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|Monday, March 31st, 2014|
|MLB Opening Day 2014
Major League Baseball officially starts today.
I love baseball. I love playing it, watching it, and talking about it. You don't have to. But I have to.
The strategy. The tension. The drama. I love it all.
The feeling and the sound when the ball hits the bat right on the barrel. When you play a hop just right and the ball lands in the pocket of your glove. Even tracking and catching fly balls (which I'm not great at). Playing catch and catching up with my teammates. I love just throwing a baseball.
The dirt. The sweat. The heat (and I HATE heat).
I love the bruises and abrasions I get from playing behind the dish. Call me a masochist if you want, but I just love every single thing about baseball.
I love watching what the pros can get their bodies to do to make a play and win a game. The strength, the speed, the agility, the focus. It's astounding. How a pitcher can make a ball bend through the air to make the greatest sluggers look helpless. How that same slugger can square it up and drive it 400+ feet over a fence to the sound of a roaring - or groaning - crowd.
I love watching the kids play with total purity and abandonment.
Baseball is so many things for me. It's an escape and a connection. It's easy and yet so difficult. It's therapy. And it's here now.
|Wednesday, March 12th, 2014|
|See the Son
Got to keep that unnecessary strife
out of my life
the problems at hand
and take a stand
who's got that grand
There is truth!
Drop the vermouth.
This day is almost done.
So see the sun.
See the Son.
Grab some courage,
faith, hope, and Love.
I speak this to you.
The truth. Current Mood: creative
|Tuesday, March 4th, 2014|
|For Me, A Prayer
everything and everyone in this world against me
Maybe. But the Lord is for me. I am his.
Oh Lord, you are my shield.
Residing in Heaven above, you sit next to my earthly being.
You are holy. You are all powerful.
I anxiously await when I can enter the gates of Heaven.
Until then, Lord, enable me to create a piece of it here
on Earth in your name for your glory.
Let me know no other way to live.
Thank you for supplying my needs.
Thank you for always forgiving my shameful sins.
Please help me to forgive others just as you forgive me.
Keep me from evil. Keep me from evil.
Though darkness tempts, taunts, and tests me, you
have claimed my soul
You have purchased my life.
You bought it with your pain and blood.
For me, you endured all the pain. For me.
Betrayed. Sold out. Humiliated. Lied about.
Spat upon. Whipped. Tortured. But not tricked.
Abandoned. Beaten. Killed. For my freedom.
For me, you endured everything imaginable.
For me, you endured.
For me, you are.
You are for me. I am for you. But you were first.
I love you, Lord. Current Mood: optimistic
|Wednesday, February 5th, 2014|
|Freedom Arts & Education Center - Spring Term newsletter
I know it definitely doesn't feel like spring in St. Louis, but check out our 2014 Spring newsletter. Maybe it'll get you feeling all sunny and bright. I know it does for me: http://eepurl.com/LNu91
As I reflect during Black History Month, it would be negligent for me not to consider the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King has had on my thinking and the work that I do with Freedom Arts. Many of the things he said and did have given me guidance and inspiration. Dr. King once said “human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” Well, I’ve been called creative. I’ve also been called maladjusted (believe it or not!). But I’m not trying to save anybody. I’m only following the path that God has clearly laid before me. Let me tell you a little bit about that…
Since high school, I knew that I wanted my career to be in music. But early into my professional life, our nation’s economy negatively affected my career as it did for so many of us. The graphic design shop at which I worked – my part-time, steady, non-music job – shut down. Performances started paying less and many of my fellow musicians were jumping ship and pursuing other jobs. I was losing music students because their parents had to make tough financial decisions within their own families. I can recall many conversations I had to have with moms and dads about having to pull their kids out of lessons because they couldn’t afford it anymore. I hated that. Something needed to change and somebody needed to change it.
God called me to be proactive and create opportunities. Freedom Arts & Education Center was born in my heart and mind as a school of the arts. I shared this vision with my intelligent and supportive wife Beth. She is my high school sweetheart and has always been my biggest fan and trusted me through all the crazy schemes I have devised. With Beth’s support, I shared this vision with a handful of my friends and colleagues. They shared my excitement. Just as there are three sections of our logo, there are three sub-missions which guide Freedom Arts. The original mission was created from the need to provide arts education to children and to offer teaching opportunities for all the gifted artists I know.
It is through my relationships with Corey Williams and Megan Vega that the mission became more than just teaching the arts. I remember leaning over to my close friend and musical collaborator Corey Williams and telling him about my idea at a gig one night. I’ll never forget his words: “A school of the arts? Man, I know so many kids that can write rhymes, but can barely read.” This conversation ignited the flame that would become our second sub-mission. Corey’s response helped me understand that even the strongest artistic skill can only take a young person so far.
The third sub-mission of Freedom Arts was derived from Megan Vega’s aspirations and talents. Megan and I got to know each other through church around the same time she graduated from Lindenwood University with her BA in Dance. I quickly learned of her desire to combine the arts with Christian ministry. Megan believed that academic and artistic skills mean little if there are fundamental ways in which a young person is underserved. We have to consider their physiological needs. We have to consider their safety and their need to belong. We have to consider their hearts and what is missing from their lives. Another quote I love by Dr. King is, "Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education." I knew we had to share Christ with these kids and help them develop good character traits if the arts and academics were to have any meaning.
In 2012, Corey, Megan, and I formed our Leadership Team with Beth and my life-long best friend and brother Miles Dela Cruz. We embarked on a mission to help young people become the highly creative, literate, passionate, independent thinkers they are capable of becoming. We developed a program which provides arts education, academic tutoring, mentoring and leadership training to underserved youth of our city. We set out to inspire youth to realize and utilize their God-given talents and worth. The blessings started pouring in. Artists and educators were eager to join our mission. Clayton Community Church agreed to let us use the building to host events. With no major grants or donations, we are able to fund our mission by providing workshops on a mobile basis to organizations throughout the metropolitan region. In 2013, we were blessed to add the devoted and diligent Elisa Doty as our Community Outreach Advocate as well as the energetic and experienced Jonathan Walz as our Development Director.
Another one of my favorite Dr. King quotes is “Let us keep moving with the faith that what we are doing is right, and with the even greater faith that God is with us in the struggle.” God is clearly blessing our mission and letting us know that we are doing good, right work. He gives us so many freedoms to pursue what we love and to learn as much as we want. But we are called to use this freedom to serve one another. Freedom means nothing if we don’t use it to enrich the lives of others and improve our world. Current Mood: working
|Thursday, January 30th, 2014|
Searching in the wrong places for identification, affirmation,
and validation. Meaningless. Worthless. Less.
Segregation brings aggravation. Integration brings irritation.
Race relations used for exploitation. Devaluation.
The separation of our nation.
Pontification of delegation. Obligation of education.
Unequal evaluations. Meaningless certification. Proclamation
of implementation! Infiltration of miseducation.
The separation of our nation.
Insinuations, accusations, allegations, citations.
The separation of our nation.
The separation of His nation.
Fake intimidation. Sinful stimulation. Mutation of humiliation.
Counterfeit validation. False affirmation. Worldly
identification via over-categorization.
Too many demonstrations. No real determination, except
for self-preservation. Constant victimization.
We make our own ramifications, fall victim to
temptation, drown in devastation.
We are blind to our own damnation.
We damn our nation. Damn nation.
Search instead for modification after transformation
by the Truth in creation:
faith, hope, and love.
The sanctification of our nation. Current Mood: hungry
|Saturday, December 28th, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 7
7. Conclusion – My Philosophy
I find my personal philosophy of music to be surprisingly situated with my times (I often feel like I don’t fit into my generation). I agree whole heartedly with Mr. McGoran’s view and expansion of Francis Schaeffer’s system for evaluating the quality of a work of art, which compels my strong opinion on musical genres, which I believe are all equal. I do not believe that there is a genre of music that is inherently good or bad, but rather there are good and bad works within every genre which can be reasonably analyzed using Schaeffer’s system. Content trumps genre, while good and bad musicianship can be found in every genre. If pressed to associate this view with a major thinker from a previous time period, this philosophy seems to be most rooted in the Hegelian system, though I would debate Hegel’s basic spiritual beliefs. I agree with Dewey’s inclusion of music and the arts within a proper education, though I think his view of the arts – and furthermore, education – is tragically narrow. Schopenhauer’s philosophy of music as being a relief echoes of a frequently heard sentiment – “music is my escape” – while Nietzsche’s philosophy is the most self serving to a musician, as it holds music as existing in the highest spiritual realm. The pessimism which is the basis of the philosophical views of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is disconcerting and disagreeable to me. Music is neither my god nor my escape. The one and only Creator breathed me into existence and allowed me to be creative unto him. Music is a safe place for me that allows my creativity to flow, but it connects me to my environment and community rather than allowing me to escape it. Music is God's gift to me. When I create it, it is my gift back to God and to my community.
It would be hypocritical to entirely support the philosophies held by the Greeks and Kant that a life spent creating music is a life wasted, though I can assert that a life that treats music as an ends in itself is a life that lacks real purpose. Music is not an ends in a meaningful life, but rather a means to connect with God and with one’s fellow humans as Mr. McGoran outlined. I long for all of my fellow humans to go beyond a vapid, shallow relationship with music as being nothing more than noise coming from the overhead speakers of shopping centers (background music is a cancer on music) or a game to be ignorantly scrutinized and voted upon through uninspired television programming that dominates the mainstream (American Idol is another cancer on music). The discouragement that I feel when people complain of cover charges and album prices is only handled by me focusing more on creating good music that glorifies God, expresses truth, and connects my community. I pray that God gives me the patience and the words to help my fellow humans see music as a gift from God and from the musicians. It is not something for them to passively absorb or negatively critique. It is a gift. Let us be thankful and accept it. Let us tell people what it is we like rather than spending our time complaining about music when we can’t tell the difference between a major or minor key. Let us humble ourselves and seek knowledge from those who are more educated on this art form. Let us allow music to connect us and to enrich our lives as we actively seek what is good.
