Be Excellent to Each Other

There's still debate among researchers as to whether or not music is an evolutionary accident that arose alongside language, or if it music provides some kind of evolutionary advantage to humans. I'm sure the question is important in an academic sense, in that the answer might help determine how to research music in the future, but for our purposes the question is entirely irrelevant. All that matters here is that music is an incredibly powerful mode of human communication.

To that end, I have given thought to musicians connecting with people in times of need. Whether it's a few symphony players alleviating boredom during a long flight delay, flying halfway around the world to play for a grieving friend, or something as simple as volunteering time at a retirement home, music can often help make other people's lives better. Not just because of the music, although that certainly counts for something, but because the music is being given by an actual, honest to gosh human being.

However, I will admit to having felt a powerful mental lock recently, one which I wish hadn't been an issue but was for a number of reasons. So it's about to get personal up in here.

The Game of Life

The Game of Life is one of the worst board games you will ever come across. It's truly awful. One way it is awful is, they forgot to put in the explosions and tornadoes. I mean, if you're going to have the game of "life," you might as well go all the way. I am referencing two recent events in particular: the refinery explosion in West, Texas; and the recent rash of tornadoes up in North Texas and Oklahoma.

Now, I will admit, these events seemed about as far away from the topic of music as you can get. And yet, when I heard about the West, Texas explosion and the tornadoes, and kept hearing about their impact on the radio, I began to think that these people are among those who not only want music because of a basic human drive to create and listen to it, but actively need it. That while the human support they receive in the form of money, clothes, food and shelter are all critical, there existed an existential need that only be met by art or religion. Funny how those two things always seem to be closely linked, eh?

Anyways. I had that thought, epiphany even, and was just about to grab my cello and jump in the car when I had just about the worst case of the "What If's" I have ever had in my life.

What if I can't find a place to stay?

What if it's still dangerous out there?

What if I can't find a place to play?

What if they don't want me there?

What if it's inappropriate or presumptuous?

What if... What if... What if...?

I have to say, the What If's literally paralyzed my brain, and all action stopped, and I reluctantly went back to my routine. The frustration was enormous. Here I was, being prevented from helping in a way that is rather unique to trained musicians, and I was being stonewalled by a list of What If questions that all simply didn't matter. Granted, it was a five hour drive or whatever. Granted, I am an introvert to the extreme. Granted, some of the questions actually did matter. But whatever was standing in my way was equally unimportant. I had the opportunity to help, and I didn't.

Let It Be

In my usual way, I was pretty hard on myself for a while, but I calmed down pretty quick to do what I do best: think. It gradually occurred to me that stories about musical charity contributions were all rather exceptional. Not even in the way of "Rostropovich flew halfway around the world to play for his friend," kind of exceptional. Just the act itself was rather uncommon. Sure, you have musicians who put together benefit programs for charities or relief funds, but those are largely unattended by the people who were actually affected (I'm guessing, here, but I assume if you don't have food or a house, you're pretty off in a bad way as far as finances).

So thinking back, I found the other events that plagued me with What Ifs. They were: the first time I asked a girl out; going to college; and my first solo performances. In other words, they were all things which I had no experience with. And music as a charitable act was something I simply wasn't exposed to. It didn't even occur to me until my 26th year that it was something to do just because it's something you just... do.

Know people who need help? Play music for them. It's not bread, it's not a roof over their head, but they'll know in their bones that they're truly not alone.

The Daily Dose

Today I shall recommend some elegiac music. Fauré's Elegie for Cello and Piano is quite wonderful, but if you want something to truly knock your socks off, listen to Arvo Pärt's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten." Never has a scale been played with such emotion.

Gabriel Fauré: Elegie for Cello and Piano, op.24

Arvo Pärt: Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten

(If you're wondering why I don't link directly to a performance, just remember one word: copyright. And Google. Ok. Two words, I guess.)