Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The best argument for the arts you will hear or read.

(Scroll down for other news the first article is long)

The best argument for the arts you will ever hear or read.

Below was sent to me separately by Bill Cohen and Mike Hale. It must have been a superb presentation to listen to. It is long but well worth the time to read it.

Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.

"One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, "you're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.
The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.
One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.
Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture - why would anyone bother with music? And yet - from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created
art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."
On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.
And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.
At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.
From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.
Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie
Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings - people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding, cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.
I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.
Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.
What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that?

How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?"
Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:
"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing
appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine
that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and
you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

A message from Half way Home.

We want to thank everyone who came out to the Central Ohio Folk Festival fund raiser a couple of weeks back. It was a really nice crowd - and it was a real gas sharing the music making with our friends from At Wit's End and Knot Fibb'n.

There will be more about the folk festival in a week or so - we've got a little bit of business to take care of coming up this week. On Friday, April 24th, Halfway Home will be performing for the Westerville Fourth Friday event. We'll be at the corner of State and Home Street. That's pretty much at the north end of downtown Westerville. There's plenty of free parking in lots behind buildings on the west side of State Street.

We have seen other folks play at this location for past events. The sponsors put out some tables and folding chairs, and the stage is actually just a chunk of parking lot there on the corner. There are lots of shops and food vendors up and down State s Street - in other words, plenty of reasons to show up for this event, and maybe give Halfway Home a listen.

We will be playing some new stuff, and some old favorites, and in general getting used to playing music outside again. When you're dealing with an event like this the most critical factor is the weather. Maybe if you've got a goat out in the back shed that you're not using anymore, you can get some friends together and sacrifice it to appease the weather gods. We'd sure appreciate it, and the Downtown Westerville folks will be happy with you too.

Music starts @ 6:00 and ends at 9:00 - come out and buy a bag of popcorn, or some cotton candy - and then ask Brian if you can hold his guitar. It'll be fun!!!

See you soon,

Patti, Renilda, Mike, Pat & Brian

A good penny turns up

We knew we had lost a few followers when we left the Stagecoach in such a hurry so it was nice to have one of the lost sheep turn up at Ashville Open Mic on Thursday. Greg was a welcome sight after all this time, returning with his stunning writing and his amazing voice. Welcome back Greg.

Photo: Greg

The Hard Tackers to be on Television

Four members of the Hard Tackers Shanty Team will be appearing on the Fox News morning show this Thursday morning between 7am and 9am. Johnny Delereto will be doing his morning segment about the Viking Festival that is on this weekend in Ashville. The Hard Tackers who will be performing at the Festival have been asked to be on the show. Unfortunately only four of the seven can make it, but we will still have a good time.

If you have not been to the Viking Festival give it a try. Well worth the trip. Below is information sent out by Dave Rainey that will give you an idea of what's on.

Hi All,
This weekend marks the 6th annual Ashville Viking Fest in the Ashville Village Park on Walnut St.
If you have not been here before I guarantee you it is worth the trip. We feature entertainment, re enactors, merchants, great food and loads of fun, Here are some examples

We bring in a 40 ft replica Viking Ship that we sail on the Scioto River in Columbus on Friday

This year we feature Live Jousting Demonstrations (REAL HORSES, REAL KNIGHTS IN ARMOR !)

We have Camel rides (who else has camel rides?)

We are presenting the North American premiere of a documentary about Viking Life on Saturday night

We have musicians, magicians, belly dancers, actors, jugglers, sea shanty singers and much more

We have lots of reenactors demonstrating everything for battle techniques to wire weaving and leather work.

We have over 40 merchants selling tons of great stuff!


Best of All; ADMISSION IS FREE!!! (please bring a can good for the food pantry if you wish)

You can't beat the fun at this place. We are very family friendly so bring all the kids and have a great time in Ashville

Saturday and Sunday 10 am- 5 pm April 25 and 26

Please check out http://www.ashvillevikingfest.com/ for more details

Stop and see me in the food hall (shelter house)
Hope to see you there

Dave Rainey


Trash Culture Connoisseur said...

