Thursday, February 19, 2009

“An unquenchable expression of who we are”

Yesterday, a colleague sent me a most remarkable essay, the text of a welcome address to freshman at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at that institution. Please take a few minutes to read the entire speech here:

A few excerpts:

Serious music…has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. … Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. … Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.” … Music is not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

… Being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well. … Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.

These are close to the thoughts I've been wrestling with for years... and which I wrote about, inadequately, a few months ago here, especially as concerns my relationship to music after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Dr. Paulnack’s essay, perhaps in a condensed form, should be on the editorial page of every newspaper in the nation, and sent to our state and national legislators, so that every person may understand why the arts are part of our social self and why the arts must be supported and maintained and burnished with love.

We, the artists, understand what we do, and why we are compelled to do it, though I doubt that any of us has articulated our mission so clearly. Would that everyone else could understand, too.

I am reminded of my friend Laura, who told us that she was "uplifted" by CONCORA's stunning concert of Mendelssohn's choral music several days ago.

Uplifted! Raised up, buoyed, elevated!


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