Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Professionals Only

Today is a Barber-Violin-Concerto-Andante-movement kind of day.  I've soaked my ears in this sound as I have brushed a few coats of polyurethane on my hubby's new "sound upgrade" workbench he'll use for some booths at Suzuki Institutes this month.  The two activities were good therapy. I let Gil Shaham and the London Symphony Orchestra speak to me like a friend full of empathy while I put on an outer protective coating.

I took a class last Fall that delved into my core books and beliefs.  I then took a similar class the next two semesters and as part of them, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Thus my neglect of this blog.  I now find myself on a summer break, mourning the fact that the classes are over and feeling just plain grumpy. 

So it feels like the perfect time to vent about something I've been stewing over for a while.  There.  Now that you're the only one reading further, Marmee, I can just say what I want to and not worry about all the editing and revising I'd go through for more judgmental "ears."

I've told you before, how I've had the idea of writing a short post whenever the mood strikes to highlight a piece of music that communicates powerfully to me.  Then to have a page with a list of those pieces, linked to those posts.  It would be my attempt at making pieces come alive for myself (again) and others.  Apply music to life. To try to "sell" various favorites of mine to my friends, students or strangers that happen by this blog.  Maybe they might find a new use for a piece, might discover a new way of looking at a classic and want to add it to their listening library.

 So there you go.  You should really listen to the Barber Violin Concerto.  It's the best therapy for a really bad mood.  Not much of a "sell" to kick off my idea is it?  I told you I was grumpy.

The reasons for wanting to do such posts like this go deeper, though. So I'll finish this post off on that theme.

I find myself increasingly troubled by how the purpose of music has melted into a big, "Look at Me!" tool. The feeling of revulsion for the perversion of something so dear to me has almost caused me to not want to perform for anyone but myself these days, ironically.  Mostly because I see myself perpetuating the problem more often then not.

That all-about-me attitude is so deeply rooted in our culture.  It hit me the other day that if you think of music as a language, we have an awfully odd way of teaching that language.  Think of how you learned to speak your native tongue and then think of how a child learns an instrument traditionally.

Recitals seem especially odd to me lately.  Were we forced to speak only 30 minutes a day and then put on a stage to recite what we'd learned so that people could clap for us?  Not to mention that these performances have as much genuine communication going on as a robot might produce. The kids aren't the ones to blame - the emphasis is on playing perfectly, not on communicating through music.  If you asked a kid why they play an instrument, the majority would say some version of "because my mom wants me to." Or just plain, "I don't know."  When a child does get on stage and forget their audience and just becomes absorbed in the sounds and you feel you're being spoken to - it feels like witnessing a miracle.  Yeah, you want to clap!  I know.  I don't think we got to this point on purpose. 

What I'm trying to express somehow on this small insignificant blog doesn't feel only applicable to music or children, though.  There are many activities that use to have a purpose of unifying a group, of deepening our thoughts, of strengthening our communication, of expressing worshipful feelings that went beyond words.  Activities that now are about as profound as lines in my kids vocab textbook.  Activities that have become all-about-me, distracting, entertainment-only, divisive, destructive, deeply entrenched traditions, mostly used to promote a person above another, or to buff up a person's resume.  In other words, they are used to separate and break down unity.  Add to that all this technology that I'm using this very moment and friends are more likely to recognize the voice of a telemarketer than of each other.

I think of sports. 
Do we grab a ball and head down to the park with our friends to have fun and build relationships?  Or do we grab a ball to prove how much better we are then our friends, or to practice our skills so that we'll win a formal competition that will give us status?

I think of dance.
 Do we take a loved one by the hand when a song comes on and turn and spin together for fun, or to feel as one or to express love (the real kind, not lust)?  Can anyone even dance without stepping on each other's toes or getting confused about who's supposed to lead anymore?  Or - if you saw someone dancing alone to music these days, you'd just laugh and think of a pot-bellied, balding old man, 1930's music and a scene from Strictly Ballroom.  All I see dancing has become these days is strutting, gyrating and dancing around half-clad to prove how sexy a person is. There's not much wholesome or unifying about it.

Think of music.
As a musician, this is where I feel the loss more deeply.  Fewer and fewer are those families that gather together to sing or "play at" music.  In our congregations music is more a tradition than a genuine moment of expression or communion. Most people with or without any formal instruction feel too afraid to strum a guitar or open their mouths in the presence of others because of the fear of their judgements (which, sadly grow more real and frequent, the more we anticipate them).    Many stop before picking anything up because "I'm not musical."  God gave everyone a voice. That seems proof enough to me that he wants us to participate on some level with expressing through music.  I'm one of those people who thinks that the vocal chords have muscles and the more you use them, the stronger they become and the more precise they become - I've taught enough young boys to go from "tone deaf" to matching pitches just fine to not believe some people just "can't sing." Even if I'm wrong, or for those in that situation, I'd rather hear a tone-deaf person singing with a passion to communicate and express the feelings he has to another human being than silence and an inferiority complex.  We need more loving, genuine communication, no matter what the pitch is.  To those that say "I'm not musical" or "I have other gifts, that's not one of them"  I would reply:

"Don't you hear what you're really saying?!?!"  I'm not a professional dancer, but I can't tell you how profound and unifying the feelings my husband and I had last month dancing in our own quirky way at the MAC.  I also wouldn't be surprised if AD died tomorrow, that his girls would say one of the best memories they had of their father is how he'd kneel down now and then, grab their hands and whip them around while he playfully sang his version of "Dance With Me."

I'm not a star athlete, but the time spent whacking a volleyball at family reunions or throwing a frisbee most often in the wrong direction to my sister are some of the most cherished memories I have.

In other words, I'd say,  "You're comment is my whole point!!!"

You're letting the virus of 'professionals only' infect your brain!  It's like saying you're not going to use a knife because you're not a chef.  You're not going to wear shoes because you're not a runner.  You're not going to wear clothes because you're not a seamstress.  I know.  That whole argument is flawed because just about everyone listens to music.  I can't quite erase it, though.  Think less about passive use of those things and more active use and maybe it could still work :).  I really hope I'm not just a musician trying to expand her clientele, or a narrow-minded person thinking my passion in life should be everyone's passion.  Really. 

There was a university years ago that acquired a new music director and made waves in the my local music world when he expressed the thought that he thought the university should just focus on training students to be "good church musicians."

 I'm not so certain that that's a bad thing anymore.  I guess I'm becoming a heretic.  Where's the stake?  Need a match? I keep asking myself, "What has all our professional training, comparing, competing, and status-seeking done, but completely take the heart and soul out of music?"  On the other hand, much popular music today communicates so effectively that teenagers and adults alike are entrapped by it's message and mood.  It influences so effectively that it's music "worshipers" have been known to trample people to death at concerts, or engage in a whole range of unwholesome activities.

Where are the Wordsworths of modern music?  I crave a new song that I will have to listen to as much as I've read "Ode on Intimations of Immortality" recently.  One that even after twenty times I can feel nourished by something new it's communicated to me; and that there is still a deep well of water from which to drink.

 I don't know.  What is my problem?  Speak to me Gil.