Music is a gift from God that he chose to give to us when he created the universe. Music can have a profound effect on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. It causes us to think, to move, and to feel. Musicians should not take that fact lightly and should aim to inspire listeners to think well, to move well, and to feel well. There is nothing wrong with expressing anguish or anger through music, but it must be valid. When a multi-millionaire artist with multiple houses, cars, and Grammy awards abandons his valid efforts to instead write songs that express how angry he is over his current state of enslavement and rejection by the masses, we have a problem (we have a problem, Kanye West). When a barely legal, extremely privileged girl who was born into show business writes songs about understanding the trials of underserved women, and ties these songs into performances that she admits are only meant to shock, we have a problem (we have a problem, Miley Cyrus). We have a problem with the way music is used in the mainstream, and while this is not surprising, it is saddening. We as a society have missed the truth of music. Even most of the greatest thinkers missed the truth about music which may be best expressed by Johann Sebastian Bach when he wrote “a well-sounding harmony results for the glory of God and permissible delight of the soul. And so the ultimate end or final purpose of all glory…is nothing other than praise of God and recreation of the soul. Where this is not taken into account, then there is no true music, only a devilish bawling and droning.” In all its poetic beauty, and with all the questions it begs, that quote may very well sum up my personal music philosophies best, along with Plato’s view that a good, virtuous character is of vital importance for an artist as that will influence the creative output just as much as technical ability. I'm not done searching. I'll never be done learning. I don't have it all figured out. But I am certain that music is a gift not to be taken lightly. Music is a gift to be used for truth which is only found in God.
1. John Butt. The Cambridge Companion to Bach. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Current Mood: good
|Saturday, December 14th, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 6
6. 20th Century and Contemporary Thought
Beginning the late 19th century and continuing to our present day, philosophy gained much legitimacy as an academic discipline as well as an educational profession in Europe and the United States, the latter being a nation regarded as one that embraced technology and industry, not philosophy and art. One of the most notable American philosophers of the 20th century was John Dewey, a self-proclaimed devotee of Hegel with Platonic leanings who focused mainly on education and social reform. Born in Vermont in 1859 to family of humble means, Dewey maintained the belief that music and all art forms are associated with human emotion, which they constantly evoke. He theorized that emotions are more strongly awakened when a responsive tendency is not permitted or accepted by an outside force. Because the sound and context of music shape the aesthetic expectations of a culture, composers are often masters at arousing emotion by permitting the listener to feel what the music will dictate. For example, we are instructed in elementary music theory that major chords make us feel happy while minor chords make us feel sad. Polyrhythms and dissonance make us feel uneasy. Also, we come to expect the tonic chord after the dominant seventh for a satisfying resolution. Dewey, always the Naturalist, would have us believe that this is due to cultural conditioning and not due to any innate quality within music as a thing in itself (like Kant would have us believe). Thus we come upon Dewey’s place for music and the arts within his logical, pragmatic system of education. The arts had a significant role in Dewey’s renowned and familiar philosophy of education. Written in 1916, Dewey’s landmark Democracy and Education outlines his educational model, giving the arts a clear role and significance for a quality education:
“In one of its meanings, appreciation is opposed to depreciation…This enhancement of the qualities which make any ordinary experience appealing…and enjoyable, constitutes the prime function of literature, music, drawing, painting, etc., in education…They are chief agencies of an intensified, enhanced appreciation. As such, they are not only intrinsically and directly enjoyable, but they serve a purpose beyond themselves. They have the office, in increased degree, of all appreciation in fixing taste, in forming standards for the worth of later experiences…They reveal a depth and range of meaning in experiences which otherwise might be mediocre and trivial...Moreover, in their fullness they represent the concentration and consummation of elements of good which are otherwise scattered and incomplete. They select and focus the elements of enjoyable worth which make any experience directly enjoyable. They are not luxuries of education, but emphatic expressions of that which makes any education worth while.”
Dewey takes the arts from a transcendental, metaphysical realm and puts them to practical use for an educational system within a democratic society. The arts are to be used to enhance appreciation, develop taste, and to enrich the educative experience.
Martin Heidegger, though a difficult human being to admire, made significant contributions to the philosophy of art which ring reminiscent of the existentialist leaning thinkers before him. His unapologetic affiliation with Nazism and his propensity to arrogantly invent new German words are irritating on both ends of the spectrum. Born in Germany in 1889 to a family of farmers and craftsmen, Heidegger was raised with strong Catholic beliefs which he eventually discarded, though he insisted that he maintained a belief in a higher power. This allows for a truth that is more aligned with Kant and Hegel than Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. For Heidegger, a work of art and the artist have a codependent relationship: the work of art depends on the artist just as the artist depends on the work of art. Both the artist and the work derive from art itself. This is Heidegger’s fundamental view of art and it presents one way in which truth occurs. In art, truth makes itself known in the work and demonstrates a desire to realize itself in a work as an entity. Just like Hegel and his other predecessors, Heidegger appoints art a royal role in human experience.
Music has a precise location in Heidegger’s philosophy of art as two types of art are differentiated and placed as art forms from which all others derive: poetry and music. Differentiation of poetry and music is not mere division, but rather an original unity, such as a mother and father that produce offspring. This unity is based in sound, which becomes the meaningful word in poetry and the resonating tone in music. Clearly, this type of music must mean instrumental music, as Heidegger considers any words that are sung in music to be more in line with poetry. Wordless musical tones are completely objective and they put the human mind and spirit to work. Unlike Dewey’s pragmatic view, music regains its metaphysical properties in Heidegger’s derivative philosophy falls into a semi-cryptic and incredibly vague Germanic realm which leaves many more questions than answers. But one thing is clear: music gets at the truth in an expressive, expositive manner.
Roger Scruton is a present day philosopher from England who focuses his efforts on aesthetics. With a firm grasp on the views of his predecessors, Scruton offers an amusing criticism of them in his 1997 book The Aesthetics of Music, before contributing his own views:
“Although Schopenhauer wrote brilliantly of the ‘metaphysics of music,’ modern philosophers have ventured into this terrain, as a rule, with little confidence that it will cast light on anything outside itself, and even Schopenhauer’s theories depend more on his global system than on a detailed study of the musician’s art. As for Kant and Hegel – the two giants of modern aesthetics – no person with an ear can read the observations of the first on music without being acutely aware that he was more or less deaf to it, while the second, who confessed to being little verses in the art, seems to be improvising during much of the chapter devoted to music in his lectures on aesthetics.”
Scruton goes on to discuss what he believes to be the problems central to a study of musical aesthetics: “the relation between sound and tone, the analysis of musical meaning, and the nature of the purely musical experience.” But even if one was to explore these issues, would that present a distinctive purpose of music? That seems to often be the discrepancy throughout history – what is music to be used for and how? Though there was over two thousand years between them, both Plato and Dewey believed music should be used for education. Martin Luther wanted it to be used to worship the Judeo-Christian God while Hegel believed music gave us access to a better understanding of God. Schopenhauer intended music as therapy from the pains of life whereas Nietzsche seemed to hold it as quite possibly the very essence of life. Sixteen years ago, Roger Scruton provided his opinion that music is for happiness: “Intrinsic value, and the pursuit of it, are means to the highest human end: namely happiness – that elusive but abundant thing which we obtain only so long as we do not pursue it.”
British sociologist and musicologist Simon Frith offers his opinion on the meaning of music in his 1996 book entitled Performing Rites. Sociologically speaking, Frith asserts that “meaning” is a word that is best defined as an agreement on “regulated forms of social behavior…To grasp the meaning of a piece of music is to hear something not simply present to the ear. It is to understand a musical culture…For sounds to be music we need to know how to hear them.” Frith goes on to describe musical listening as a double process that involves instant sensation of sound and an abstract application of thought. He stays with the originally Platonic view that music is an imitative art to which humans have been applying meaning for well over two thousand years. He suggests that music has no meaning other than what we apply, and that these meanings vary from culture to culture. He is intrigued by “people’s continued attempt to make it meaningful: to name their feelings, supply the adjectives.” Despite this, he acknowledges the separation between music fans and music experts, the latter of which can “describe a piece of music perfectly accurately in technical terms while being quite unable to appreciate it” while the former is “someone quite unable to read music” who can “make sense of our own experience of it through their figurative description.” Frith’s philosophy of music seems to be an all inclusive belief that music is nothing more than an expressive art form which people apply their own meaning based on cultural expectations and empirical knowledge. This philosophy leaves much to be desired by those of us who are gifted and educated in any of the arts.
Perhaps the most objective philosophy of music lies within its logical, rational theory, grounded in mathematics and science. This is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks and evokes visuals of the innovative Pythagoras hearing a black smith strike anvils and produce intervallic tones. Music theory is a science that has been subjected to vast array of philosophical agendas derived from many different cultures. In “Epistemologies of Music Theory,” musicologist Nicholas Cook concedes that music theory has been used within separate agendas ranging from social and educational reform to enhancing the abilities of composers and the pleasure of listeners. He also suggests that music theory can be used as logical proof in aesthetic criticism as well as “its own reward in terms of intellectual verse or speculative pleasure.” The latter would seem to be the most suggestive of a truth in music theory. The study of music brings intellectual pleasure and provides a system of analyzing music and knowing what is good music.
In my research, I had the privilege of communicating with Sean-David McGoran. A musician, professor, and author of the applicable book on music philosophy entitled The Tuned-In Musician and founder of The Tuned In Academy, Mr. McGoran graciously shared his thoughts on music:
“I think that to be fair and logical, we must stipulate that music is not a human thing to begin with. For those who believe that humans exist because a Creator created us, it is a necessary conclusion that all creativity has come from Him as the source. To that end, music flows out of human existence and reality as it is woven into who we are – creative beings made in the image of a creative God (Genesis 1:26-27). Human history demonstrates this extensively. Because we are creative and expressive creatures, we often express ourselves through the arts. Music seems to be one of the most common and natural expressions of the human existence…All art necessarily reflects ethics, values, and even a worldview or religion, either directly or implicitly. This is inescapable, and because of this, all musicians should be considerate of and intentional about what I call the triple ‘S’ factor in their music. Every song preaches a sermon, serenades someone or something, or tells a story. It is the responsibility of every songwriter or musician who would write, record, teach, or present the song to fully understand and evaluate this factor.”
Mr. McGoran presents us with perhaps the clearest and most comprehensible philosophy of music, though it does presuppose a belief in the Judeo-Christian God as a creator of the universe. He goes on to reference Francis Schaeffer’s four standards for evaluating the quality of a musical work: 1) technical excellence, 2) validity, or the artist’s integrity to their personal worldview, 3) intellectual content and the worldview that is expressed, and 4) the integration of content and vehicle. Mr. McGoran finds Schaeffer’s criteria to be the best judgment or analysis for any work of art, while adding two more components of his own: “how the music serves the Creator and community. If music has no purpose or service beyond itself then it has little value…Music serves the Creator as people make music to their God and tell of his works. Music serves the community when people make music for each other, and the community, to tell of their pain, to proclaim injustice, to provide vehicles for their grief, mourning, and celebration.”
