My senior year of college, as part of completing my requirements of my music degree, I performed a recital. This is, for those who have never been through one, a terrifying event. It was me ... with a piano accompanist. For an hour.
Yes, musicians do some pretty nerve-wracking stuff.
At any rate, I performed five pieces of music that night: a Baroque Concerto (think Bach and Vivaldi and ancient churches), a 20th-century Concerto (think major orchestra stuff), a contemporary thing (think weird coffee houses and Beatnik poetry) and two jazz pieces (think … uh, jazz). It was a variety, it was challenging, I spent six months preparing for it, and I was incredibly happy with it. When it was over.
I can tell you, all these years later, I remember almost nothing of any of the pieces, except the 20th century Concerto. That one has stuck with me for almost 30 years, because of one thing: beauty. Don’t get me wrong — the Baroque piece has its own beauty, in a mathematical and predictable way. And the jazz pieces, if I was lucky that day, probably had moments or elements of beauty. Probably because I had a good piano player. And the contemporary thing was, well, just weird.
But the concerto, the concerto is a beautiful piece of music. It has five sections, some incredible, creative harmonies, a melodic section that uses an altered (muted) sound, and has a main theme that is intense, exciting, and memorable. It is the sort of thing that even the most wooden ears would absorb and leave in the brain to emerge, unbidden, in a whistle or a hum.
I tell you all of this to reveal one of my biases. There are several different schools of thought with regard to the purpose of art. One school, the one prevalent during Bach and Vivaldi’s time, was that art exists to glorify God and draw man’s thoughts and feelings towards the Divine. Another school holds that art, as a shortening of the word “artifice,” is that art is artificial — i.e., fake — and exists to put a glossy veneer on reality. Kind of like Facebook. In other words, art is to create beauty, to raise us above our mundane existence and contemplate things better than our current state of affairs. Another school of thought holds that art exists to express emotion and experience, sometimes in its most raw and unrefined form.
They are all perfectly valid schools of thought, each with their strengths and major supporters. You probably know, now, what school I most closely identify with. My daughter the dancer disagrees: she is more in line with the third school of thought. And the performances of her dance companies reflect that — raw, athletic, visceral, sometimes odd. Incredible, but, sometimes, odd.
I do what I do 40 hours a week in the hope that, someday, in some small way, the children I teach to make music might have a moment, a fleeting glimpse, of how much power they possess to bring beauty into the world. I have no illusions that the performances these kids give under my tutelage will bring tears of joy to anybody’s eyes (except for their grandparents); but, these small steps now might lead someday to soaring melodies, interesting countermelodies, and spine-chilling moments of sublime artistry.
And, in this day and age, is there anything the world needs more than a generation of students who believe they can create beauty?
There are lyrics in one of Phil Collins’ songs: “You have one voice ... Come on and dance into the light.” Every child has their own voice, and every child has the power to use it to create light. Give effort to helping kids find their voice and teaching them to create beauty and light. Otherwise, they’ll just fall into a dark abyss of impotent emotion. Kind of like Twitter.
And, by the way — not just true for students.
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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