Inspirational read

March 18, 2009 at 06:22 AM ·

If you are feeling sad and depressed, like no one understands the importance of music in the lives of humans, a friend just sent me this bit of inspiration, a welcome address given by Boston Conservatory director and pianist Karl Paulnack to freshmen last fall. It puts forth some good arguments for the instrinsic value of -- and need for -- music. Among many other things, he talks about the ancient Greek view on music, that it was the flipside of astronomy: astronomy relates us to our outer world, while music relates us to our inner worlds. Great stuff! 

Replies (10)

March 18, 2009 at 03:39 PM ·

Hi, Laurie: You're right; what an inspiring read.

March 18, 2009 at 07:16 PM ·

Laurie, thank you for posting this.

March 19, 2009 at 12:07 AM ·

Yes, thank you for this post! I've already emailed the link for this article to my parents. They're quite supportive, but I'm sure this will further alleviate some of their worries of my future in music. 'Not saying they shouldn't be worried, but atleast all of my hard work and effort (like all other musicians) isn't going to waste!

March 19, 2009 at 05:28 AM ·

Thanks for posting this, Laurie.  It's very inspirational.

The article you cited reminded me of something I read by Martha Graham, choreographer and dancer, in which she described the most rewarding performance of her entire career. During the performance, she saw a woman in the audience crying.  After the performance, the woman went backstage to speak to Martha Graham.  She said that her husband had died several years ago, and she had never been able to cry for him, despite a lot of psychotherapy.  She said that when she saw Martha Graham dance, she suddenly understood that suffering is universal and that it has dignity.  Then she was able to cry for her deceased loved one.

I would feel really honored if someone ever had such a strong, constructive response to something I played.

March 19, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

His description of the veteran's memories and experience at the concert was very moving.  That was a wonderful speech to read and he sounds like a wonderful person and musician.

I don't agree with the analogy he tried to make between music and surgery, though.  He seemed to be implying that the risks and consequences of a mistake in the two fields were similar.  But a mistake in surgery can kill the patient, whereas that's not true with music.  

Maybe he wanted to use that analogy to metaphorically elevate music's importance, to somehow make concrete that it is truly a matter of life and death.  I don't think that's necessary; in fact, I think it's wrong-headed.  Music is a more forgiving art than surgery, and it should be.  You don't have to be Heifetz or Perlman to touch people emotionally and help them to heal.  Even community orchestras and amateurs playing in church can do this, I've seen it.  The audience for this experience doesn't care where you went to school, who you studied with, how young you were when you made your Carnegie Hall debut, or how many competitions you've won.  

The accessibility and universality of music are what make it such a powerful force. 

March 19, 2009 at 02:34 PM ·

Yes.  I agree with Karen.

Beautiful and indeed inspiring.  But the analogy to surgery didn't quite work for me.

Tangent: And to anyone setting up a website:  Do NOT put grey text on a black background...


March 20, 2009 at 02:11 PM ·

I don't think he was implying that music is life or death the way surgery is.  I think the inspiration was geared towards the music students to look beyond their own careers.  Too often you see music students stuck in practice rooms perfecting their craft.  It is so easy to slip into self-indulgence when you're an artist.  We spend so much time alone and enjoying ourselves that we seldom realize that what we do affects other people.  I liked the speech and the way it addressed the relevance of music. 

March 20, 2009 at 03:18 PM ·

Marina, I like that take on it.  

And I actually believe that music is, in a way, a matter of life and death. Just different from medicine.   But if he was trying to make the point that musicians need to look beyond their own careers, I'm not sure medicine was the best analogy.  

I think there's more room for "quirky" people with no social skills in some areas of medicine than in music.  They can have a terrible bedside manner and be generally terrible with patients but if they get the job done in the operating room or diagnostic room, their patients will still put up with that and benefit from it.  (Or at least that's what you are led to believe watching TV shows like "House," where the doctor is a complete a** but saves lives and figures out the hard cases that no one else can).  While I don't know a real-life "House," I do know people in medicine who share some of those characteristics.

And I think it's even more of an open question whether and how this dynamic operates in music.  It's endlessly debated whether great musicians can also be monsters (e.g. Wagner) and what this means when they are.  Maybe the author was just trying to stimulate thought and discussion, which is a good thing in itself!

March 21, 2009 at 11:54 PM ·

I loved this reading and it made me though of something I and many other musicians of all kinds have experiment!   As this guy said, why is it that music is always considered like someting "accessoiry" "superficial" just an "entertainment"? It's not necessary for physical survival but for the psychological health, it is essential.  People who hate classic will listen to other music types!

   When we look at the olympics, we are all impressed to see how hard the athletes work in order to perform at their best.  Even a non sportive person will admire the olympians. (ok some will argue and say that this money should be spend on something more important... but generally speaking) But a serious musician, a person who really likes music amateur or professional (I am not talking of those who take music just for fun, too make friends more than to really play. It's a valuable option but they think differently) really pursue the same goals and try to work with the conditions and opportunities they respectivly have (some have best than others but life IS unfair) to achieve their full potential.  Yes, true musicians will share their music with everyone and not be selfish because true musicians are usually generous and humble persons.   You do not have to be a professional and to have raw talent to have this goal number 1 in your life to make the nicest music possible for you and those around you!  It is my goal, I say it openly and people have a hard time to understand me because they say I will be a bad worker and provide a bad service to people in my futur job (non musical job) if I have this goal! Everyone (not all but many people) say to me that I have to mature a bit, that it is kind of "lazy" to want to do so much of an "unnecessary" thing as an adult. They say I should only do this on weekends and not make it my life!   Yes, I can get injured, I can change my mind one day but for now, I'm sure to know what I want:  be a good and kind worker at my daily job hours and do music the rest of the time!  This is not selfish!  I even think to do volunteer work with my violin if I have the ability and opportunity one day!  People bring their dogs and well trained pets at hospitals which is very cool, why wouldn't a bunch of amateur musicians do the same!  

All this to say that persons of all levels and talents who have real musician's souls are not lazy, not doing an "accessoiry thing" and those who want to go in music should not be seen as people who waste their talent/grades/times.  It's honorable as many other things even if the society doesn't realize it!  Music is really a very complex discipline, just a few ear training courses can show us all the logical structure behind it!  It's hard to compose and hard to play! Especially piano and strings!  They always expect, in universities, to admit violin and pianists appliants with an higher level that the ones they accept in other instruments!  The requirements are higher for them!  Just to show that you have to put a huge amount of time in any instrument, especially in violin and piano! (not saying that the rest is easy though!)

To sum up, these stereotypes shouldn't stop anyone from playing music and investing efforts in it!   Musicians and artists are sensitive people and it's not rare that they try to give concerts, money or time for good things, denonciate things that are not fair etc. So I think the people who say they are selfish and doing something "accessoiry" should think twice!


April 2, 2009 at 07:14 PM ·

My aunt forwarded me that article in an e-mail a few weeks ago.  It has kept me alive in the sense that I really know what I do is essential, not just "entertainment."  Thank you for sharing.

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