I was also able to get the general music philosophy of a virtuosic musician and music educator. Dr. Steve Schenkel is a sought after guitarist and highly respected educator who has been working in St. Louis, Missouri for over thirty years. Dr. Schenkel shared his thoughts on the purpose of music and the role of musicians:
“I suppose my philosophy from the point of view of the listener is that music is something that should move people. It doesn't have to be beautiful, and in fact music can make you anxious, or angry, or any emotion. It should just touch something. As a performer, however, I suppose my philosophy would be that I should play anything that I'm called to play the very best that I can. It doesn't matter whether it's a Thelonious Monk masterpiece or a relatively light musical theater piece; I try to play everything as perfectly as I can. My job and responsibility is to serve the composer.”
The humility in that reply is not only appealing, but touching. It would be a great gift if all musicians sought to reach not only the technical level of Dr. Schenkel, but also the humanity and unassuming nature of his character. This is reminiscent of Plato’s view that a good, virtuous character is of vital importance for an artist as that will influence the creative output just as much as technical ability. So still we see a musician in the early 21st Century showing the influence of the non-musician Plato from 2,400 years ago. Perhaps we haven’t come very far. Perhaps we’ve gone full circle. Musical developments have spawned new genres of music. Technological advances have radically changed the processes for composers, performers, and even music “lay-people” who can take in the art form in their homes, cars, and shopping centers. The internet allows us to share music in a way that would have challenged Mozart’s genius. Despite all of that, the question remains: is music necessary? How should we use it
1. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of Art and Beauty. (Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press, 1976).
2. Anthony Storr. Music and the Mind. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992).
3. John Dewey. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. (New York: The Free Press, 1916).
4. Michael Kellogg. Three Questions We Never Stop Asking (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010).
5. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Oliver Fürbeth. Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010).
6. Roger Scruton. The Aesthetics of Music. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997),
7. Simon Frith. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996).
8. Nicholas Cook. “Epistemologies of Music Theory,” in The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Thomas Christensen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
9. Sean-David McGoran, personal e-mail correspondence, April 2013.
10. Dr. Steve Schenkel, personal e-mail correspondence, April 2013.
11. Autumn Gurgel, "Running Head: Roots and Theories of the Doctrine of Ethos" (DMA diss. Wisconsin Lutheran College, 2003). http://www.charis.wlc.edu/publications/symposium_spring03/gurgel.pdf Current Mood: anxious
|Sunday, November 17th, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 5
5. Idealism and the Age of Enlightenment
The 18th and 19th centuries ushered in a revolutionary new school of thought in Europe, much of which was dominated by European philosophers. The most significant of these thinkers is undoubtedly Immanuel Kant. Born in East Prussia in 1724, Immanuel was raised in the Lutheran/Protestant tradition that valued personal piety over congregational religious practices. Kant carried his awe and admiration for God and creation with him to University of Königsberg where he studied philosophy and natural science. Though he excelled academically, his financial struggles forced him to leave school and work as a private tutor, eventually securing employment as a philosophy lecturer at the very university from which he never received a degree. This position allowed Kant to assuage his financial strain while giving him opportunities to pursue his own academic projects. These projects would become the most important philosophical musings of the time.
The entirety of this thesis could be dedicated to the Idealistic thoughts on music if not solely to the aesthetic philosophy of Immanuel Kant. An attempt to condense Kant’s thoughts on music to a few pages borders on impossible and toys with irresponsibility. So, to begin that attempt, an exploration of Kant’s famous paradox of the aesthetic – “purposiveness without a purpose” – is necessary. This famous quote first appeared in his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment and it represents his definition of the beautiful and how it is judged. For Kant, pure judgment of beauty is not interested in the utility or purpose of an object. It’s not even interested in pleasure. Pure judgment of beauty is totally disinterested in purpose, and “the aesthetic is experienced when a sensuous object stimulates our emotions, intellect, and imagination.” Beautiful objects certainly pull our fascination, but not in any way that is attached to a purpose (such as selling it or using it for decoration). But the human mind shapes “reality” and instinctually insists on assigning a purpose to everything we encounter and perceive via our human senses, rather than allowing things to remain things in and of themselves. This basically means that emotion corrupts aesthetic judgment, which otherwise should be pure and free of applied human concepts. Bowman explains the core of Kant’s aesthetic philosophy: “The objects of consciousness are not mere sense data, or things as they ‘actually are,’ but things shaped and structured by human cognitive activity. Even the most scrupulously ‘objective’ facts and observations bear the mind’s imprint.” In order for a work of art to be beautiful, Kant insists that it must be purposeless. The less a distinguishable purpose a work of art possesses, the higher its capability for beauty. This poses a dilemma for the artist who is driven by the purpose to create for some sort of preconceived ends. A work that is governed by an obviously explicit principle is not art, but craft. While craft is constrained by purposive ends, science is constrained by purposive principles. For Kant, a beautiful work of art is not the result of logical calculations or rational concepts, for that would make it possible to be a great artist by reading a book and following a formula or list of rules. The artistic is contained in the process, the “doing.” Some understanding is required to wield a paint brush or play a piano, and art comes from the free play of the imagination and that understanding. But its beauty is independent of both. A beautiful work of art is purposive with no purpose for preconceived ends.
Like many other aesthetic philosophers of the Enlightenment, Kant presented a classification of the arts by their various genres, ranking poetry and literature first, then painting and sculpture, and then music. Poetry is positioned the highest, as it stirs the senses while encouraging contemplation from the observer. According to Kant, music does not achieve the latter. Furthermore, music is lower than the visual arts because of its ability to impose itself on “innocent bystanders” through its medium of sound. Though the ranking is understandable, it is a bit surprising that music doesn’t fare better for Kant, as one could argue that music is the least “conceptual” and most free of utilitarian objects amongst all the arts. Conceding poetry to be the most expressive and contemplative for the most people, music doesn’t necessarily require any tools. Like poetry, only the voice is needed to express music, whereas tools and materials are required for the painting, drawing, sculpture, etc (although, sculpture is a craft to Kant, not an art). Nonetheless, how free of concepts can music truly be before it is no longer music? Here we see a departure from any regard for the relationship between music and mathematics held by previous thinkers such as Augustine and Boëthius. Earlier thought insisted that music is grounded in a conceptual system of musical notation, symbols, time, and tone. Despite his intellectual prowess, perhaps Kant was just too musically naïve to account for this reality of music. Or, perhaps he was right: these concepts of time and musical notation are simply man-made constructs that we have applied to an otherwise free art form. Either way, Kant leaves much more to be discussed about his philosophy of music, but not in lieu of the other thinkers of his time.
Following Kant was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, born in 1770 in Germany. Hegel studied theology and philosophy at a Protestant seminary at the University of Tübinger with another well-known philosopher named Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, who heavily influenced Hegel’s thoughts on art. He later led a respected and viable career as an editor, private tutor, school teacher, and principal while writing many dense texts on various subjects. Hegel’s contribution to Enlightenment thought on aesthetics, specifically within music, is second only to Kant. The views held by both of these philosophers identified the Judeo-Christian God as an intelligent designer who set the universe in motion and continues to intervene in human experience. For Hegel, art’s original purpose is to unite spirit and nature and give people access to Absolute Truth – an ultimate truth that contains all comprehension of existence. The more organized Hegel also recognized three determinations for art: 1) Art is a human production, brought into existence by man. 2) Art is created for humans and is delivered through sensuous mediums. 3) Art contains an end that is bound up with it. Hegel had his own ranking of the arts, with the art form that required the most physical elements on the bottom in architecture. Next up is sculpture, which requires less physical elements than architecture. Painting is just above sculpture and it is the first of Hegel’s Romantic arts, the art forms that are the most expressive. Music is above painting, and poetry is again considered the highest art form and the most spiritual of all. His conception of music is that music is a continuous display of the ‘inner life’ of human beings. He indicated that the perception of unity in a musical work required a greater effort than the perception of unity in painting or sculpture. This is because the listener is required to remember the sounds that had passed and combine them with the sounds occurring in the present. In other words, time influences music and our perception of music. In stark contrast to Kant, art has a purpose, which is to connect humans with divinity. While poetry gets us closest to the Absolute Truth, music is the second best. Music is more highly regarded by Hegel than by Kant in this way. For Hegel, art is a spiritual activity that enables humans to get closer to the Absolute Truth. The process is as important as the product.
In the 1830s, Hegel wrote about music and sound in The Philosophy of Fine Art:
“Sound…supplies the medium for the intimacy and soul of Spirit – itself as yet indefinite – permitting, as it does, the echo and reverberation of man’s emotional world through its entire range of feelings and passions. In this way music forms the centre of the romantic arts, just as sculpture represents the midway point of arrest between architecture and the arts of the romantic subjectivity. Thus, too, it forms the point of transition between the abstract, spatial sensuousness of painting and the abstract spirituality of poetry.”
To Hegel, music is a blessed art form with a unique inwardness that can advance human awareness to an actual way of knowing via the senses. Its expressiveness is more significant than its craft, as the craft is primarily concerned with perfect technical execution while the art is a deep exploration of spirituality through the medium of sound. Music is uniquely able to show the crucial role of emotion in cognition. Music enables the spiritual elevation of mind to a level it could never achieve on its own. Hegel saw divinity in music perhaps even to the point that he deified it, though Hegel himself may argue against that.
While Kant and Hegel – as well as the thinkers mentioned before them – held theist beliefs which focused their philosophies on a single divinity, Arthur Schopenhauer believed the world to be ruled by a groundless, cosmic force, or Will. There is no divinity and no Absolute, but only the Will, which reigns supreme with no purpose and no will of its own. Born in 1788 in Poland, Schopenhauer is best known for his view that the universe is driven by this unfeeling force that works in everything to continually seek an impossible satisfaction. Humans are in a constant state of pain, as we are always in a state of insatiable desire, only to desire something else whether or not we satisfy the previous desire. There is no greater meaning in life and nothing to strive for as we will be in a state of longing and desire which nothing can quench. The only thing that can give us temporary relief from this anguish is art, the greatest of which is music.
Schopenhauer took the Hegelian view and turned it upside down, rejecting the notion that music could give humans access to a divine creator, or that there even is a divine creator. Because he believed the universe to be self-governing with a blind, irrational will driving everything, music is merely an autonomous reflection of the irrational will. However, music imparts a cognitively inaccessible world through sensuous, phenomenal experiences, which requires a metaphysically transcendental awareness – just like the Hegelian system required. Even though Schopenhauer loathed Hegel’s artistic scheme, he allowed that music is a “felt” art form.