I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by Karl Paulnack. However, as a roots-rock musician who takes my art very seriously, I have come to resent the intellectual elitism that accompanies the type of "serious" music taught in conservatories.

Mr. Paulnack is absolutely correct when he states that, in our modern society, serious symphonic music has become more of a form of academia than entertainment. It has become some kind of status symbol of people who fancy themselves the intellegensia of our age. The end result is that many symphonic music aficionadoes look down their noses at those of us who have dedicated our lives to making the musics of the common man, be they folk, country, blues or rock 'n' roll.

On a personal level, I feel much more of an emotional connection to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, or Kurt Cobain than I do to the works of Bach or Mozart. This is not to say that I do not appreciate the masters. Much of their music is incredibly beautiful, but it has been marginalized into something so lofty that few of us can relate to it with any depth.

As a person with high ACT and SAT scores and a 3.67 GPA in college, my experiences are remarkably similar to Mr. Paulnack. I have heard much condescension from people in positions of authority over my musical passions. In fact, some of my peers who actually followed the career paths into medicine or law can be downright cold and rude because I never aspired to their level of status.

Somehow, I feel much more self respect knowing that I have the talent to do something that these doctors and attorneys cannot do--make music that touches people's souls and makes them feel things they enjoy feeling. It is much harder work being a jester than a king, and that is an incredibly satisfying feeling.

John Locke said...


I agree with your centiments. I have spent many hours trying to tell the people who dish out arts grants that the so called high arts are no more important then us people regarded as the bottom of the pile.

Having said the above, my main reason for the post was because I agree with the speaker that there is more to the arts then people think. The spin off to individuals can be wide reaching and lead on to greater things.

Apart from anything else my involvement with the folk arts here in the USA and in the UK have given me the best friends anyone could have.

When someone starts to complain about the arts my response is always the same.

"No one has ever gone to war over music."

Thank you for your contribution and for reading the blog

All the best


Ralph (of Bob & Ralph) said...

Hi John,
I thoroughly enjoyed Karl Paulnack's speech on the real importance of music to human life.
As it so happens, I was reading it
while at the same time listening to
a television article about how music was being used with great success in certain cases of autism.
So, music hath the power to "soothe
the savage beast" as well as serve
to possibly cure even horrible
physical and mental ailments. I'm
proud to have spent a considerable
amount of my time over past fifty
years as a musician, and I always
try to promote the benefits of music and the other arts as being
as essential to a well-rounded upbringing and education as history, math, or geography. It's
also well-documented that students
involved in music are generally better disciplined, understand the importance of teamwork, and excel in their other subjects. It's unfortunate that society in general so under-values music without fully understanding it's
importance. Yet the most important thing in most people's lives is their religion - And where
would religion be without it's music and hymns?

John Locke said...

Hi Ralph,

A lot of people who I talk to, can not understand the relationship that there is between friends and strangers where music is concerned.

I will use music because that is the best example. As musicians we could sit down with a perfect stranger who was musician and not think twice about picking up a guitar and singing that person a song to express out tastes, or thoughts, our feelings, our view on life, or to make a musical point and that person would be receptive to what we were doing, he or she may not agree with us, but they would be receptive and would give their own example.

People not involved have told me they can not understand how anyone can be so open about how they feel. They envy people who can do that. I tell them to get involved because they could be the same. There is an automatic trust and bond between people. We may disagree, we may argue, but that bond is still there.

You were there last night at the Ashville Open Stage. The feeling we went away with following the last performance by John, Jeff and Dave was wonderful. We were aghast that these three people who have not played together could get up and produce such wonderful music. Did we leave ready to fight or argue with anyone? No, we were in to good a mood.

That is why the arts are so important. They help to enrich us in so many ways.