Friday, June 18, 2010

Generation Eeyore

Like many people of my generation, I grew up around pessimists. It seems to me that my generation was simply filled with Eeyore parents (other people's parents seemed almost as pessimistic as mine seemed to be). There was so much wrong with everything in the larger world: drugs, hippies, racism, crime, communism, the Iron Curtain, Middle-Eastern terrorism (particularly the Iranian hostage crisis), the energy crisis, antisemitism, political corruption (particularly Watergate), and pollution.

While I was growing up I was very much aware of the phoniness that goes with "importance," so I never trusted people in power. I still don't, but now and then I make an exception. I have noticed (she mentions optimistically) that some of the people in power who have an idealistic world view (and are willing to work to make it real) tend to be a few years younger than I am.

I always thought that music could be a way to transcend all that was horrible in the world, and that if my musical intentions were "true," I could do something of value and, perhaps, make the world a better place, at least while the music was happening. (My family nickname when I was a child was "Pooh.")

I don't know if that kind of idealistic view of improving a corrupt world is practical (as in the Hirschmann sentence I quoted yesterday), but idealistic music making can make it possible for chunks of time to be pure and true. A few minutes of beauty and idealism can be more meaningful than a whole day of ugliness and doom.

Writing music is itself kind of like idealism in action: there is an ideal balance for a piece of music, there is a "right" organization of pitches and rhythms, and there is an ideal performance in a composer's inner ear. With a lot of skill and a certain amount of luck, it is possible for a composer to put together phrases of music that can saturate chunks of time with the feeling of idealism. With more luck, it might even be played by musicians (perhaps musicians the composer doesn't know personally) that share his or her idealism. And maybe it will allow a few minutes (or hours) sometime in the future a bit more idealistic for someone playing or hearing the music.


Anonymous said...

It seems rather obvious that the purpose of beauty in life is to relieve us for the moment of its appreciation to escape the ugliness in the world. The modern penchant to praise the ugly in artistic production seems a failing pursuit, for when ugliness becomes equivalent with beauty, what relief is there, one from the other? Those who wallow in the pessimistic side of music and the arts forget that there can be a not only a separation from but also relief of the tedium of a sometimes very ugly human world. Ideals, in the Platonic sense, are not achieved but reached for. What better way to reach towards an ideal than through a moment of beauty and its appreciation?

mrG said...

cynical though we may try to be, not one of us can imagine the levels of all those woes that are the everyday way of life for the poorer children of Venezuela who are the driving creative voice behind the El Sistema phenomenon.

I read recently on a blog from someone who had taken her Juliard training down to the Simon Bolivar Orchestra only to be clearly outclassed by El Sistema teen graduates, and related to us the comment from one of them to explain their earnest excellence that I'll paraphrase, "If you had a sense that how you play and how you behave might determine the future of children in poverty, how would you play? how would you behave?"

What they are doing down there in South America is real, and it is working, and it demonstrates very graphically how it is more than merely a beautiful sound that we can offer a few ticket-buyers. we can offer our greater society an inspiration, a model of dilligence, an attentive and mindful life-skills strategy, an aesthetic direction, a lesson in humanity and most of all, we can offer a hope into the darkness.

All that simply by the way we play the music.

Sun Ra said that the planet was asleep, and it was the fault of the musicians who are untrue to themselves. Perhaps he was only anticipating El Sistema?

Anonymous said...

Having heard the Simon Bolivar orchestra live in Caracas, I can attest that they play with enthusiasm and with the mentioned "model of diligence." That alone in not enough to make headway and become professional musicians capable of supporting themselves, and many of the young folks in that orchestra will have to leave Venezuela to find their career paths in music. Everyday woes included incurable illnesses, quack treatments and dying young, as the histories of many great composers attest. Yet the pursuit of musical beauty drew them on.

The citation of Sun Ra is amusing, as he claimed to be from the planet Saturn. What the "planet being asleep" has to do with a "generation Eeyore" escapes my understanding, but suffice it to say that a beautiful musical gesture unites me with people, the cosmos and eternity itself. But I still claim to have been born in planet Earth.