Schopenhauer wrote the first edition of The World as Will and Idea in 1819, though the most commonly read and referenced edition appeared in 1844. Within the third book of this text, Schopenhauer shared his admiration of music and its nonphysical qualities. Like thinkers before him, he acknowledged the power and awe of music, as well as its association with numbers and form. Unlike thinkers before him, particularly Plato and Kant, Schopenhauer elevated music as the highest art form, as a truly spiritual, honorable, and universal art form that should give humans relief from the constant trials and pains of a life that is void of much meaning:
“Music…stands alone, quite cut off from all the other arts. In it we do not recognise the copy or repetition of any Idea of existence in the world. Yet it is such a great and exceedingly noble art, its effect on the inmost nature of man is so powerful, and it is so entirely and deeply understood by him in his inmost consciousness as a perfectly universal language, the distinctness of which surpasses even that of the perceptible world itself…Further, its representative relation to the world must be very deep, absolutely true, and strikingly accurate, because it is instantly understood by every one, and has the appearance of a certain infallibility, because its form may be reduced to perfectly definite rules expressed in numbers, from which it cannot free itself without entirely ceasing to be music.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was another significant German philosopher who wrote extensively on music. Born in 1844 into a devout Lutheran family, Nietzsche demonstrated a love for the arts at a young age, with a special attraction to music. Though his Lutheran minister father died in 1849, the family maintained their religious practices. He first encountered Schopenhauer’s writings during his time at the University of Leipzig, where he studied ancient languages and theology. Near the end of his college career, Nietzsche’s journal entries described how he would relax by taking solitary nature walks, reading Schopenhauer, and listening to the music of Robert Schumann. By this time, his Lutheran beliefs had completely dissolved and he found solace in Schopenhauer’s atheism and exaltation of the arts. He expanded on Schopenhauer’s philosophy that music is meant to be used as a relief from the pains of human existence. Nietzsche accepted that and believed that music enhanced human existence and made life more meaningful.
Nietzsche’s mid to late twenties were a time of replacement, as the deep thinker was constantly searching for meaning in the world that Schopenhauer painted so bleakly. Art essentially came to replace Nietzsche’s abandoned religious beliefs and he began to focus his worldview on aesthetic value. He also sought a replacement for the missing father figure in his life, which he found in the composer Richard Wagner. Wagner and Nietzsche had a common interest in Schopenhauer and music, and Wagner was right around the age Nietzsche’s father would have been and was also a student at the University of Leipzig years earlier. A lay-composer himself, Nietzsche had an understandable esteem for the musical inventiveness of the successful, charismatic Richard Wagner. He was entranced by Wagner, but the relationship ended traumatically when the two couldn’t find common ground on Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Nietzsche ended up brutally criticizing Wagner’s later work, along with the work of many other German composers, saying that he felt the need to be careful with German music. And so we see that caution in music still exists with one of the greatest thinkers in the late 19th century.
Nietzsche’s aesthetic philosophy was truly profound, drawing on Greek mythology and broadening the Kantian and Hegelian systems. Despite his deep awe and love for music, he believed that art, along with science and philosophy, were all forms of illusion. Life is interpreted through the arts – with music providing the best interpretation – and a meaningful existence can transpire as a result of immersion in the aesthetic. Tragedy is the most fascinating and stimulating illusory tactic of the human mind. Distinguished by the vision of horror and unnatural acts, tragedy best compels humans to live a virtuous life which removes the need for a religious system. This was the motivating theme behind The Birth of a Tragedy, Nietzsche’s most famous philosophical text written in 1872. It outlined his well known Apollonian and Dionysian artistic dichotomy: the first represents an imagery of order and restraint, the second an active, energetic intoxication. While both are natural to all mankind, civilizations vary in which concept is more important. Named for the sons of the mythological Greek god Zeus, Nietzsche defines a great work of art as when the Dionysian harnesses the Apollonian. This would create an aesthetically pleasing balance of order and intoxication, or perhaps, to draw on the Hegel, craft and art. Additionally, replacing religion with art foreshadows Nietzsche’s most infamous and often misunderstood quote, that “God is dead.”
Nietzsche heavily influenced the intellectual thinkers of the 20th century (while offending many), though his writings on music weren’t nearly as influential as his writings on culture and religion. The beauty of the language in Nietzsche’s writings likely made him popular with artists and creative thinkers. His influence on the compositions of Wagner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Carl Orff are well known amongst musicians. Nietzsche found the will to continue to write creatively and cerebrally despite being in constantly poor health and credited music as giving him not only the spirit to do so, but the purpose. For this reason, it’s understandable that artists and creative thinkers are drawn to this German philosopher. Psychologist Anthony Storr praises and culturally situates Nietzsche’s philosophy of music in his book Music and the Mind:
“Nietzsche’s perception of music as so significant that it can make life worth living seems utterly remote from the mundane preoccupations of Western politicians and educators. Of course it is right that they should be concerned with raising standards of literacy, with increasing expertise in both sciences and crafts, with equipping men and women with the skills necessary to earn a living in a world increasingly dominated by technology. But a ‘higher standard of living’ does not make life itself worth living. The arts can do so; and, amongst the arts, music is profoundly significant as Nietzsche perceived.”
Nietzsche brought Idealism thought to its seemingly inevitable end: a lack of a need for divinity or for theism in general. No longer is music used for religious practice, but rather as a new religion. We can also see a departure from the aligning of music with mathematics and reason and a new, more transcendental view of music as a tool for heightened metaphysical awareness. The latter Idealist philosophy of music resides in the realm of the sensuous will. Music has become a synergetic play of mind and soul, a language of feelings and tones. 19th Century Idealism introduces the notion that reality is totally shaped by the human mind and everything exists as an illusion. Kant and Hegel hold music as a great expression of ideas while Schopenhauer and Nietzsche hold it as the prime idea for any type of happiness in life. These philosophies positioned music and art as a god.
1.Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Oliver Fürbeth. Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010).
2. Freeland, Cynthia A. But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2001).
3. Wayne D. Bowman. Philosophical Perspectives on Music. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
4. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of Art and Beauty. (Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press, 1976).
5. Anthony Storr. Music and the Mind. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992).
6. Robert Wicks. “Friedrich Nietzsche.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/nietzsche
7. Edward A. Lippman. A Humanistic Philosophy of Music. (New York: New York University. 1977). Current Mood: productive
|Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 4
4. Sacred Music in Non-Western Cultures
In Israel, where Judaism is the prevailing religion, there was no distinct secular music prior to the late 20th Century. Before the 1970s, popular music in Israel bore few characteristics of the region, but rather represented a blend of Western styles with slight traces of Israeli folk music. This blend naturally included elements of sacred music from European cultures which did not satisfy the religious people of this Middle Eastern state. Contrarily, the sacred music of the Jewish people is very characteristic of its native region and has influenced Western music. Jewish music gives us a faithful link to the ancient world. Several musical instruments that are still in use today can be attributed to Biblical times and Judaism’s ancient temple worship. While Judaism’s contribution to Western classical music is so vast that it is often forgotten, Jews did not fail to create their own rich tradition of sacred music for synagogue services, festivals, life-cycle rituals, and domestic observances. Though it can all be classified as “Jewish music,” the wide range of musical customs and applications has a wide range of striking diversity.
The Bible is a source dense with information about the music in ancient Israel that was practiced by the Hebrew people. The Old Testament contains descriptions of more than fifteen instruments, including the kinnor (lyre), ugav (pipe), and shofar (ram’s horn). There are also many mentions regarding the role of music outside of sacred rituals. The ram’s horn is mentioned almost seventy times in the Bible. This instrument required expert technique to be blown loud enough to signal people throughout the nation and with a proper embouchure required for tonal quality. Containing a small opening cut at the tip of the horn, the ram’s horn can produce harmonics of fourths, fifths, sixths, and is only played by members of the congregation who have achieved honor and respect. It appears throughout the Old Testament, used by political officials, high priests, and military leaders. Despite this instrument’s historical significance, use of the ram’s horn and other instruments have been debated by religious authorities through time, while unaccompanied chants have always been accepted in all Jewish communities. Why would this be? One could presume that like the ancient Greeks and early Church leaders, the Jewish people also felt that music – and in this specific case, an instrument – was to be used thoughtfully and cautiously.
Music was and still is used by the Jewish people in corporate settings, for worship, and for prayer. Rabbis today will chant congregational prayers in the Hebrew language often using some derivation of the our familiar Dorian and Phrygian modes. It is documented numerous times in the Old Testament that Jews would burst out in song in moments of joy as well as anguish. Chapter fifteen in the book of Exodus is a record of the song that Moses and his people sang after crossing the parted Red Sea and escaping the Egyptians. The song is a spontaneous song of victory and triumph, in which all of the people sang “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him – my father’s God, and I will exalt him!” The song continues, and chapter fifteen concludes with the following passage, documenting the musical celebration of the women which including singing, dancing, and the playing of Hebrew/Middle Eastern tambourines, identified nowadays as riqs:
“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.”
Islam is the third “Abrahamic” religion, with Judaism and Christianity. The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam and the faith is set up on the belief that the teachings written down in this book were originally transmitted to the prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel in a distinctly audible manner. Muslims believe that God’s ultimate message was delivered to Muhammad not through a vision or a dream, and not written on stone tablets. Rather, God’s message was given to Muhammad via sound and the resulting Qur’an has an aesthetically pleasing poetry in its text. Within the Qur’an itself are clear references to recitations from Gabriel to Muhammad that were both melodic and rhythmic. But Muslims will not call this music, nor will they consider Muhammad a musician. The Qur’an rejects the Greek-derived category of music that encompasses all sonic expressions and holds its recitative nature in conceptual disagreement with all other sonic expressions (both vocal and instrumental). Beck writes, “In fact, Islamic tradition considers secular music spiritually suspect; hence, Qur’anic recitation, even if it sounds musical, is not conceived of as music. It falls into a permitted category of chant or Cantillation where musical features are subordinated to religious text and function.”
Though there are some traditional Islamic teachings that still oppose the use of music in the Arab world, a limited use of the art form is supported by most Muslims. Many musical practices are permitted by religious Muslims in the present day Arab region, though they share the views held by Plato and Boëthius that a life or career as a musical performer is unrefined and even childish. Most notably, the medieval philosopher and theologian Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Al-Ghazali believed that music was a useful agent against immoral behavior such as drunkenness and gambling. By singing worthy sacred texts, Al-Ghazali thought that Muslims would be dissuaded from participating in objectionable activities. However, he did not propose a free use of music, but held a rather stringent opinion on music, not unlike previous thinkers. Dr. Gisa Jähnichen explains Al-Ghazali’s view:
“He criticizes listening to music and singing because they are associated with gatherings where wine is drunk and lustful entertainment is deliberately provoked. The only kind of music and singing to be allowed is that of religious and heroic songs and modest pieces. In his opinion, an excess of music and singing should be avoided. The same is said of dancing, which may be practised or watched as long as it does not arouse desire and aims at encouraging sinful acts. Over the centuries, Al-Ghazali’s thoughts circulated among the ‘learned’ in the Muslim communities...”
