Monday, December 31, 2007

Greatness ramble

Thanks to A.C. Douglas for a link to this article from the Times that reminds us all that it is really difficult to find greatness when there are so many places where it could be found.

I think of the difficulty I have finding a pair of socks in my laundry basket and three drawers filled with odd socks (from many members of the family). If I really took care of my socks and carefully put them into pairs after washing them, I could keep track of them. Maybe one of these New Years days I will.

It is still far easier for me to find a pair of socks than it is to keep up with everything that I should be reading and listening to that has been proclaimed "great." How many times have I read a line in somebody's biography saying that he or she is the "greatest _______ of her or his generation?" It is rare that I have actually heard something that I would consider "great" from a person who has used that line in a biography.

I have my stable of musical "greats." Most of them are no longer alive. Those who are alive are mostly in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and many no longer play or sing, at least in public. A few of them are young and are active, but so many of the younger musicians I know have never heard (or heard of, even) the people I hold as musicians of real importance. Those people managed to make it into my pantheon by playing really well all the time, writing wonderful music, much of which people didn't proclaim as great when it was written, and doing what they could (and still can, if they are alive) to keep their legacy moving forward. They, after all, learned what they know from a lifetime of experience.

Now that we have so much in the way of musical choice, there is relatively little room for all that we are capable of mentally and aurally digesting. There is also, with all the stimulation we have in our lives, too little time to give due contemplation to what we hear (and by extension what we read and view). Even if we take time, there are so many elements that get in the way of actual concentration.

It's hard to know what to do with it all.

In my radio station days, when I spent four hours every day for 13 years listening to recorded music very intensely (that way I knew that there was at least one attentive listener), I used to play recordings of Gian Francesco Malipiero, who I always thought a tragic musical figure because he seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledege of music, which he put into everything he wrote. He was a composer without a specific voice because he was a composer who knew the voice of at least every Italian composer who came before him. He never made it to "greatness."

With so many resources at our fingertips, we are all in danger of becoming like Malipiero. I wonder if he wore matching socks?

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