|Image from Wikimedia Commons|
Travelling recently with my family throughout Germany and Switzerland brought to light for me a truth, at least in my book, about the importance of one's words, one's language, one's music. In an ideal world every word and every note that comes out of our being should be true to ourselves. They should communicate who we really are, what we believe in, and what we feel, all blended with our own previous experiences and encounters. When we take the risk to expose ourselves our hope is that we will be heard and understood by those around us. When we aren't, when people around us fail to really listen, when they argue right back or are unwilling to let go of preconceived notions or ideals, the consequence can be disturbing. It can cause us to question ourselves and reluctantly wander down a different path in search of another identity that is deemed more acceptable or noteworthy.
That is a path I have been on but am determined to wipe off my map.
Being in another country with our 6-year old daughter was an incredible experience but it also tested me as a mother in a way that I've often found myself tested as a musician. We were in a new situation for all of us and much of the time we were surrounded by a language that none of us spoke. Our daughter, a lover of words and language, found herself in the unique situation of not being able to understand what was going on around her. She depended on us to translate the culture around her, to explain how we were going to get from point A to point B without a car, to help her figure out what she was going to eat. As a parent, I was ready for that challenge armed with what I thought was going to be plenty of patience. I also assumed that she would be eager for our help and guidance. Little did I know she had not left her individual stubborn self at home - no matter what I said, even if I was just describing the weather outside, she either disagreed or simply didn't listen, even when I was trying to answer a question she had just asked me. After a relentless string of me being wrong, I felt completely helpless and found myself shutting down, reluctant to contribute anything. I no longer felt like being me. If my words, which I tried to speak in truth, were not being listened to or denied, what was I supposed to do?
Musically speaking I've had times like this too, when I've gotten together to play music but no matter what I tried to communicate my musical self, it was futile. Some might say this isn't surprising considering my main profession - accompanying or collaborating. This field, after all, spent many years in the shadows and our role started off as a pretty silent one. But that's not how I like to make music and it certainly goes against what I believe the purpose of music and music-making is. For me, music-making is about the sharing of musical and personal selves between performers, music-makers, teachers, audience members...everyone. It is a wordless way of connecting in a very personal way. It's not meant to cause arguments or to prove anything. It is not meant to be a way of putting people in their place - so and so is the real professional, or so and so doesn't really get classical music. Music is about pure expression. If the musicians I'm working with struggle to listen to what I have to say or would prefer that I simply reproduce note for note what they want me to say, I no longer feel like I'm expressing who I am, I'm reproducing what I'm not. I no longer feel like I'm making true music.
I know it can be hard to work with other musicians. It makes sense, especially considering the personal nature or it all. Perhaps that's why some can fall into the trap of just dictating what another musician should be doing in a collaborative situation. It's much easier to argue and command than to listen and meld one's own ideas with anothers. But is music born from such a situation really true music-making? I think I'd much rather take another road that involves cooperation, patience, and respect - a road that allows oneself to be true to oneself in all ways.
I hope to see some of you there on that path. I promise I'll listen!