The clear common thread thus far in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam has been that music can be used, but very cautiously and only as an expression of or for God. Additionally, a life spent creating music is an abysmal, wasteful life. So while music is acknowledged and utilized in these three religions, there is a certain ambiguity about it that is not found in all other religions. For example, Buddhism doesn’t seem to have any mixed feelings regarding the art form. Buddhist practitioners are permitted to sing as a form of worship, but music is to be totally avoided by the monks. While Catholic priests and Jewish Rabbis will often sing or chant, Buddhist monks are “to avoid dancing, singing, music, and entertainments…The risk regarding music and singing is that one might focus on the musical quality of the voice rather than on the teachings enunciated in the song or chant.” Contrarily, Hindu restrictions on music are practically non-existent in comparison to these other religions. They consider music to be of divine origin and intimately identifiable with the likenesses of their polytheistic deities. Music is extremely important to the Hindus, and they allow it to be performed by skilled musicians and uneducated hobbyists for the means of religious teachings, spiritual rejuvenation, and private devotions.
The music of Africa is a beautiful example of the universality of this art form. But their musical traditions, practices, and systems can be jarring to most European-oriented Westerners because our aesthetic ideals have been shaped differently by the sounds and context of our music. However, the notion that music is powerful is a shared idea, though traditional African peoples take it a step further. In traditional African beliefs, sound can and should be used as a means for communicating an abstract idea. When used in music, sound is a mighty force that can bring rain to the fields or healing to the sick. Ademola Adegbite writes, “sound manifestation has much broader scope to the traditional African peoples than the superficial meaning often attached to it. In those societies, the textual contents of music are not just mere words but have mystical potency and can be used in many practical ways to produce concrete observable results.” So in African traditions, not only can music make us “feel” better, but it can actually make us better. It is a practical tool that can pragmatically influence and change ourselves as well as our environment.
1. Peter Manuel. Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey. (New York: Oxford University Press. 1988).
2. Guy L. Beck. Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions. (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2006).
3. Lawrence E Sullivan. Enchanting Powers: Music in the World's Religions. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1997).
4. The book of Exodus from the Bible, chapter 15.
5. Gisa Jähnichen. “Al-Gahazali’s Thoughts on the Effects of Music and Singing upon the Heart and the Body and their Impact on Present-Day Malaysian Society.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 9 (2012): 115-123. http://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_9_May_2012/11.pdf Current Mood: optimistic
|Thursday, August 22nd, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 3
3. Music in the Early Church Current Mood: contemplative
Because Catholicism was the reigning established religion in Europe, the early Church autocratically molded the Western world’s musical traditions. Notable European composers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Josquin, William Byrd, and even Handel and Bach practiced their craft in accordance with Church rituals in their writings and performances. Several of the attitudes about the danger of music held by Plato and Aristotle were shared by leaders of the early Church. Saint Augustine of Hippo in particular was greatly aware of the general moral neutrality of music. He understood that it could represent both good and evil, and for that reason he believed music should be handled with caution. Though Augustine agreed with Plato’s prudence about music, he approached his fourth and fifth century analysis of music from the doctrine of his faith and not from the metaphysical position that the Greeks were steeped in seven hundred years earlier. Considering himself a theologian first and philosopher second, Augustine believed that the Bible, when properly interpreted (at task at which many early Church leaders failed), “provides the most direct knowledge of Divine purpose and order, but the arts of music and painting can make their contribution towards our understanding, too.” So while Augustine did not want music deified, he found it a useful tool in aided the spiritual awakening of a person. In that way he is clearly more like Aristotle than Plato, and we can see an evolution of music philosophies over the span of approximately seven hundred years. But we would be remiss if we considered Augustine’s views modern in any sense of the word. Many of his views would likely unsettle musicians and music fans today. While Augustine was more open minded than Plato, he still didn’t give anything close to total artistic freedom to composers. He followed the Aristotelian path beyond imitation to inspiration from ideals, believing that composers should present a virtuous picture of the way the world should be. Songs should be written in order to improve their subject matter, and not to lament. Consider how much Augustine would have loathed Buddy Guy! Though he “allows for the occasional use of music as a means of relaxation and restoration,” Augustine did not permit the excitement of passions through music. In Philosophical Perspectives on Music, author Wayne D. Bowman explains:
“People who make music beautifully yet cannot say what its numbers are or mean are like nightingales, Augustine says: mere imitators, not true musicians. Similarly, people who take pleasure in listening, but who do so without science or insight into number, are little better than beasts. Performers also learn their skills like animals, by aping their masters. They fail to grasp the incorporeal truths that lie behind ‘the veil.’ Birds sing but lack music because they imitate rather than reason. True music is rational, not imitative. As for people who make their livings performing music, Augustine concludes, there can be “no more degraded and abject discipline than this one.”
Augustine was aware of every human’s ability to hear music, and what he wanted was reason. To merely listen and not to understand the sounds entering the ear was to take the beauty right out of the music. While the body may simply crave the sounds, Augustine believed that the soul desired the “truth” of music. This is what he means when he refers to the numbers of music. As a musician, I can take something very profound from this: musical trust exists. Augustine wants me to respect and acknowledge the truth of music. Music doesn’t require me, but I am humbled to be able to express it with certain proficiency.
Following Augustine was the sixth century Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius. More commonly referred to as simply Boëthius, his De institutio musica shaped musical thinking in the Medieval Era more than any other document. Clearly building off of Plato and Augustine, this treatise is one of four documents compiled by Boëthius intended to further explain the virtues of the liberal arts that were rooted in mathematics: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music (known as the quadrivium). Like his predecessor Augustine, Boëthius strongly valued music and its powers, but interestingly felt that a life of creating and performing music was lowly and unsophisticated. The study of music, however, could bring about heightened wisdom of God and the universe while freeing the mind of passionate, fleshly pursuits. This poses a sense of illogicality in this philosophy: studying music will free you, but creating music is to be avoided. Needless to say, since there was a desire for music, it required performers, and Boëthius intended his De institutio musica to pull musicians from the depths of their disparaging activity and inspire them to aim for the “summit of perfection.”
Like many philosophers before and after him, Boëthius intensely respected numbers and believed that music “must be understood in terms of a grand Platonic worldview in which the entire cosmos is rationally ordered and created by God.” He believed that the source of all music was mathematics, which is of the divine. This commonly held belief can be attributed to the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who is considered by many to be the original music theorist who identified pitch distinctions. To Boëthius, music’s “essence lies in numerical proportions, by virtue of their capacity to confer harmony and unity on things otherwise diverse and discrete.” His De institutio musica outlines three divisions of music to guide composers and performers and compel them to think about their craft on a deeper level: musica mundana, the cosmic music that comes from the universe; musica humana, the harmony that blends the body and soul which balances the rational and irrational; and musica instrumentalis, instrumental music that is most common and comprehensible to humans. Following the principle that the universe is ordered and rational (like mathematics), Boëthius saw harmony as being connected to the universe within these three divisions of music: “Harmony is at the heart of the cosmos itself—a universe. And ‘music’ is about the creation of that harmony. Hence, music is at the heart of the cosmos.”
Similar to his predecessors, Boëthius did not hold performers or composers in high regard considering them to be mindless imitators of musica instrumentalis. The only type of musician worthy of his respect is the one who studies music and pursues a true understanding of its reason and principles. This obviously assumes that the performers and composers of his time did not do this. Objectively, it’s agreeable that these types of “musicians” do exist – those who care not for the study or principles of music, but merely using it as a form of leisure and entertainment. Our modern media encourages us to use the art as prime-time entertainment and dinner table talk. Clearly there are those of us who reject those attitudes and aim to deeply understand music, its function, its reason, and its uses. Boëthius would call those types music philosophers, though it seems that he would claim that a philosopher would give up the activity of performing and composing music, which has helped the modern music world define the role of the music theorist.
Bowman quotes Boëthius:
“How much nobler…is the study of music as a rational discipline than as composition and performance. It is as much nobler as the mind is superior to the body; for devoid of reason, one remains in servitude…[A] musician is one who has gained knowledge of making music by weighing with the reason, not through the servitude of work, but through the sovereignty of speculation…Music is associated not only with speculation but with morality as well. For nothing is more characteristic of human nature than to be soothed by pleasant modes and disturbed by their opposites.”
So while Boëthius considers music to be a necessary part of human existence, its perfect pursuit can never be achieved as it is too connected to human matters. Emotions are inferior to reason, yet it is a complete impossibility for any human to be completely freed of their emotions. In particular, the musician, and any artist for that matter, often lives as if in love with their craft.
Two other significant contributors to the Church’s philosophy of music are the Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino and German theologian Martin Luther. The former worked in the mid to late 15th Century, approximately nine hundred years after Boëthius and the reign of De institutio musica. Like his father, Ficino was originally a physician, and was thus educated on the pharmaceutical advances of his time. But having spent much of his life studying Plato, he was confident that music was more powerful than any physical medication and could cure certain conditions that medicine could not. Professor Lawrence E. Sullivan writes that Ficino believed “music and medicines both formed compounds of elements drawn from different realms of the physical and spiritual world, musical compositions were the more fluid and more flexible and therefore, better mimed the celestial qualities essential to optimal health.” Ficino believed that music was given to humanity as a gift from God directly out of the heavenly realms, existing in every human body and soul. God injected music into everything in the universe and humans are the only part of creation able to comprehend it. Sidestepping any mysticism that could be associated with this view and considering that Ficino was a physician, one can see how the heartbeat holds a rhythm and our vocal chords can express melody. Building on the work of his predecessors, Ficino applied an even deeper importance to music and its function in the world while showing more of a love and admiration for it than any other before him.
Martin Luther is known for his reformation of the Church in the 16th Century. Also a decent singer and flutist, Luther influenced composers and performers to take a more active role in the church and give music great significance in services. Like Ficino before him, Luther considered music to be a gift and encouraged “poets and musicians of his day to contribute their gifts to the creation of a popular German hymnody.” Recognizing the views that music can have both positive and negative influences, Luther ultimately believed that “music drives out the devil, and from a theological perspective, no other art is comparable to it. Since music is also the most effective means of uplifting humanity’s sad and suffering hearts and giving people joy, it cannot be praised too highly.” Staying with Plato’s major assertion almost two thousand years earlier, Luther believed music should be utilized in education as it can cause people to be live out Christ-like attributes of gentleness, joy, and peace. However, Luther did not want to develop music specialists within the church, but rather make music attainable by all people. This evokes thoughts of the current movement within many churches in America to restrain music to a certain simplicity of sound and presentation in order to allow many to participate in its practice.
