardt/Grappelly style Jazz, other times it's English or Irish or American folk. Why do I play for nothing? Because I can now play the music I enjoy. If no-one is paying, there's no-one dictating what music is played. If people don't like it, I can leave, simple as that. 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free!' Kris Kristofferson had a point.

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