I have been thinking about that "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish" story in relation to the way that music tends to work in the fishbowl-like way I see music in rural America these days. Yesterday I wrote about the native "art music" of my area, and the way a certain segment of the local population really enjoys playing (at any level) and listening (to musicians that play at any level). It speaks to the power of music itself, and the durability of folk music everywhere. People who play without worrying about the purity of their sounds, the quality of their vibrato, or even the accuracy of their intonation can still enjoy the way music helps build community and cement friendship.
My problem is that I do worry about the purity of my sound, the quality of my sound, the the accuracy of my intonation, and I have been kind of obsessed with this way of making music for a long time, and on many different instruments. It is just the way I'm wired.
Some women spend time putting on make-up and shopping so that they can dress in a way that is "just so." I'm perfectly happy wearing comfortable clothes that might be decades old, but I will go to all sorts of pains to avoid playing out of tune, and will do everything I can in order to make a vibrant and beautiful sound. I tend to attract (or at least keep) students who value what I have to teach, but for some reason (because living in a fishbowl where there are only a given number of people interested in playing, and other people teaching) the number of students I am teaching now is at an all-time low.
It makes me feel pretty lousy.
When I was young I used to think that I could help to make the world a better place through music. I believed it with all my heart and soul, because I felt that music was singular. I felt that music was the clearest way to communicate truth and authenticity, and I have dedicated my life to trying to play in a way that communicates truth. It takes a lot of soul searching and a lot of practice to meet Bach face to face and play a phrase that is as strong and as true as Bach would have imagined it to be. I heard many, many, many people play in a way I would consider "true" when I was younger, and I saw my ability to recognize that "truth" when I heard it to be kind of a gift; not the kind of gift you talk about when you say that someone is "gifted," but the kind of gift you talk about when you can go directly to experiencing pleasure and surprise from what others might consider relatively unremarkable. It's a gift that keeps giving itself to me, and it's one that I believe I can share with my students--if they are willing to listen.
I sometimes find that kind of musical "truth" present in young children who play, and through a certain amount of work and awareness, finding musical truth (even momentary musical truth) happens during lessons with adults too. It happens in cities everywhere, and it sometimes happens in small fish-bowl communities like mine. Not being able, for reasons beyond my control, to take part in it to the extent I once did feels like a real loss.