Despite some advances, the view held by the Greek philosophers that music was to be restricted has not been erased in two thousand years time. From Plato’s angelic ambivalence to Ficino’s awestruck affection, music remains “inextricably ensnared in a philosophical battle between sense and reason, between materiality and ideality, between the merely apparent and the true. Seemingly without exception, the more closely music is held to approach the latter, the more suspect become its roots in the former.” How can music and musicians loose this bondage and use their craft for good? Even if all the musicians were banished, rhythm and harmony would remain and be noticed. Perhaps Boëthius put it best when he said “music is so naturally united with us that we cannot be free from it even if we so desired.” Though he’s not audaciously suggesting that we have that desire, Boëthius may have been predicting our 20th Century relationship music: one in which many live disconnected, disenchanted, and disinterested with the art form. It exists all around us, but have we become so comfortable with it in our Western world that we no longer fear its power today? The Greeks and early Church thinkers were fascinated by the power of music, a sentiment that was not limited to the dominant religion of the Western world.
1. Guy L. Beck. Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions. (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2006).
2. William C. Rice. A Concise History of Church Music. (New York: Abingdon. 1964).
3. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of Art and Beauty. (Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press, 1976).
4. Wayne D. Bowman. Philosophical Perspectives on Music. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
5. Robin Parry. "Boethius and Musical Beauty." Running Heads. http://www.runningheads.net/2012/08/14/boethius-and-musical-beauty
6. James Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. (New York: Norton and Company. 2010).
7. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Oliver Fürbeth. Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010).
8. Lawrence E. Sullivan. Enchanting Powers: Music in the World's Religions. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1997).
9. Anthony Storr. Music and the Mind. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992).
|Monday, August 12th, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 2
2. Ancient Greek Philosophy, Part 2
Aristotle was another ancient Greek philosopher who had strong opinions of music. Born in northern Greece in 384 BC, he relocated to Athens when he was seventeen years old to study under Plato at The Academy. Aristotle became the most important and successful student and remained at The Academy even after Plato died. The young Macedonian spent over twenty years there, studying, debating, writing, and teaching. Aristotle was strikingly different than Plato simply in his temperament. “Aristotle was neither an ideal of human excellence nor an exemplary researcher, untroubled by passion, and undimmed by any great moral defects.”
Aristotle was one of Plato’s closest students, and though he also had strong musical opinions and beliefs, many of them were in stark contrast to Plato’s. While both agreed that music could provoke intense emotional experiences, Plato basically thought this was a bad thing, while his young student didn’t necessarily agree. They certainly shared some judgments, but Aristotle disagreed with Plato in several ways and was willing to take music outside of Plato’s proposed restrictions. Aristotle agreed with his teacher in regards to the power of music to portray ethos via imitation. He believed that a person’s attitude was a direct reflection of their activities. He even continued to say that musical elements such as rhythm, melody, and harmony are representations and imitations of human character. Creating or listening to music will exhibit or produce a certain ethical nature in a person. Additionally, even instrumental music can portray ethical qualities because it is music itself that holds the ethical qualities and not only lyrics or text. Aristotle’s belief that instrumental music was just as powerful as music that had lyrics is a notable difference to Plato.
Aristotle’s most significant departure from Plato’s opinions on music lies in his belief of how music should be used in an ethical manner. Aristotle’s ethics were about living and growing ideally into a well-rounded person. So Plato’s student was slightly more “liberal” on the result of attempting to live an ethical life which caused him to be more liberal in his philosophy of music. Aristotle clearly allowed for more pleasures in life than Plato did. He had strong disdain for a person who focused on and pursued pleasure and said that such a person would never achieve any sort of fully lived life. However he realized that “…pleasures are legitimate components of a good life, as long as they are pursued consistently with the virtues of character. The good life, he acknowledges, interweaves pleasure into living and faring well.” This type of life would certainly include music for enjoyment and would possibly allow the listener to outwardly express this type of pleasure, which Plato was against (as Plato’s chief concern in his worldview was to do whatever is necessary to promote and achieve a perfect society). Aristotle accepted all of the modes and also allowed for music to be a sort of “therapy” claiming that it could relieve an upset emotional state.
Regardless of personal opinion, any fair-thinking individual would agree that these Greek thinkers were certainly giving music immense respect, if not going as far as to over analyze the art form. Plato in particular seemed to give more thought to music and its purpose than many musicians. In his book Music and the Mind, psychologist Anthony Storr agrees with the Greek philosophers in the belief that “music is a powerful instrument of education which can be used for good or ill,” though clearly strays from Plato’s censorship in that “we should ensure that everyone in our society is given the opportunity of participating in a wide range of different kinds of music.” And though his student Aristotle held less rigid views than Plato, he still had respect for the power music held. He allowed for more pleasures in life than his predecessor did and seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of pleasures as components of a full life, in particular as a form of reward and relaxation for a person that works hard. One could interpret him to subtly state, however, that these pleasures must be “noble,” and must be pursued consistently with the virtues of a good character.
1. Gerard J. Hughes. Aristotle on Ethics. (London: Routledge. 2001).
2. James Miller, Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche (NYC: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
3. Peter Kivy. New Essays on Musical Understanding. (Oxford: Clarendon. 2001).
4. Autumn Gurgel, "Running Head: Roots and Theories of the Doctrine of Ethos" (DMA diss. Wisconsin Lutheran College, 2003). http://www.charis.wlc.edu/publications/symposium_spring03/gurgel.pdf
5. Michael Kellogg. Three Questions We Never Stop Asking (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010).
6. Anthony Storr. Music and the Mind. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992). Current Mood: thankful
|Monday, July 29th, 2013|
|The Truth of Music: What Some Of The Greatest Thinkers Missed - Part 1
1. Introduction & Ancient Greek Philosophy, Part 1 Current Mood: tired
Any type of art can be very powerful and influential. Music in particular is a part of all human civilizations throughout history, and thus can have a strong effect on individuals as well as society. Plato allegedly said “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” That sounds nice, but how true is it? Is music actually a necessary part of human existence and reality? Plato and his colleagues had strong beliefs and opinions about music, and although music and culture have changed considerably since the fourth century, how much has the philosophy of music evolved, if at all? Musical instruments, technology, and censoring have all evolved, and I believe that the philosophies have basically progressed right along with music. I will trace the philosophy of music from antiquity to modern times focusing on the significant thinkers who wrote extensively about this art form with special attention being given to sacred music. It is a worthwhile endeavor to consider what past and current musicians and philosophers believe about music and its purpose while focusing on the different relationships humans have with music. By researching past and current thought on music, I will examine and develop my own opinions as well as outline what I believe the ethics of music are and should be. This will help me gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of music, its nature, and its complexity. I want to help all kinds of people – musicians, composers, and simple music fans – consider what the purpose of music is and to ponder our relationships with it. This will help me to be more responsible with my role as a musician and hopefully influence others to put as much thought and study into the purpose of music as we often do its theory and placement on popular music charts.
The doctrine of ethos in ancient Greek philosophy states that music has strong moral and ethical powers. The Western philosophy triumvirate Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all had strong views on the principle of ethos as it applies to music. These opinions and concerns are not restricted to the ancient times or to these three great thinkers; they in fact transcend generations and exist very obviously in our twenty-first century. From R&B pioneer Ray Charles to rap group N.W.A, musicians and musical performers have been charged with corrupting our society and blurring the lines between sacred and secular music. It’s common for current generations to consider their predecessors’ views on music to be narrow, primitive, and outdated. Elvis shocked America in 1956 with his suggestive gyrations and innuendo-laden lyrics. Today he is considered tame, while artists such as Kanye West, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga are stirring up controversy with their messages and performances. Music very much influences and affects the individual and the group. What is considered controversial today seems to be acceptable tomorrow. The times change, but people largely do not, and we are very affected by music. But should the artists be held accountable? Or should the artists be free to express themselves and have no responsibility for how their creations may affect the listeners?
The affects of art – and particularly that of music – on the human spirit is a subject which applies to all cultures and generations. From the secular art world to sacred works, music is given a purpose. “William Shakespeare said that music has the power to soothe the savage beast. David played the harp to calm King Saul’s evil spirit. Mermaids lulled sailors to their deaths with songs of enchantment.” The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the truest music was a powerful force of education that could transform its students, promoting a harmonious inner balance of self and spirit. Conversely, the wrong kind of music had the power to affect a person in a very negative way. The opinions of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are as varied as they are deep. To accurately assess where the views of these great thinkers from ancient Greece sit today, one must look back and dive into the depths of their beliefs and backgrounds.
Socrates was born circa 469 B.C. and is known as “the famous teacher who himself wrote nothing, but in conversation was able to befuddle the most powerful minds of his day.” Socrates had great respect for the powers of music. Musical training, in particular, he considered to be “a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful.” The powerful words of Socrates had a profound influence on the young Plato, born 42 years later in Athens to a wealthy, upper-class family. As a child, he was an exceptionally gifted athlete and, by many accounts, a very promising poet. Having experimented and succeeded with poetry during his childhood, Plato was no doubt very aware of the power of words and language, particularly that which is composed and rhythmic. In addition to poetry, young Plato also dabbled in painting and showed a sophisticated understanding of theater. But Plato soon departed from any artistic pursuits when he met Socrates, as Michael Kellogg discusses in his account of several philosophers, Three Questions We Never Stop Asking:
“Plato fell under the spell of Socrates. He was completely captivated by the Socratic insistence that a man must be able to give a reasoned account of his beliefs and his actions, and that he must place virtue and wisdom before all other pursuits. He began to haunt the agora (marketplace) and lyceum (gymnasium) where Socrates engaged in his withering cross-examinations of those who claimed to understand and practice virtue. Poetry was cast aside as at best a distraction from the serious business of philosophy and at worst a dangerous and corrupting illusion.”
Having discovered the “pursuit of wisdom” and abandoned his artistic endeavors, it would appear that young Plato had quite likely already started to develop his opinions on the sway and the uses of art. Certainly he had to halt his practices in poetry – which he apparently excelled at – as it could distract him from the “best” life pursuit or even corrupt him. Some accounts claim that the day Plato met Socrates was the same day he was planning to enter a playwright competition, but he heard Socrates arguing with a group of people as he was on his way to the place the competition was to be held. After he listened to Socrates argue with these other people simply about what they did and did not know, he was awakened to a life of philosophy. He went and burned the play he had written. Plato remained an ardent student of Socrates and documented much of his predecessor’s work and life. After Socrates was executed by the Athenian government for allegedly corrupting the youth and worshipping non-Athenian gods, Plato traveled the Mediterranean region for many years before returning to Athens and opening his school, the Academy. He went on to become who we know him to be today: the undisputed intellectual leader of the fourth and fifth centuries and one of the greatest thinkers in history.
