When I first created this blog eight years ago, blogging was just starting to become the next new “big thing.” Since I was in the Internet business, I figured I should be acquainted with this new medium. Blogging has persisted, as has this blog, which just passed its 300th posting.
When I created it, I named it “Midlife Music Musings,” because I was in my mid-fifties, and “middle-aged” by definition. Shortly after I began the blog, I was diagnosed with a particularly bad cancer, which I obviously survived. Now that I am in my sixties, I can no longer lay claims to “midlife,” so I have retitled it simply “Music Musings.”
It has never been my intent to serve as a critic, but rather as an evangelist. I don’t believe in “the best,” whether performer, composer, or interpretation. In a few cases I have issued a warning for an interpretation. Ultimately, I feel it is my duty to try to understand the intent of both composer and musician: “innocent until proven guilty.” If I really don’t like a piece, it is my assumption that I have yet to understand it. The meaningful question is whether it is worth my effort to persist in trying to understand, or to look elsewhere.
For many years I tended to focus on limited areas, not just “early music,” but early music for the keyboard or lute. I believe I built a modest following, some of whom must have been dismayed as I moved on to broader areas; I have learned that many pride themselves on specialization. Over the last eighteen months I have moved more aggressively into new areas, especially chamber and symphonic music. I have learned a great deal and I would like to pass on some of my core beliefs.
Music is Music.
I regret labels: they always get me into trouble. Just as they have become the bane of civil discourse in today’s political climate, they impede exploration of music. I am so dismayed when I read things along the lines of, “I categorically dislike those original instrument performances,” or “I’m not interested in that modern stuff,” or “Just what do those kids hear in today’s popular music? It’s all garbage!”
Specialization is a double-edged sword.
This is mostly a refinement of the previous point, I think. You box yourself in when you tell yourself (or others), “I don’t have time to listen to (or perform) everything, so I focus on the music I like.” The music you like is probably the music you understand. The music you understand is probably the music you listen to.
Don’t sell the unknowns short.
I have a theory that the vast masses want their tastes dictated to them: it is easier and safer. If it is Beethoven, it must be good. If Yo Yo Ma is performing it, it must be really good. Right?
There is also a tendency to “stack rank” composers: “so-and-so is better than so-and-so, who is better than…” I certainly agree that there are some masters whose oeuvre is nearly perfection. They end up the safe choice. The same thing goes for performers: I will fully agree that Yo Yo Ma is an absolutely marvelous cellist. There are plenty of others who I can count on just as much. I have more recordings by Christian Poltéra than I do of Yo Yo Ma. I don’t see one as being better than the other.
Quick: given the same pieces, would you trust the Berlin Philharmonic over the Malmö Symphony Orchestra? Any reason why? Thanks to BIS and e|classical, I have learned to trust a number of well established regional orchestras.
Don’t rely on first impressions.
It is a personal fault that I often jump to conclusions too soon. I would like to think that a redeeming quality is that I’m willing to change my mind, and I often do. Let me give a recent example. Not too long ago I whined about the Finnish symphonist Kalevi Aho. I thought, based on the little I had heard, that his music was too discordant, and that he had simply too much to digest. I have since acquired five of his fifteen symphonies, along with assorted concerti, and guess what? I have come to think of him as one of the great symphonists. Of all time. Seriously. My life is richer because of Aho.
Lighten up and have some fun!
I know that I often get too serious about music. Does every piece have to be a masterpiece, rich in insight and deep meaning? The miracle of music is that offers us great inspiration, comfort, stimulation, … and joy. These are not mutually exclusive.
On one of his many training DVDs the horse trainer John Lyons asked the question (I am paraphrasing from memory, so this isn’t a quote!), “Do you remember when we were kids and we just had fun on our horses? We goofed off, stretched out on their unsaddled backs, and just had fun?”
Let’s hope that we aren’t so serious that we can’t have fun with our music.