Friday, September 12, 2008

A Still Small Hope for Our Ultimate Survival

I believe in the power of human creativity.

A few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the entire world seemed numb with shock and horror, the man who cares for my piano came to my house for a previously-scheduled tuning. I recall my feelings of selfishness as I spent money on the luxury of a piano tuning, when so many families were suffering with unspeakable horror and loss.

I asked Herb, the piano tuner, if his work had declined since the terrorist attack. I wondered if the weight of grief — and for some, the need to consider essential survival strategies — had taken priority over music-making in his clients’ lives. His answer, which brought tears to my eyes, was this: In the two weeks after September 11th, he had received more calls for piano tuning and restoration services than he had received in the previous six months. His customers told him that they wanted to restore old family instruments, or tune newer instruments, so that they could make music together at home with family members.

For these families, making music together was a balm for the wound of September 11th. Music was a means for finding stability and closeness in a time of uncertainty and separation. Music of years past transcended the terror of today.

I believe in the power of human creativity to balance the horrors brought about by human weaknesses.
I remember, too, that in the days following the attacks, I listened almost exclusively to news coverage on National Public Radio. I appreciated the quality of the reporting, of course, but what spoke to me most eloquently was the music NPR played between news segments. In place of the short, snappy interludes, we were comforted by long stretches of the most beautiful, most tender, most human music, along with meaningful, thoughtfully-presented poetry and literary excerpts. Here was affirmation that human-ness transcends inhumanity. Here was evidence that goodness exists, even in the presence of evil. Here was proof that though a single day might bring more hurt than we can possibly bear, yet human goodness, in the form of music, can endure for centuries.

I believe in the power of human creativity to connect us, to uplift us, and to elevate us, both as individuals and as a people.
In the years since 2001, my own life has been enriched and uplifted in music. A career change in 2003 enabled me to devote more time and thought to music-making, particularly choral singing. I’ve had opportunities to sing some of the world’s most glorious music, explore some of humankind’s most profound texts and ideas, sing under the leadership and by the sides of a few incredibly gifted musicians, and find my own place in the long history of musical creativity. For this I am profoundly grateful.

I believe in the power of human creativity to transcend time and place.
The great American musicologist H. C. Robbins Landon (b. 1926) once said that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was “as good an excuse for mankind’s survival as we shall ever encounter, and perhaps, after all, a still small hope for our ultimate survival.” * Certainly we can extrapolate Landon’s assessment, applying it to the entire realm of human creative endeavor. Thus, human creativity may be considered "as good an excuse for mankind's survival as we shall ever encounter, and ... a still small hope for our ultimate survival."

Our creativity makes us human, in the best sort of way.

I believe in the power of human creativity.

* Landon, H. C. Robbins. 1791: Mozart’s Last Year (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999).

1 comment:

  1. Creativity, in whatever form it takes,may be our best hope of immortality, in that some essence of the individual who produced the thing, whether music, literature or art, survives in it.

    And the power of music can be transcending. I'm thinking, for example, of the people who played classical music in concentration camps, through to the most mundane of situations of people in a broken-down bus singing to keep their spirits up.

    And the fact that after 9/11 so many people turned to the solace of creating music as a family in their own homes is tribute to some very special part of the human spirit.


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