Music in Plato’s time was “…an integrated art form that permeated society and embodied cultural values. Greek philosophers recognized the power and influence of music in their society and developed the doctrine of ethos.” Music was, in fact, extremely prevalent in Ancient Greek culture and society. Present in practically every aspect of society and daily life, music influenced the ethical philosophies of Greek thinkers. The most fundamental but perhaps most significant factor was the expressive and attractive nature of music. Instrumental music was played on occasion, however the majority of music included words and even movements. Furthermore, the “best” type of music to the Greeks was music that harmoniously combined poetry and dance with a pleasing melody. Instrumental music was actually considered to be inferior. The unity of all of these expressions had an understandable draw on philosophers, who especially at that time were seeking the characteristics of the most ideal society. Harmony is a musical principle that extends to other avenues of existence, and Plato in particular was in search of a way to create harmony amongst humans.
Of all the Greek philosophers, Plato produced the most extensive doctrine of ethos in regards to music. He broadly discussed the various uses and categories of music in his final and longest dialogue, Laws:
“Our music was formally divided into several kinds and patterns. One kind of song, which went by the name of a hymn, consisted of prayers to the gods; there was a second and contrasting kind which might well have been called a lament; paeans were a third kind, and there was a forth, the dithyramb, as it was called, dealing, if I am not mistaken, with the birth of Dionysus. Now these and other types were definitely fixed, and it was not permissible to misuse one kind of melody for another. The competence to take cognizance of these rules, to pass verdicts in accord with them, and, in case of need, to penalize their infraction was not left, as it is today, to the catcalls and discordant outcries of the crowd, nor yet to the clapping of applauders; the educated made it their rule to hear the performances through in silence…Afterward, in course of time, an unmusical license set in with the appearance of poets who were…ignorant of what is right and legitimate in the realm of the Muses. Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure, they contaminated laments with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, actually imitated the strains of the flute on the harp, and created a universal confusion of forms.”
It was evident that Plato recognized the different uses of music in his society and was not open to misuse. Music was used for religious purposes as well as educative. Additionally, any kind of outward display of a reaction to the music was unacceptable and may even go as far as to be considered disrespectful and ignorant. He goes on to express that it wasn’t long before genre types were blurred and composers were taking elements from multiple forms and combining them. Plato expresses in the rest of Laws that although music alone may not deeply corrupt a person, but the blurring of genre types does posses that power. He argued that when music is used “properly,” it can be safely evocative in an internal fashion. Plato also put significant stock in imitation in music, believing that a musical work would emulate the ethical attributes its subject. “As a result, because the motions of music and the motions of the soul were so similar, the imitation in music created an imitation in the soul, as well. In other words, the soul developed the qualities of the music to which it was exposed.” So in theory, if a person was exposed to deeply religious music, then the soul of the person would become deeply religious. If a person was exposed to music for pleasure, the person would be weakened by the pursuit of pleasure. In his quest for the perfect society, Plato came to realize that music, when used properly, could have a good effect on a person. Conversely, he believed that music had to be restricted and controlled as it could also corrupt a person, so music should be restricted in some ways in order to mold ideal citizens. He suggested restrictions that were designed to guarantee that all music would be a positive ethical and moral influence, as opposed to some sort of corruptive, destructive force. To aid this, music should be as simple as possible. Although Plato wasn’t entirely concerned with or deeply educated on music theory, he was steadfastly against modulation and tempo changes, and excluded all modes except for Dorian and Phrygian (unlike Socrates who permitted all modes), which he believed expressed the virtues of courage and temperance. A wind instrument called the aulos was also not allowed because of its capacity for modulation. He also proposed restrictions on lyrics and poetry in music. “The content of epic poetry must not lead to fear of death and so prevent the development of courage; it must not tell of the weeping of famous men; nor must the gods be represented as lamenting.” When music was controlled in this way, it could be and should be used for education. Should any musician resist or stray outside of these guidelines – such as portraying a protagonist who acts selfishly or fearfully – they will face expulsion from the city. He believed that strict control on music was necessary, for “…lawlessness creeps in there unnoticed and flows over little by little into characters and ways of life…It makes its insolent way into the laws and government, until in the end it overthrows everything, public and private.” He discussed some theoretical practices in another dialogue called The Republic:
“The overseers must be watchful against its insensible corruption. They must throughout be watchful against innovations in music and gymnastics counter to the established order, and to the best of their power guard against them, fearing when anyone says that that song is most regarded among men “which hovers newest on the singer’s lips” [Odyssey i. 351], lest it be supposed that the poet means not new songs but a new way of song and is commending this. But we must not praise that sort of thing nor conceive it to be the poet’s meaning. For a change to a new type of music is something to beware of as a hazard of all our fortunes. For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions.”
It’s clear that music was not something that Plato took lightly. His views can appear contradictory at times which can be due to the fact that music was and is connected to a broad range of subjects and concerns. Plato had a deep, profound respect for music, which can be interpreted through his ambivalent writings as awe, suspicion, wonder, paranoia, affection, hysteria.
1. Autumn Gurgel, "Running Head: Roots and Theories of the Doctrine of Ethos" (DMA diss. Wisconsin Lutheran College, 2003). http://www.charis.wlc.edu/publications/symposium_spring03/gurgel.pdf
2. Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3. (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2007).
3. Anthony Storr. Music and the Mind. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992).
4. Steven M. Cahn, Philosophy of Education: The Essential Texts. (New York: Routledge, 2009).
5. Michael Kellogg. Three Questions We Never Stop Asking (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010).
6. James Miller, Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche (NYC: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
7. Ralph A. Britsch and Todd Britsch, The Arts in Western Culture (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984).
8. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters. http://www.euphoniousmonks.com/platomus.htm
|Monday, June 24th, 2013|
“For the Scriptures say, Current Mood: relaxed
‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.
Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
|Tuesday, May 21st, 2013|
|443 Days Later
I really don't get excited about a whole lot. Most of the time after an accomplishment, I don't dwell on it. I feel good about it for a second, but then move on to the next thing and focus on the next task at hand. But I wrote the very first Freedom Arts paychecks last night for our mentors who taught workshops in our spring term. I am very happy about that. I feels great to be able to pay my people for their hard, selfless work. It happened a lot sooner than I had planned and we met this goal earlier than I thought we would. I keep thinking about it, smiling, and thanking God. I am thankful to our mentors and Leadership Team for volunteering for over a year, bringing this vision to fruition. I'm thankful to the people and organizations in the community that have supported us and helped us along. God's blessings exceeded my plans. I'm sure they will continue to do exactly that. Proverbs 19:21 comes to mind: "You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail." I think I've finally got my plans aligned with the Lord's purpose. Things are working out better for me. I'm going to keep at it. http://www.FAECSTL.org
Current Mood: accomplished
|Monday, May 20th, 2013|
|Why So Angry, Kanye?
I love music. It’s what I do. It’s very much a part of me. I have spent much of my time and money creating, performing and studying music.
Though I was raised on soul and educated on jazz, I love hip hop. I respect all great lyricists, but great rappers in particular because they flat out write more words per song than great singers do. I think it’s more challenging to write great lyrics to be rapped than great lyrics to be sung.
I love hip hop. I produce it, perform it, and listen to it daily.
I really like Kanye West’s first album “College Dropout.” I enjoy the song “We Don’t Care,” though I will admit that as an adult who works with lots of children, I cringe when I hear the kids singing “drug dealing just to get high / stack your money till it gets sky high.” I like Kanye’s second album “Late Registration,” too. I like one song from his third album “Graduation.” I hate every single thing about his fourth album “808s & Heartbreak.” I really like his collaborative album “Watch the Throne” with Jay-Z. Because my love for his work has decreased as his career as gone on, I don’t keep up with him as an artist as much as I used to, but I still think he is a tremendous producer and a gifted lyricist.
I have sympathy for Kanye West through his controversies. More than once in his career, Kanye has spoken in anger and said regretful, false words to the masses. I have done the same more than once in my life, though because I don’t have the platform, few have heard it. That doesn’t make Kanye’s outbursts any more detestable than mine, as I believe God hears everything. After Kanye calmed down following his outbursts, he publicly apologized. After I have calmed down following my outbursts, I have apologized. I feel for Kanye as he I and I both seem to be emotional people who sometimes have trouble keeping our tempers in check. We both struggle to control our temper and tongue.
Before I got to work this morning, I watched Kanye’s recent SNL performance of two of his new songs. Via my favorite homepage, Okayplayer, here is Kanye West performing two of his newest songs, “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” – http://tiny.cc/o53dxw
Through my studies, I have concluded that the four criteria developed by the 20th Century theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer are the best. I have come to understand his criteria and use them to evaluate works of art.
Technical Excellence: I believe Kanye wrote and performed these two songs with great technical excellence. I was particularly impressed by his use of musical space.
Validity: I believe Kanye created and performed these two songs honestly, with integrity to his personal worldviews. He is always honest.
Worldview Expressed: I believe Kanye’s worldview is focused on the wrong things, and he expresses them in these songs. It's all about anger.
Medium & Message: I believe Kanye's use of his medium of music – mixed with all the visuals – is suited to his message. His dark songs and intense performance express his rage appropriately.
Because I cannot agree with the worldview expressed – one of intense anger that is focused on the problem and not on the solution – I do not like these songs. I cannot like these songs. There’s nothing incredibly unique about the worldview that Kanye is expressing through these songs. There’s nothing uplifting or encouraging about the worldview that Kanye is expressing through these songs. I believe artists have power to influence, and therefore a responsibility to influence positively.
Why is he so angry? At 35 years old, he has 21 Grammy awards. His net worth is over $100 million. He seems excited to have a baby on the way with Kim Kardashian. To my knowledge, he has beautiful homes in Beverly Hills and New York and owns a Benz, a Lamborghini, and an Aston Martin. He regularly vacations in Hawaii and Italy. He supports noble causes such as public education through the Dr. Donda West organization, medical relief through Doctors Without Borders, and sick children through The Art of Elysium. He has the best musicians and studio equipment at his disposal at any given moment and gets to make music for a luxurious living. I understand that he also has significant family problems (join the club, Kanye) and has faced legal problems.
Okay, so there are still issues that Kanye is angry about. Fine. Good. I’m glad when people aren’t asleep to the problems our world faces. Kanye fights some of these problems through his philanthropic work. Yet his art continues to express rage. When it’s not expressing rage, it’s expressing pride.
I wish Kanye would use his platform and power to express positive messages to the many people that listen to him instead of constant rage and naïve pride. I think he should stop inciting intense rage and divisiveness. This country has innumerable problems. Is art created by one of the wealthiest musicians on the planet that expresses his rage the solution? Is pride admirable? Kanye doesn't seem interested in using his art to improve his world, but rather to let everybody know how pissed off he is and how much he thinks the world sucks.
