An Ongoing Encounter with Beauty
Music study and a place in the profession usually require a singular sustained commitment and years of study, often beginning in early childhood. Time is filled with countless hours in solitude. Fluency and mastery are gained only through regular and extensive practice over many years. Superb instruction, fine instruments (at considerable cost), supportive families, schools and communities, are all necessary for the flowering of artistry. Those of us in the profession know this all too well.
So in this age of instant gratification, quick results, media and information overload, not to mention distraction, how and why are musicians drawn to an artistic path and how do they sustain their passion and commitment, sometimes over decades? It’s definitely not mainstream culture, although ironically music is more readily available than ever before (Pandora, Spotify, etc).
An ongoing encounter with beauty is the motivation, the sustaining element that binds artists to the profession. At the risk of getting lost in the “weeds,” defining beauty is essential. It evokes deep emotions, and all kinds of emotions. It is congruent, that is it makes sense. It contains invention, structure, and a kind of cohesion. It is honest. And although we can be surprised by beauty’s dazzling and novel qualities, we often discover an element of inevitability. There is that response, “Of course, how perfect.”
In music, beauty comes out of a deep well of creativity from both the composer and the performer. Beauty transcends, inspires, informs, and engages us at a profound level. One could say it contains the eternal. It can hold in its wake the numinous. It charges up our intuitive skills, requiring a whole brain approach to artistry. How else can we face the demands of a composer like Mozart?
British writer/philosopher Roger Scruton articulates a well-defined description of what beauty can offer. “Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, scared, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend. If there are people who are indifferent to beauty, then it is surely because they do not perceive it.”
Consequently, as music educators, we are charged with educating our students about the sublime, bringing to their musical studies an encounter with beauty so that they do perceive it. As performers we strive, through our temporal art form, to offer an encounter with beauty—something beyond the everyday and an experience that lifts, inspires, informs, edifies our daily life. Through discovering beauty, we are required to stretch, to open our hearts and minds to something beyond our purview, our quotidian routines.
In an ever increasingly institutionalized culture we can lose our way in the distraction of winners and losers, success and failure, gain and loss. But music does not care about that. There is only beauty and only the development of resonance with this awareness. Doing it faster, with more, creating volume as opposed to quality squeezes out any opportunity to invite beauty into our lives. There is no room in the world of artistry for this narrow and parsimonious view of creativity. The muse will simply never visit this realm.
Throughout my own journey as a musician, I have faced the issue of sustainability many times. There have been losses, disappointments, obstacles, distractions, all-consuming life events, and even doubt. But every roadblock, every challenge has brought me back to beauty. It is what has sustained me, fulfilled me, and inspired me. It is the raison d’être of all that I do for myself and for others in our industry. We are so very lucky in our profession. We have the opportunity to encounter beauty every day.
My article in this issue is brief. May it serve as a reminder for something we already know: that beauty is what we serve, that it gives us everyday a chance to experience something greater than ourselves. I will leave you with a thought that speaks so clearly to our quest for beauty. “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.” Kahlil Gibran.
— Reprinted with permission from Oregon Musician, Dec 2018