Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I could tell from the abruptness with which she stopped the choir and the expression on her face that somebody was in big trouble. I couldn't tell who or why because I was a little busy watching the score, listening to the choir, watching the conductor, and, of course, pushing all those plastic levers at the right time and with the proper degree of force. But we all stopped on a dime and waited to see who was getting the lecture.

It turned out to be three young men in the back who, while a small group of their colleagues were performing, took the opportunity to generally yuck it up, talking over and otherwise ignoring the live music at hand. This did not sit well with our conductor.

It shouldn't have. Afterwards, in conversation, I told her that she had certainly gotten the point across. And that it was completely necessary to do it. Because, sadly, there are a lot of people who have difficulty paying attention to anything they aren't involved in directly themselves. From the kindergartners who are so fascinated by the sounds coming out of their own mouths that they refuse to shut up and get in line so we can go to recess (this I recall was a recurring problem throughout elementary school and typically led to short recess periods), to the young adults who are similarly fascinated by everything they themselves think and feel and say and are sometimes blind and deaf to the world around them which, if they gave it a chance, might turn out to be more interesting than they are (O no! What will that do to my ego?!).

All this is simply a trait of human beings. But it includes musicians as well, and not just their public. Even the people making the music often seem to have little appreciation for listening to it if it is being produced by others. This suggests that there is a failure to communicate (sorry, cool hand Luke).

If I seem a little cranky today, let me channel a man by the name of Camille Saint-Saens who wrote a list of things that he said constituted people "who do not love music." One of those even included those who enjoy listening to Bach's C Major Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier with the added melody by 19th century French composer Charles Gounod on top. You may not know what I'm talking about, but you've heard it at weddings. Saint-Saens thought Bach knew what he was doing and that the original should be left alone.

By comparison, I don't think it is being nearly so doctrinaire that people who love music ought to pay attention to it when it is being made, and that those who stop noticing when they aren't providing the sound themselves are not lovers of music. And, of course, like every one of us, they could stand to work on their self-absorption.

These particular young men were just going through a natural part of being human, and needed a reminder that there are bigger things out there, and that even if there weren't, there is the much needed reflex of respect to work on.

For many educators, that is probably the main issue. This is a problem of manners, nothing more. But I think breeding curiosity and desire to understand the thing itself would also help matters. It is an uphill battle to try to take people out of themselves and listen. But it enriches immensely--you and everyone you know. It is like a reverse infection, with positive symptoms. Let's hope we all catch it someday.

There is a fortune all around you. It is tax-free, but not free of effort. And, unlike those little green slips of paper with the dead people with wigs on them, it is freely available (mostly). The downside is that there is joint ownership with everyone else, and if that ruins it for you, I'm sorry. If you choose not to experience it on that basis, there isn't more for everyone else. There is just enough: plenty. And room for everybody if you ever change your mind.

I can't really explain it. You just have to be there. It's amazing. And you are constantly invited.

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