Following the Boston Marathon Bombings, I saw this quote by Leonard Bernstein all over social media: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” I think that would be a much better use of art by somebody as talented and insightful as Kanye West. But it’s clear that he is missing something, or maybe many things. I guess all his wealth and accolades aren’t enough to bring him consistent joy, or peace, or faith, or strength through trials. I will pray for Kanye as I pray for myself to have those things as well, because I struggle with them too. I think God protected me when he redirected my career from being a performing artist to outreach and education. But I pray that I trust God all the time and do what I can to be a vehicle for this will. I'll pray the same for Kanye West. I pray that all artists recognize their power and responsibility. I pray that all artists desire to positively influence the world. Current Mood: peaceful
|Sunday, April 14th, 2013|
|They've Got The MAP Test Blues And So Do I
One of the Freedom Arts Mobile Workshops is Blues Songwriting. This workshop that my staff and I designed gets kids writing creatively in a musical setting. I imagine that they come to this workshop thinking it’s going to be about music (which it is). But it’s more about creative writing. The blues is simply used as a tool to encourage them to write with a purpose. They still sit down at a table with a paper and pencil and write, much like they do in school. The biggest difference is that they don’t realize they are practicing their creative writing skills by writing song lyrics. I still correct their spelling and grammar while I help them find words that rhyme and develop a short narrative. Then they get to perform their song or have us perform it for them if they’re too shy. It’s a fun setting for them to express themselves with blues music as the backdrop. There’s no pressure. It’s just fun. But they learn. They learn about music theory, history, and writing. They learn how to creatively express themselves. We talk about things that are on their minds – good and bad things, happy and “blue” topics – and then they write a song about it.
Yesterday, we were facilitating this workshop at the Oak Bend St. Louis County Library branch. This brings children from different schools and different age groups together. After each one of the kids wrote their own song (ranging in topics from bad teachers to a love of basketball), they all collaborated on a song.
Here are the lyrics to the first verse of that collaborative song, called “The MAP Test Blues”
“I got the MAP test blues / It’s something I don’t really use.
I got the MAP test blues / It makes me blow a fuse.
I got the MAP test blues / It makes me want to snooze.”
This music workshop got them thinking, expressing themselves, writing creatively, working together, and learning about the history of an American art form. Does the Missouri Assessment Program test do that? It looks to me like it stresses them out and forces memorization for the system’s benefit. The kids say it’s useless. The kids say it makes them angry. The kids say it makes them tired. I’m not a kid anymore, but I think they’re right. I guess it made for a great blues song topic, though. So there’s that.
But what do I know? I’m not an educator, I’m just a musician. Worse actually: I’m just a percussionist. And what do they know? They’re just kids. Even though they suffer through and “succeed” on the Missouri Assessment Program test, let’s treat them like they don’t know what they’re talking about.
I'm blessed to work for Freedom Arts which works for the children.
Current Mood: mellow
|Tuesday, April 9th, 2013|
|1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
"Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord's work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Current Mood: thankful
Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.
Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.
Always be joyful.
Never stop praying.
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.
Stay away from every kind of evil.
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.”
|Friday, April 5th, 2013|
|8,760. 168. 24.
You have 8,760 hours in a year, 168 hours in a week, and 24 hours in a day. Sounds like time is not the issue at all. Great article: Current Mood: tired
The Dirty Secrets of Time, Priorities, and Honesty
“I hate excuses. And the one I despise most of all is “I don’t have time.” Bullshit. You can find the time. It exists. You choose not to devote the time, and there’s a big difference.
I don’t work out. (people that have met me in person are LOLing about the understated nature of that last sentence) Sure, I’m a busy guy. But I could absolutely work out if I chose to do so. I could get up earlier. I could stay up later. I could stop doing other things that I currently do instead. But I don’t. Because (perhaps foolishly) it’s not a priority for me.
And it’s all about priorities.
Several bloggers who I read regularly are writing less frequently these days. When asked why (by me, or by others via blog comments or Twitter), the answer is always the same:
“I want to write more, but when I get busy with other things, I just can’t write as often.”
What kind of signal does that send?
Bloggers hope and expect that readers will subscribe to the RSS feed, return often, leave comments, and share posts in social media. In short, bloggers want their work to be important to their readers. But it’s not important enough to the blogger himself to find a way to consistently publish?
Whether it’s a corporate blog, group-written blog, or a solo effort, you have to decide how it fits into your master plan.
The same is true of just about everything else in business and in life. You have to decide where on the infinite scale of ways to spend your time each of those things are slotted. When I ran my last digital marketing agency, we never missed a deadline. Ever. We made it a priority, committed to it, and it governed our behavior and our choices accordingly. I’ll admit that on occasion this commitment to delivering when we promised compromised quality – that taking a couple of extra days might have made some of the work better. But we chose to make deadlines a priority, and we stuck with it.
How important is returning phone calls in a timely fashion? How important is atomizing your content, and turning it from a blog post into a Slideshare presentation? How important is answering a customer question on Twitter within 10 minutes?
Of course, our lives change and circumstances change. But when that happens to you, take the time to give the ramifications of those changes real thought, helping to see how priorities might have to shift correspondingly.
And most importantly, be honest with yourself. Admit that what once was critically important to you (like writing consistently) might not be as important now. Don’t blame it on not having enough time. That’s just code for “I don’t care as much as I used to, but haven’t admitted it to myself yet.”
Spend a few hours with yourself thinking about your priorities this year, and how they could or should change. It will give you a lot more clarity (and a lot less guilt) down the road.”
|Friday, February 8th, 2013|
|Music Is Invisible
I love reading the ancient writings of Plato. Though I certainly don’t agree with all of his beliefs, I appreciate that his writings force me to think critically and examine my own beliefs about everything. Plato’s dialogue Phaedo gives an account of the final hours of Socrates’s life as he discusses the nature of the afterlife. Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death by an Athenian jury for supposedly not believing in the gods of Athens and for “corrupting the youth.” Being sentenced to death does not prevent Socrates from spending his final hours doing the very thing that earned him that unjust sentence – insisting that the citizens of Athens think for themselves and examine their lives.
In one section of the Phaedo, another philosopher named Simmias is arguing with Socrates about the existence of the soul in an invisible realm. Socrates considers there to be two types of existence – the visible and the invisible. A visible existence includes things that can be perceived by the senses, such as the human body. An invisible existence would describe the human soul, which is something that exists, but is not perceivable by the senses. Socrates insists that the soul continues to exist even when the body ceases to exist. Simmias challenges Socrates and likens the soul to musical harmony and the body to a stringed instrument called a lyre. Simmias proposes that if the lyre were destroyed, the harmony would cease to exist.
Now, I do not struggle with my belief about the body, soul, and the afterlife. Socrates believed that the soul continues to exist through reincarnation after the body has died. I do not belief in reincarnation, but I very much believe that the soul will exist in the either Heaven or Hell after the body is dead. What this particular exchange between Socrates and another philosopher provoked me to think was how simple minded Simmias is about music, and thus, how many people today – even those that play music – have a shallow, egotistical view of music.
Simmias is wrong. Music doesn’t need us. It exists without us, and often in spite of us. Simply destroying the lyre will prevent the lyre from expressing harmony again, but it won’t destroy the harmony that already exists. Socrates seemed to agree with Simmias that harmony is a slave to the lyre: “the lyre and the strings and the notes, though still unharmonized, exist; the harmony is composed last of all, and is the first to be destroyed” (Phaedo, 92c). But many would agree with these two, believing that harmony is created by instruments. If that were the case, then where do all the harmonic rules and principles come from? Why do we desire the music to do certain things? Is that through conditioning? I say no. Those of us who have studied music and have furthered our fundamental musical knowledge have developed ears that can accept certain dissonances as pleasing and certain polyrhythms as resolute that uneducated people cannot. This isn’t because of our instruments, but rather due to the fact that we have studied music and all of its possibilities. And now I can hear harmonies in my head when I look at a piece of printed music (and even when I don’t). I don’t need an instrument to create the harmony for me, but rather to help me in expressing the harmony that already exists. That’s why learning to play an instrument is often a struggle – we are trying to figure out how to express what we hear and what we’ve heard. Harmony doesn’t need us. Music doesn’t need us. But we need it. Current Mood: thoughtful
|Saturday, January 26th, 2013|
Call it a rant if you want.
It truly makes my head and heart hurt how difficult it is to become a doctor or lawyer but how incredibly easy it is to get a job in education. So many non-educators are getting teaching jobs. Just because you can make a sandwich doesn't mean you should be a chef. Unfortunately, these “chefs” don’t know baking from broiling. Some of these individuals that I know that are getting teaching jobs can’t follow basic grammar rules but are being hired to teach it. Some of these individuals that I know that are getting teaching jobs can’t do third grade math without a calculator, yet are being hired to teach it. Call me crazy, but I think you should be proficient at whatever you teach.
I know too many people that can't add or spell but they go teach it. I know others who hate kids - all the seem to do after work is bad mouth their students - but are allowed to educate them.
Why do we have such high “standards” for doctors and lawyers in America, but not for teachers?
This is yet another reason that I'm building Freedom Arts from the ground up. We will combat the “miseducation” and lack of outreach in this nation, but our hiring standards for our instructors is very high. That is one of the many things that I will never flinch on. We won't hire you just because you're our friend. We won't hire you just because you have a B.S.Ed from UMSL. Having a degree proves nothing except that you made it through your university, which is hardly an accomplishment in many programs.
Doctors, lawyers, and entertainers are glorified, scrutinized, and have high bars to hurdle. But as long as you don't have a criminal record, you can get a teaching job. Problem? I think so. And I will have nothing to do with it.
Athletes have to be scouted, go through tons of tryouts, and be proven at various levels. They dedicate their lives and bodies to their sport. Musicians have to audition – they have to SHOW that they can play their instrument at a high level. But it seems that as long as you dress nice and are polite in your teaching job interview, you’ve got it. Oh and if you got a degree, you’re more than welcome in the public education system, regardless of how little you actually know and how narrow your realm of experience may be.
It blows my mind how easy it is to get such an important and challenging job for which so few are truly qualified
Babysitters are being hired all the time. People who have a lot of fun with kids and very good at things that good babysitters need to be able to do. But educators have to be able to connect and challenge young minds. They must know how to explain the simplest topic in several different ways.
I make a hell of an omelet and can cook some delicious pasta sauce in my sleep. But that doesn’t make me a chef. I can also install a light fixture, but I’m no electrician. I can run, but I’m not a runner.
You’re either an educator or you’re not. Find your purpose and pursue THAT to find happiness, focus, and a place in the world. I know you want weekends, holidays, and summers off. I know you think “teaching is easy.” But education is not a clock-in-clock-out type of job. It’s important. You’re either an educator or you’re not. Stop lying to yourself and everybody else. And stop making our children pay for your identity crisis. Current Mood: annoyed