So the music went pretty well yesterday, especially the Latin motet by John Sheppard. Between church and the after-service there was some unpleasantness that left a bad taste in my mouth but it’s probably not appropriate to go into it here.
I have been trying to resist both blaming myself for other people’s bad behavior and lapsing into total cynicism about church. Also trying to resist self pity. Fuck the duck. I’m trying to cleanse this typical foul church mood listening to the birds sing in the dark and sipping coffee.
Kevin Hartnett is getting me off on the right foot this morning with his essay, “Reading War and Peace: the effects of great art on everyday life.”
“One way to think about what a work of art does is to imagine the counterfactual—how would my life have been different had I not spent the last three months reading War and Peace? The answers, I think, tend to group into three categories: The social experiences I had because of the book; the ideas the book incorporated into my life; and the aesthetic moments that were opened to me because of what I was reading.” [link to essay]
I’m a firm believer that art matters. And by art I mean all human creative endeavor. I omit the qualifier “great.” I have struggled with determining what art is worth and even more importantly what is it for.
I embrace a redemptive stance on art and life in general. Even in the midst of my own emotional turmoil at church yesterday, I was approached by a man who shook my hand and thanked me for the music for the day. I believe that making good music makes a difference.
Evelyn Glennie says that she is hesitant to say that a piece of music is bad. Since she deals with a large amount of recently written music, she has to take many pieces on their own terms and try to see if she has a sympathy for them. That is what is important to her.
It reminded me of the transformation in my own approach in the last ten years or fifteen years. I went from asking is a piece of music well written and well performed to whether or not I had a visceral reaction to a piece of music, did I like it or not?
Much more helpful to someone who is grappling with ideas like worth and meaning.
I have to add that by doing this I have uncovered what looks like quite a bit of superfluous stuff not to say dishonesty around people and music. The trick is to ignore this kind of stuff whether it comes from a pompous college teacher or a glib inexperienced young person.
I find myself continually attracted to passion and honesty. They seem to go hand in hand sometimes. People tend to be helpless in the face of their own passions.
There was a phrase that was tossed about quite a bit in the sixties: the frozen people.
I think of good art (and of course especially music) as something that thaws us, that makes us more not less flexible and tunes us in to ourselves. those around us and a general larger awareness that feels like awakening.
I often think about the artistic isolation of Emily Dickinson. I do love her poetry. Howard Bloom goes into his garden and reads her aloud when he is dealing with personal grief. There is something profound both about the ideas in her poetry and the words she uses.
I won’t bore you with quoting my favorite ones that echo in my head. I just recommend her.
And am inspired by her persistence despite very little encouragement.
In a way she helps me see how lucky I am. Despite being isolated from colleagues at this stage of my life, I am so lucky to experience and perform music the way that I do.
The triviality of bad behavior of others pales when I think of the beauty in John Sheppard’s lovely motet “In manus tuas” and the wonderful ideas in Domenico Scarlattis Exxercisi I have been playing through. Also it helped me to rehearse John Adams’s Road Movies piano accompaniment yesterday.
One time a percussionist said he was surprised that I admired and performed composers like Adams, Glass and Reich. He said usually it is percussionists that go for them.
So I find myself trying to emulate the wonderful example of Evelyn Glennie and digging deeper into learning and understanding music.