Why do we need music? In analyzing music to the function of society, Darwin wrote, “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man… they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”
Regarding survival necessities, Steven Pinker said where “biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless… It could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged.” Concerning the lack of adaptive function of the arts, “They may be by-products of two other traits: motivational systems that give us pleasure when we experience signals that correlate with adaptive outcomes (safety, sex, esteem, information-rich environments), and the technological know-how to create purified and concentrated doses of these signals,” Pinker notes.
Despite our lack of need for music, it remains a fundamental, vital, and pivotal feature to human beings in every culture. We can all sense musical features as our brains are hardwired to work muscles in every cortex, region, and sub-region due to how it is processed. It promotes activity unlike any other human experience, from analyzing beat patterns, tempo, melodic phrases, oscillations, to recognizing complex patterns, repetitions, timbres, sequences, et cetera. Our auditory and nervous systems are equipped naturally with the circuitry to perceive music and create both a logical and emotional response. Because of our desire to be stimulated in this complex way, we yearn for a connection to music inherently, and will go to great lengths to find it and be a part of the listening experience. It has the power to stir imagery, to elicit memories, and forge bonds between individuals in meaningful ways.
Exposing our daily lives to other musicians can feed our soul in ways we never imagined. The conversations that lead to personal and musical growth can end up becoming the most momentous, critical, and direction changing exchanges of our lives.
Do you share best practices with your music peers?
The evolution of humanity must coincide with growth as musicians (especially educators). We are all practicing educators and musicians; therefore, we do not have every answer, and we certainly must yield to the changing times in every element of exposure to education and in music. If we refuse to evolve, set higher expectations, and new goals for technique and pedagogy, then we cannot continue to communicate music in an open, honest way.
Do you discuss pedagogy?
Technique and music aesthetics pedagogy are two polar opposites.
Regarding technique, sharing your experiences with those who play your instrument verses discussing topics with non-like instrumentalists can be just as rewarding. Eyes can be opened to trying various equipment or preferred brands you may have avoided earlier in your career, and depending on the style of music performed, can end up changing the complete sound of the music itself. For non-like instrumentalist or vocalist concepts, new perspectives can be gained by simply listening to musician’s thoughts that typically experience the ensemble setting from an opposing side.
When considering aesthetics, an entire world of possibilities can be opened up by remembering one thing: “Soulful human beings create profound music, regardless of their level of musical achievement. Such music is, at the same time, honest and direct, and speaks in the most direct way to all that hear it.” –James Jordan
As mentioned in previous blogs, musicians are often held up by the technical, when honest music is authentically made up of the trust and belief of oneself and others, and love of self. Vulnerability of expression is the only way to make music, alone or with others. One must choose love over every other emotion whenever the baton, the instrument, or the voice is lifted to perform; otherwise, humanity in the sound is absent all together.
Are you a connoisseur and consumer of music?
Being an excellent musician does not always necessitate you actually taking the stage to learn. Professional conferences, concerts, operas, and special live musical events are where one may learn the best performance techniques. Watch, listen, and absorb! Whether inferior to your own skill-set, something positive can be taken away from every musician. Listen, and listen more to build a better understanding of quality and non-quality performances, which includes soulful musicianship.
Are you willing to evolve?
Because vulnerable performances must stem from love of self and others, being a quality musician also indicates you are an upstanding individual. From personal experience, one cannot possibly appreciate a musical product when the individuals creating said performance are not kind, respectful, nor do they care how their performances are perceived. In reference to Mr. Jordan’s quote above, we are in the business of human aesthetics, and creating great music requires an established, meaningful connection with your ensemble and your audience. The truth remains that ‘people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,’ and the same principle rings true for performing artists.
Being a respectful, humble learner in all facets of musicianship allows for more growth, even when you learn what NOT to do from other musicians. Likewise, avoid allowing others to influence your understanding of fellow musicians, ensembles, or pedagogical ideals until you have met, witnessed, or tried certain ways for yourself. However, beware of preconceived notions as well. For example, ratings at state contests are not always indicative of a well-rounded music education being facilitated in appropriate ways within a program. These performances are simply snapshots of student learning over 2-3 selections, and not a representation of the teaching going on outside those selections.
Finally, what one may deem as “failures” may end up fueling the finest successes of our lives; therefore, keeping an optimistic 'uplook' (as opposed to outlook) is crucial to understanding that berating oneself for mistakes is pointless and irrelevant. Miles Davis said, “In improvisation, there are no mistakes,” and is that not the point? We are all improvising at life, and to deem a single error as a “failure” is a false sense of inferiority when change is inevitable to avoid the same issue later. To remain stagnant is the greatest mistake of all; therefore, we evolve with an open spirit and a passionate, eager, and brave heart!
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