some thoughts and comments
People have asked me what some of my thoughts on music are. Iím usually offered big questions, and usually reply with small answers. I generally believe that music shouldnít be talked about, but listened to, but here I have the luxury of time and space to condense my thoughts, so I offer them to you to consider, knowing full well that any words used here are but a small drop in a vast ocean.
I see music as little different from a language, or a way of communicating. I have often had emotions with no clear way of expressing them, except through playing the piano. This has been the norm for me throughout my life. I have been an emotional mess many times and have had no outlet for expression other than to play the piano, which is why I have said to many that I couldnít live without music. A dumb person can still communicate by writing, a blind person by speaking, a deaf person by signing, but if your first language is music and itís taken from you, then youíre alone.
I have met people who understand the language but donít speak it. I have met people that can communicate on one instrument but not on another. I know people who play many instruments and say nothing. I personally value music that says something, and is only ALWAYS saying something. I make no claim that I am always saying something when I play, but I consciously make that my intent.
Apart from finger exercises and music that is designed to extend my facility, I donít play the piano when Iím alone, for the same reason I donít talk when Iím alone in a room. As a corollary, the physical enjoyment I receive from playing the piano is no greater than the physical enjoyment I receive from speaking English, or even breathing. Itís an unconscious (and/or sub-conscious) activity. Furthermore, in the same way that focusing on the physics of breathing effects the way you breath, so focusing on the physics of playing piano effects the way I play. This focus is brought on by seeing myself in a mirror or on film, or looking at my hands when I play. Better to close eyes and open hearts and see what happens.
When I play in public I expect people to listen, arrogant as that may sound, because damned if Iím going to pour my heart out to someone who is talking to someone else. Whether Iím a good pianist or not is irrelevant... It is whether Iím trying to say something to an audience that is otherwise occupied that is the relevant issue.
Something happens when ďartĒ music is made that is greater than that which we can see or hear, so reverence and quiet is required for those present to experience something new. An artist starts a painting on a clean canvas, just as a musician would expect to start a piece of music on a silent canvas. Only then can what we are saying be heard, and only then can each statement be heard clearly.
I love this quote from my good friend, Richard Stiles:
ďThe defining glory of sentience is to co-operate, perhaps even extraordinarily to assist someone else at our own expense, so that one being doesn't have to lose for the other to win.Ē
Iíve taken it out of its original context, but it equally applies to music, both to the listener and the musician. I would add to that quote, ď...in fact everyone wins.Ē
Below is an excerpt about the subject of work from a great book, ďThe ProphetĒ by Kahlil Gibran. It has meaning for me because in regard to music (and the piano) I can readily substitute the word ďworkĒ for the word ďplayĒ. It doesnít take long to realise that this strange anomaly is indeed a very rare thing.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran (from "the prophet")
What is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from
your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your
beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the
harvest with joy, even as your beloved were to eat
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of
your own spirit.
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing
about you and watching.
Often I have heard you say, as if speaking in sleep,
'He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his
own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who
ploughs the soil.
'And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth
in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes
the sandals for our feet.'
But I say, not in sleep, but in the overwakefulness of
noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to
the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the
wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with
distaste, it is better that you should leave your work
and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of
those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a
bitter bread that feeds but half a man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your
grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the
singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the
day and the voices of the night.