All of us, who have spent a significant amount of life energy serving Beauty through the art of music, share a profound desire to commune with something timeless and transcendental that can be experienced when we make great music together or work in service to that end. We are the most joyful and fulfilled when we can share that experience with others. This article is about that.
The Big Three
It has been said that the Eternal speaks to humankind on three channels – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. In other words, how human beings gain access to that which is timeless, sacred, and transcendent is through experiencing the Big Three. So that we have a shared meaning for these words, consider the following:
Goodness is the quality of being in service to the growth, well-being, and harmony of life.
Truth is the quality of being in accord with factual reality.
Beauty is the quality of being that allows for an arresting, timeless experience of delight, wonder, and awe.
We are in the presence of Goodness when we are in community. People helping each other to thrive, sharing in time of need, expressing love and care for each other, making a positive difference for others, are all examples of the quality of Goodness being physically manifest. Being present to Goodness in others and ourselves connects us to the best in our natures.
Some of us have our radios tuned to the Truth channel. Inquiring into how the world works in reality independent of our ideologies, prejudices, and illusions is the domain of science and spiritual practice. The closer we come to integrating our perceptions, intentions, thoughts, feelings, speech and actions with the actual world, the more present we are to the awe inspiring mystery and perfection of Reality, and the more effective we become at manifesting our intentions.
Some of us are servants of Beauty. Beauty’s vassals, at some time in our early life, had the experience of having the constant noise in our minds arrested by something in the world that was profoundly beautiful. In that moment our whole self was rapt in a timeless experience of delight, wonder, and awe which changed us forever.
As an example, I remember the first time that I heard a Mahler symphony. I was 15. The La Jolla Symphony under Thomas Nee played Mahler’s First Symphony “Titan.” I was so deeply impacted by the experience that I had to be helped out of the concert hall. Truly, in those moments, I was present to something far beyond the mundane world. All lovers of art have had these experiences repeatedly. It’s why we keep coming back. It’s why we work so hard. We know that it is possible to experience some aspect of the Eternal in the present and we are willing to give much of ourselves to be in that presence.
How Artists Come to Be
Some lovers of Beauty have made the decision to become artists. An artist is a person whose job it is to live at high altitude in the space of Truth and Beauty and, like Prometheus, bring heavenly fire down to earth to share with humankind. How a person becomes an artist is very simple. One day, while creating something beautiful or powerfully truthful, we notice that someone else was profoundly moved, touched and inspired by the creation and we have the experience of sharing what is most important to us. In that moment we know ourselves as a channel for the spiritual manifesting in the physical and choose that as our purpose in life.
In my case it happened while singing the Bach Magnificat at a church performance when I was 18. It was the final rehearsal and the conductor was working on the sonority of the “Mah…” that the chorus and orchestra sound at the very beginning of the piece. The church was empty when he was describing the effect he wanted. As he was finishing his directions, a young woman walked in from the street and casually sauntered down the aisle toward the ensemble. The conductor raised his arms and gave the downbeat for that first “Mah…” The chorus and orchestra entered precisely together in one glorious sonority. At that moment, I had the amazing experience of my voice being the sound of the whole ensemble – a total loss of ego boundaries. On hearing this one extraordinary sound, the young woman burst into tears of surprised delight, her face expressing the most ecstatic expression I had ever seen. She was immersed in a timeless experience of delight, wonder and awe. Seeing her moved that way by the sound we made was very moving to me. That our ensemble could do that for someone was the very best thing I could imagine doing. I’ve never forgotten that moment. I chose then to be a person who does that for others. I became an artist.
For those of us who make art with and through others in orchestras and choruses, our work is not about achieving personal fame and the adulation of the audience. We leave those values to the entertainers of the world. What large ensemble musicians want at the most basic level is to do excellent work that meets or exceeds our own artistic standards, to be compensated fairly for the value we provide, and to enjoy the acclaim and respect of our peers. But what we are really working towards and hoping for at all times is to enter that ecstatic state of delight, wonder and awe and to share that with others who love Beauty as much as we do. Finding that we have succeeded is the most satisfying part of our work.
Our Unique Offer
You can say that art is the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, words, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of Beauty. The purpose of art is to give access to that which transcends time, reveals eternal truths about Reality, and produces an experience of delight, wonder, and awe. Said differently, in my view, the purpose of art is to enlighten humankind. The job of an artist is to create the aesthetic entities that produce that result in others in service to that mission.
In contrast, entertainment according to the lexicographical experts at Dictionary.com is “Something that amuses, pleases, or diverts, especially a performance or show.” If you dig into that definition a little, you’ll find that the source of the word “amusement” is the Latin ad– + muser, meaning to stare stupidly. The word “please” has its roots in the Latin placere, to reconcile, to content, or to satisfy. And “divert” comes from the Latin divertere or diversum, to go different ways, to turn aside. So one could say that the purpose of entertainment might be to turn the listeners’ attention from boredom to something pleasing, leaving them stupefied and content!
Now, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with entertainment. In my view, a performing artist has to be at leastentertaining or the purpose of art will never be fulfilled. If you can’t keep your audience vitally engaged, there is no hope of creating the possibility for Beauty to appear. Entertainment is the entry level in the game of performing art. There will be more on this topic later in the section on the role of the Music Director.
The problems for orchestras come when the performers and the organization lose sight of the unique value that only arts organizations can provide – providing access to the transcendent experience of Beauty. In our current culture, entertainment is available at all times and in all places. People carry around their entertainment systems in their pockets and purses. Every manner of sport, film, reality show, music, and video game is available at all times to fill the attention of the consumer. The producers of these entertainment products spend millions on promoting their wares. They are selling into an already saturated market. People do not need more entertainment. In my view, for an orchestra to try to compete in the entertainment business is suicidal in today’s market place.
In the life of the soul, the mind, and the heart of Americans, what is sorely missing for many is a tangible experience of excellence, grace, harmony, intelligence, possibility, creativity, authenticity, integrity, truth, and a way to contribute those things to others. People, especially young people, need to experience their own innocence and wonder. What is missing is an experience of the Eternal through the Big Three channels of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. I say that art and what art provides are missing for most people in our country. Orchestras are superbly qualified to provide what’s missing. Orchestra communities are the perfect structures in which to experience those benefits. This is our unique offer that differentiates us from all others in the marketplace. We can make the beauty of music and the goodness of community alive and real for everyone who participates with us.
The next posting will talk about the stark difference between who we are and what we offer the world, and the culture and business of art music that surrounds us. A model will be proposed that enables understanding of why the current culture exists and how we might change it to support our natural pull to serve The Big Three. Until then, be well.