How we die

11:54 am Music

A completed piece of music, like a completed sculpture, painting, building, or any artwork for that matter, is a message. We lay it bare, before the public in a jewel case, a tape, a bound opus, or in the heavy air of a concert hall. We lay it bare and walk away from it: we have said our piece. Now it’s in the ears of the beholder to understand it, like it, appreciate, hate, or be annoyed by it (or possibly all of the above).

I am writing this short essay to talk about what makes or breaks this dialog, according to my own experience and philosophy.

I submit, that a piece of music is a message, indeed several messages. A message from the composer to the performer and to the listener, from the performer to the listener and to the composer, and eventually from the listener back to the performer and to the composer.

At the risk of explaining the obvious, an honest message contains within it a part of the sender. In the case of music that contains their musical vision, ideology, and aesthetic. Those are shaped by the series of moments that make the life of the sender: every sunrise she has seen, every celebration, every tragedy she has experienced and everything in between.

In my view, the main ingredient in the concoction that we call “artistic talent” is the ability to naturally embed ourselves in our creation. When we hear a composition, say a Mozart. We naturally think that it tells us something about who and what Mozart was. And it does. Miles Davis’ biography and his music sound like the same story told in different languages. We are not surprised to hear that. Our intuition tells us that that is the case.

Performing someone else’s composition is a big responsibility too. We have to know their story and we have to find a way that tells both it and our story in performing the piece. No I don’t mean a performer must pour over endless biographies, anthologies and theory books to know (though that cannot hurt). It is all in the music. All we have to do is look for it. Know before we play.

Everyone has a story that is worth telling and that is worth listening to. Every composer, or performer, has the obligation to be thinking about their story when they are making and/or presenting the music. That, is how the music comes to life.

When we put our lives in our music the music is alive. When we don’t, we die.

This is a loving comment to someone whose music I heard early this week.


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