Here, Here, and Here: Returning to Music's Roots and the Meaning of Music Outreach

In 2009, American rock band Meg & Dia released an album titled "Here, Here, and Here", named after one of the tracks contained therein. This was before I entered college to pursue music professionally, before I became disillusioned with the individuals in the industry and decided to quit, and before I returned to my roots and began to think critically about what it meant to play music. After all these years, and through the varying seasons of my sentiments, the lyrics of the title track remained with me.

Mozart he said "there's nothing to composing"
And that's all we do
We just write and play and write and play and write and...

Here, here and here
He pointed to his heart and mind and ears
He said "here, here and here"
He pointed to his heart and mind and ears

"He pointed to his heart and mind and ears". In the simplest of terms, one could argue these are the only things you need to make music: heart, intellect, and the ability to listen. A heart to feel something, a mind to comprehend it, and an ear to hear it. All of these contribute to shaping one's intent towards music and one's ability to comprehend music. Of course, there are many other things that require an individual to become a successful musician, but to become a musician of any degree or ability requires only these three. For me, the source of being a musician are in these three things. And because everyone has/can develop these areas, everyone has music in their soul.

Music is an elitist field. It has been for a very long time and will likely continue to be for many more years. Even during the peak of classical traditions, opportunities for musical study and advancement were largely limited to musical families, who relied on wealthy and privileged patrons. For example, take Europe from the 14th through 19th centuries, or India during the Mughal Empire, or Japanese Gagaku (court) music – all of these were highly specialized and elite areas of study!!  With the decline of royal patronage, music's sustainability began to fade. Despite this, the elitist mentality continued to exist. I do not know whether I can argue that the following points are the source of modern music’s elitism, but they certainly contribute to it.

  1. The first and most egregious is the belief that only the talented can pursue music, as if, somehow, someone who studies music was magically born with a different brain. We are tantalized by stories of child prodigies like Mozart and Paganini, but we forget that by a very young age, they had thousands of hours of musical study under their belt. Often, we encounter teachers who promote this concept of talent, which is reflected in their varying treatment of different students. Though we know how much work must go into musical study, we become trapped by the omnipresence of “innate talent”.
  2. Studying music is expensive. It is, quite literally, a field where one can advance if one has the money and resources to acquire the necessary learning tools (for example, purchasing a $70,000 flute and participating in years of private lessons before entering a higher level institution). It is still possible to become a musician without money; it is just increasingly more difficult. Perhaps because of this, musicians can easily develop a complex about money (specifically making enough money).
  3. Studying music can be a very self-absorbing activity and when you spend a lot of time by yourself working to perfect your skills and your art and your musicality, somehow, in the end, music study becomes about you and not the actual music. This can give birth to a sense of self-entitlement, and can also create a fragile ego.
  4. Competition - this one is really important. While all fields are competitive, the artistic pursuits tend to be especially more so. When artistic worth is judged by a stranger (perhaps an anonymous jury, or a famous pedagogue), it is easy to rank yourself as either good or bad based on their perception of you.  I have noticed that musicians (particularly young, aspiring musicians) tend to assume that one person's success detracts from their own successes, when the reality is that preferences in musical style can vary as much as preferences for favorite ice cream.

And so, one day I began to question these things which I had considered to be normal for so long.  Music wasn’t fun for me anymore, especially since my prospects seemed so dire and I lacked “innate talent”. Pursuing music in a world constantly filled with violence, fear, and inequality seemed selfish when I could be creating immediate change on this earth. I no longer felt inspired or encouraged, and I began to truly accept that my generation doesn’t really listen to classical music, nor do they really care about it. While it is easy to mark off these individuals as being un-cultured, it speaks more to the state of the music industry than it does to modern society.  Why aren’t classical musicians able to retain audience numbers? Why are pop stars with their repetitive lyrics and simple harmonic progressions more sensational than the intricacies of Bach’s music or the exquisite phrasing of French art songs?

Because nobody told them what makes this music so great.

Not even that.  The problem is so much larger.  Nobody has articulated why any type of music is so great.  Or why it is so important to us.  It is accepted, but never explained.

Here, here, and here. He pointed to his heart and mind and ear.  These three things, in unison there’s nothing quite like them in the world.  With these three things, anyone can become a musician.  Even simply appreciating music without knowledge of performing encourages the creation of music.  Audiences are musicians.  The disconnection between music performance with music education and with audiences is striking, but it doesn’t have to exist if necessary efforts are made to reach out.  And so, I view this blog as “music outreach”.  Not music outreach in the traditional sense, where one creates a musical program to introduce music to elementary school children, or where one prepares repertoire to play for those in assisted living centers.  Music outreach is comprised of these things, but it is so much more than that.  Music is change, music is empowerment, music is a way to create equality.  Music is something that is desperately needed in this world.  Music is life.  And sharing your love of music, your thoughts on music is music outreach.  Even trying to share why you believe music can save the world is music outreach.  Education is outreach.  And sharing this blog with you is my form of music outreach: here I will explain my thoughts on the necessity of music, what makes it is so great, and I will describe my adventures in musical outreach (in the more traditional sense).

As John Tyson (faculty at the New England Conservatory) beautifully put in an interview, “It just doesn’t work if we are in our Ivory towers and let music education be a totally different thing, removed from our lives”.

Here, here and here.  Music is your birthright, too.