Today I was catching up on some reading and was startled to find that a writer I admire had posted a poem by another writer (now deceased), whom I also admire greatly. The poem had touched me very deeply when I read it for the first time more than 10 years ago. It always surprises me to learn that someone else shares my taste in anything. That even though we read the same poem in very different places, separated by long stretches of time, we both shared our deeply personal reaction to the poet's words written at yet another time and place. The poem dealt with the finite nature of existence and how we need to savor the good of life while we can. My reconnecting with the poem reminded me of how easy it is to believe the lie that our modern lives are spent in isolation. We can be tempted to think that no one outside or our own skin could ever think or feel what we do. This leads us either into the hubris of thinking our stuff is so much deeper or better than everyone else’s, or conversely that we are frauds and the outside world just hasn’t caught on yet.
Earlier today I was speaking to a group of university music students about the importance living into one’s own personal narrative—that it was a dangerous thing to attempt to make your life conform to some external pattern as if there was some map to follow. I suggested that the language we use to talk about who we are, and what we do reveals tremendous insights into what drives our behavior.
During my interactions with the class, a student in the room said he was terribly afraid of sounding “arrogant” when he talked about his musical work. He was inquiring honestly and I had to stall for a moment to collect some better wisdom before I answered him. A moment later, I explained that the difference for me was found in the motivation of our work as musicians. Are we posing to prove how good, talented or adequate we are? Or, are we motivated to serve the people who listen to our music by nudging them toward a deeper understanding of our common existence. I like to think that my best playing can open people to thoughts and emotions that they might not have otherwise. But as I tried to explain to the questioner, ultimately it’s not about me. The big idea is how the music enriches people who listen, by nudging them into thinking and feeling things that they would not otherwise know.