Thursday, April 23, 2009

Emotions taking me over

Via Bernie Perusse at the Gazette, I've read Karl Paulnack's address to the parents of an incoming class to the Boston Conservatory. The speech resonated with me on many levels. As I've written numerous times in this space, I firmly believe that music is intended to communicate - it is not merely a craft, it is a language, as cliché as that may be. All of the music on Cycles is extremely important on a personal level to me, and the newer tunes I've written for Indigone and for big band also have some sort of back story, be it a tribute to a person in particular or, like "Dancing Serpent in Dawn's Quiet," based on a painting. Other songs that resonate most profoundly for me - Djavan's "Oceano," for example - are obviously coming from a very deep and moving place.

Paulnack recounts one listener's reaction to a performance of Copland's Violin Sonata, written as a tribute to a fallen pilot:

“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 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?

Paulnack's address to the parents concludes with a portion of his speech to the incoming students. This is something all of us musicians should keep in mind:

I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. [...] 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.

I remember being on the bus not long after starting my undergrad, and somehow I got to talking to a fellow student, some liberal arts student of an as-then-undetermined major, who was avidly seeking out the doctor-and/or-lawyer type. When I told her I was a musician, she asked something to the effect of "Well, what are you going to do with that?" And I responded along similar lines - I can help people, too.

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